True Believer (1989 film)

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True Believer
Theatrical release poster
Directed by Joseph Ruben
Produced by Lawrence Lasker
Walter F. Parkes
Written by Wesley Strick
Music by Brad Fiedel
Cinematography John W. Lindley
Edited by George Bowers
Distributed by Columbia Pictures
Release date
  • February 17, 1989 (1989-02-17)
Running time
108 minutes[1]
Country United States
Language English
Box office $8.7 million[2]

True Believer (also released as Fighting Justice) is a 1989 American courtroom drama written by Wesley Strick, directed by Joseph Ruben, and starring James Woods, Robert Downey, Jr., Yuji Okumoto, Margaret Colin, and Kurtwood Smith.

The film is loosely based on an investigative series of articles written by Pulitzer Prize-nominated journalist K. W. Lee on the conviction of immigrant Chol Soo Lee for a 1973 San Francisco Chinatown gangland murder. The news coverage led to a new trial, eventual acquittal and release of the prisoner from San Quentin's Death Row. Screenwriter Wesley Strick based the character of Eddie Dodd on real-life Bay Area defense attorney Tony Serra.


Eddie Dodd is a burnt-out attorney who has left behind civil rights work to defend drug dealers. Roger Baron is an idealistic young legal clerk, fresh out of law school, who encourages Dodd to take on the case of Shu Kai Kim, a young Korean man who was imprisoned for a gang-related murder and has now killed a fellow inmate. Kim's mother believes her son was wrongfully accused in the gang-related murder. Dodd and Baron's investigation leads to a conspiracy among the district attorney, a police informant, and several police officers.[3]



Strick's screenplay was nominated for a 1990 Edgar Award for Best Mystery Motion Picture. Film critic Roger Ebert commended Woods's performance for being "hypnotically watchable."[3]

At the time of True Believer's release, K.W. Lee told the Charleston Gazette he enjoyed the film “as fiction...but it was not a true picture. They have completely preempted the struggle of Asians.”[4]

True Believer was popular enough to inspire a spin-off television series, Eddie Dodd, starring Treat Williams in the title role.[5]


  1. ^ "TRUE BELIEVER (15)". British Board of Film Classification. 1989-03-14. Retrieved 2013-05-10. 
  2. ^ True Believer at Box Office Mojo Retrieved July 19, 2012
  3. ^ a b Roger Ebert (1989-02-17). "Movie reviews: True Believer". Chicago Sun-Times. 
  4. ^ "'21' not the first film to whitewash our history". Asianweek. Retrieved 2008-04-07. 
  5. ^ Rohter, Larry. "Movies: About True Believer". The New York Times. Retrieved May 26, 2010. 

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