Cha Seung-won finds middle ground despite negative reviews of Netflix's 'Believer 2'

Actor Cha Seung-won plays Brian Lee in the new Netflix film ″Believer 2,″ in a story about a drug cartel and a detective who chases down those involved [NETFLIX]

Netflix's latest film "Believer 2" is off to a rocky start with negative reviews for its flat storyline and overdone characters that make the whole series feel excessive and tacky. The main character Brian is no exception in receiving dissatisfactory recognition, but lead actor Cha Seung-won has only one thing to say to that: "Tough luck."

“It is always up to the audience to respond the way they want, and I try to not focus on things that are out of my control,” Cha said during an interview with reporters at a cafe in Jung District, central Seoul, last Friday. “I searched reviews for about two days and shook it off,” he said with a laugh.

Released on Netflix on Nov. 17, “Believer 2” follows Cha’s character Brian Lee, a hidden figure within a drug organization who had impersonated the elusive Mr. Lee in the original film. Brian is chased by Cho Jin-woong's character Jo Won-ho, a detective tracking a drug cartel, in continuation from the first film.

Seo Young-rak played by Ryu Jun-yeol, one of the central characters in the first film, is missing from the cast in the sequel, which instead follows Brian and Won-ho as they show what happened during the space of 30 days that was left out in the first film.

Actor Cha Seung-won [NETFLIX]

Although “Believer 2” had climbed to No. 1 on Netflix’s rankings for non-English language films after its release, the response from viewers has been largely negative both in and outside of Korea, including on portal sites such as Naver and aggregator Rotten Tomatoes. The success and popularity of "Believer" led to a spiked interest in "Believer 2," but the second film was a "let down," according to reviews on IMDb.

"Believer 2" is a midquel, a concept that is relatively unfamiliar to Korean movie fans. A midquel is a follow-up film that takes place not before or after the original, as in prequels or sequels, but during the main story. A follow-up of this sort has never before been tried in Korea, and Cha was also puzzled when he first heard about it.

“At first I was surprised when I read the script for ‘Believer 2,’” Cha said. “I didn’t have much knowledge of the concept of midquels, and the director and cast were worried about making this story work within the main frame of the original ‘Believer’ film. We contemplated a lot about introducing new characters and how to fit them well into the story.”

A scene from ″Believer 2″ [NETFLIX]

In recreating his character Brian again five years later, the actor chose to give the character a façade that brings to mind Jesus or other religious figures.

“I wanted to portray Brian in a religious or philosophical sense, by which I mean I wanted the character to show how a person can change drastically after suffering great damage,” Cha said. “I thought a lot about how to perform that portrayal in the way I wanted. In the original film Brian is a braggadocios person, and I hoped to turn that around and show a different side of him.”

Playing Brian came with a lot of physical work for Cha, as the character uses a wheelchair and has to lean forward and reach out his limbs while speaking.

“I had cramps in my stomach the whole time while filming,” Cha said. “The beard Brian has was my own beard, too. I hope if we make another film in this series and I play Brian again, I could get up next time so I don’t have to be constrained the entire time.”

As drugs have become a critical social issue in Korea recently, “Believer 2” has come just at the right time and the series has a lot to play with, Cha said.

“I think this film series is very well aligned with the current times,” Cha said. “Who knew that drugs would become such a serious issue here in Korea? If we keep developing the ‘Believer’ films into more installments — I am not saying that there are concrete plans to do so right now, this is a big ‘if’ — we could have a lot of material on our hands.”

Cha, having debuted in 1997 and with many hit films and dramas such as “My Son” (2007), “Secret” (2009), “The Greatest Love” (2011) and “Our Blues” (2022) under his belt, also reflected on his profession and how actors need to balance the “public image that others have of them” and “their own image of themselves.”

“The nature of this job is that there can be a huge gap between the image that others and the public have of you and what you think of yourself,” Cha said. “There needs to be a middle ground that actors need to reach to find a balance, or else it can get very depressing. It is easy for an actor to get depression because they fail to reach that middle ground. You need to find an identity as an actor and build up on that.”

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