Netflix has released plenty of glitzy, action-packed episodic series this year, including we are all dead and Money Heist: Korea. But his next big action piece is a movie, Carter, which stars Joo Won in the lead role. Joo Won’s usually neat idol image here gets a startling transformation into the rugged, thuggish Carter (the film’s title namesake). Carter is directed by Jung Byung-gil, who made a career out of his stylized, high-octane action direction in movies like The meanie (2017) and confession of murder (2012).
Viewers looking for a solid action flick will find plenty of thrills in the captivating and stylish editing. Carter, where its action sequences are all woven together to give the film a “one take” effect. There are stunning aerial views of rooftop fights and stunt escapes, as well as breathtaking chases through dimly lit cavernous rooms – against an increasingly familiar backdrop of the tension between North Korea and South Korea. Carter proposes to accomplish in action, choreography and scenography, he succeeds with great aplomb.
However, those looking for a more character-driven story or have a lower tolerance for long, elaborate action sequences might find CarterThe 132 minute runtime is a little too overwhelming.
Carter begins with an exposition-rich introduction, noting that the Korean Peninsula is grappling with a severe infectious outbreak of the “DMZ virus.” Viral infection creates “animalistic behaviors” and increases violent tendencies in infected people. Leaders in North and South Korea are working together to create an antibody treatment using the blood of Doctor Jung’s daughter, named Ha-na, who was cured of DMZ virus infection thanks to research by his father. However, Doctor Jung (Jung Jae-young) and Ha-na (Kim Bo-min) go missing during a transfer deal to North Korea, where the doctor was supposed to further his research and mass-produce a cure for the virus at the Sinuiju Chemical Weapons Institute. There, crowds of infected North Korean patients are also quarantined. Meanwhile, Carter wakes up to find a mysterious voice giving him instructions through an earpiece. He has no choice but to proceed with the mission as he has a deadly bomb embedded in his mouth.
The DMZ virus outbreak comes just 10 months after a ceasefire between North and South Korea, with the armistice poised delicately amid mistrust on both sides over the doctor’s botched transfer Jung and Hana. The geopolitical context and the health crisis provide the necessary narrative stakes in the film’s uninterrupted whirlwind of action. There’s also a whole host of fascinating characters: foreign liaisons, members of the North Korean Workers’ Party, military leaders, intelligence operatives, infectious disease doctors, and children. Unfortunately, each of them is little used (with the exception of the young Ha-na); they come out as quickly as they come in, leaving viewers to regret missed opportunities to delve deeper into the film’s storytelling and character arcs.
There is a keen sense in Carter that action will always take precedence over character development or well-crafted emotional turns. The film also has a considerable amount of gore, which feels extended or even left free by the film’s “one shot” style. At several points of Carter, viewers may struggle to find answers to some fundamental questions in the sacred art of story-making: what currently drives the story’s protagonist, Carter, to take a risk? so disproportionate? On the other hand, what are the reasons behind the antagonist’s decisions? In essence, what is the motivation behind each character’s action?
One of the biggest talking points of Carter is the “single take” style it was shot in. Although the film is admittedly composed of several shots, the overall effect works. As the film breathlessly moves from a bathhouse to a bus, warehouse, medical facility, clothing store and airplane, to name a few, the “single take” style given Carter a feeling of vastness in space that few action films have been able to achieve. The camera relentlessly pursues the equally industrious Carter through physical space, trapped together in chaos and uncertainty. There is neither reprieve offered by an alternate angle nor additional knowledge gained from established shooting; the enemy can come from any direction.
Several sequences are a triumph of cinema, especially those involving vehicles hovering through a dizzying array of backdrops: a motorcycle chase scene through labyrinthine streets and alleyways, an airplane dead end that turns into a skydiving combat (which was shot with the actors actually skydiving) and a combat sequence involving trucks and jeeps traversing an agricultural landscape. Sequences are strung together almost effortlessly – a stark contrast to the incredibly laborious work and planning that went into creating Carter. At times, the movie feels like a giant, tangled escape game. There is perhaps a nagging question here whether CarterThe cinematic accomplishments of are wasted on the small screens that Netflix audiences will encounter the film, as all of the effort may not entirely translate to home viewing.
It is in the last 25 minutes of the film that Carter really digs into the meatiest issues and develops an unexpected emotional gravity. There is the question of kinship – the family we are born into and the “family” we find – and how the duties of responsibility and care figure into those relationships. The film also raises questions about identity and information warfare through Carter’s memory loss. The ubiquity of technology – the film takes this very literally, through the electronics embedded in Carter’s body – reverberates with relevance. Just as Carter strives to discover his identity through the relentless influx of text messages as well as information given by a faceless voice, technology has also become, disconcertingly, a major force in determining knowledge about ourselves and the world.
These are all interesting questions raised by Carter. However, viewers may find themselves having to dig deep under the film’s explosions and chase scenes to find them.
Carter is streaming on Netflix now.