Carter review: Netflix’s new film puts action above all else

Netflix has released many glitzy, action-packed episodes this year, including: We are all dead and Robbery: Korea. But the next big action piece is a movie, Carter, starring Joo Won. The usually austere, heartbreaking image of Joo Won here undergoes a surprising transformation into the rugged, villainous Carter (the namesake of the film’s title). Carter is directed by Jung Byung-gil, who has made his career from his stylized high-octane action direction in such films as The villain (2017) and Confession of Murder (2012).

Viewers looking for a decent action movie will find plenty of thrills in the compelling, tightly edited Carter, where the action scenes are all intertwined to give the film a “one take” effect. There are stunning aerial views of rooftop battles and escapes from waterfalls, alongside hair-raising chases through dimly lit cavernous chambers – with the increasingly familiar backdrop of tension between North and South Korea. Carter wants to achieve in action, choreography and set design, it pulls out with a lot of confidence.

However, those looking for a story that is more character-based or has a lower tolerance for long, extended action sequences will find: Carter‘s 132 minute runtime a bit too overwhelming.

Carter begins with an extended introduction, noting that the Korean peninsula is struggling with a serious contagious outbreak of the “DMZ virus”. The viral infection creates “animal-like behavior” and increases violent tendencies in the infected. Leaders from North and South Korea are teaming up to develop an antibody treatment using the blood of Dr. Jung’s daughter, Ha-na, who was cured of the DMZ virus infection through her father’s research. However, Doctor Jung (Jung Jae-young) and Ha-na (Kim Bo-min) go missing during a transfer arrangement to North Korea, where the doctor would continue his research and mass-produce a drug for the virus. Sinuiju Institute of Chemical Weapons. Masses of infected North Korean patients are also being quarantined there. Meanwhile, Carter wakes up to find a mysterious voice instructing him through an earpiece. He has no choice but to continue with the mission as he has a deadly bomb in his mouth.

The DMZ virus outbreak comes just 10 months after a ceasefire between North and South Korea, with the ceasefire in a delicate balance amid mistrust on both sides over the failed transfer of Dr. Jung and South Korea. Ha-na. The geopolitical backdrop and health crisis provide much needed storylines amid the film’s non-stop whirlwind of action. There’s also a whole cast of fascinating characters: foreign liaisons, members of the North Korean Workers’ Party, military leaders, intelligence agents, infectious disease doctors and children. Unfortunately, each of them is only lightly used (with the exception of the young Ha-na); they leave just as quickly as they come in, leaving viewers lamenting the missed opportunities to deepen the film’s stories and character arcs.

There is an acute feeling in Carter that the action always takes precedence over character development or well-crafted emotional twists. The film also has a significant amount of gore, which feels lengthy or even admitted by the “one shot” style of the film. At various points in Carter, viewers may struggle to find answers to some fundamental questions in the sacred art of storymaking: What is currently driving the story’s protagonist, Carter, to take such a disproportionate risk? On the other hand, what are the reasons behind the antagonist’s decisions? Essentially, what is the motivation behind each character’s action?

One of ‘s biggest talking points Carter is the “single take” style it was recorded in. Although the film is made up of several shots, the overall effect works. As the film breathlessly moves from a public bathhouse to a bus, warehouse, medical facility, clothing store and airplane, to name a few, the single take style gives Carter a sense of vastness in space that few action movies have been able to achieve. The camera tirelessly chases the equally zealous Carter through physical space, trapped together in the chaos and uncertainty. There is no respite from an alternative angle, nor additional knowledge gained from a framing bulkhead; the enemy can come from any direction.

Joo Won in Carter.
Image: Netflix

Several sequences are a triumph of filmmaking, especially those featuring vehicles flying through a dizzying array of backdrops: a motorcycle chase scene through maze-like streets and alleys, an airplane standoff that turns into a skydiving fight scene (which was shot with the actors real skydiving) and a fight scene with trucks and jeeps racing through an agricultural landscape. Sequences are strung together almost effortlessly – a stark contrast to the unimaginably labor intensive work and planning that went into creating Carter. At times, the movie feels like a giant, confused escape room game. There may be a nagging question here or? CarterThe film’s cinematic performance is wasted on the small screens that Netflix audiences will encounter the film, as all the effort may not be fully translated to home viewing.

It’s in the last 25 minutes of the movie that Carter really digs into the meatier problems and develops an unexpected emotional gravitational pull. There is the issue of kinship – the family we are born into and the ‘family’ we find – and how responsibilities and duties of care fit into these relationships. The film also raises questions about identity and the information warfare caused by Carter’s amnesia. The ubiquity of technology – the film takes this quite literally, through the electronics built into Carter’s body – reverberates with relevance. Just as Carter struggles trying to figure out his identity through the incessant influx of text messages and information given by a faceless voice, technology has also unsettlingly become a major factor in determining knowledge about ourselves and the world.

These are all interesting questions asked by Carter. However, viewers may have to dig deep under the film’s explosions and chase scenes to find them.

Carter streaming on Netflix now.

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