Carter movie review: Netflix’s crazy Korean action film is ambitious, but aggressively stupid

Shattering both your low expectations and will to live, Netflix’s Carter is an action film so ridiculous that you’ll often wish that you were among the scores of faceless villains whose heads are smashed to a pulp by the film’s protagonist. A quick and cartoonish death, at least, would mean that you wouldn’t have to endure another minute of this interminably torturous experience.

Starring Joo Won as an amnesiac spy who’s tasked with transporting a young girl to North Korea amid a zombie plague, Carter is directed by Jung Byung-gil, who gained international recognition after directing the action film The Villainess. Fans of that movie will remember show-stopping set-pieces that director Jung had filmed in unbroken single takes, one of which was copied in John Wick: Chapter 3 — Parabellum. In Carter, he ambitiously extends this style to feature length. And his dedication to see this silly idea through till the end treads the fine line between ambition and delusion.

The film is designed to appear like a continuous shot from the first frame till the last — all 120-plus minutes of it — but the filmmaking is so juvenile, and the plot so harebrained that you can’t help but wonder how it was allowed to proceed beyond the first cut stage. This isn’t the first time that a filmmaker has attempted to create this illusion on screen. Sam Mendes’ epic war film 1917 remains perhaps the finest example of this form of filmmaking, while the recent psychological drama Boiling Point was no slouch either.

But while 1917 was stitched together from a handful of extended sequences by masking the cuts, Boiling Point was actually filmed in one take. This would’ve been impossible for a film of Carter’s scale — it involves rooftop fistfights, a skydive, a highway chase, and right at the end, an aerial battle in helicopters.

Not a single scene in this film is up to the mark. In fact, it is actively disappointing early on, and positively maddening by the time our protagonist is having a mid-air shootout with a cackling villain. The camerawork that was so elegant in 1917 is clunky in Carter. Even the most inexperienced viewers will be able to identify the ‘hidden’ cuts, which happen so frequently that the filmmakers might as well have given up trying to hide them.

Not that a more conventional visual approach would’ve made Carter a better film. Not only does Jung (unsuccessfully) ape action scenes from films such as Eastern Promises and his own The Villainess, he also tries to lift the central plot of Children of Men. The young girl that Carter attempts to smuggle into North Korea apparently holds the key to humanity’s survival — she has displayed a vaguely defined immunity to the virus.

But while the film makes a couple of overt political statements — the central plot involves a temporary union between North and South Korea, while the Americans are painted as the villains — Carter doesn’t fully explore the geopolitical repercussions of a girl like Ha-Na existing amid a global crisis such as this. Even though every covert agency in the world seems to be after Carter, nobody seems to really care about her.

More than a movie, Carter resembles a video game in beta stage. When you’re not debating with yourself if this film is actually worse than Rashtra Kavach Om, you’ll wonder if Max Payne 2 — a game that was released in the year 2003 — had a more believable visual aesthetic. These distractions will invariably be more entertaining (and engaging) than anything in this film.

Director – Jung Byung-gil
Cast – Joo Won
Rating – 1/5

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