Director Jung Byung-gil plays with action figures for two hours, and makes us watch.
“What the hell’s going on?”
I’ve never shied away from admitting my love for big, dumb action films – the more stylish the better. After all, if the story can’t cut it, then hopefully the fight choreography or whatever new visual elements the filmmakers throw in might help support it. It’s the only thing keeping the majority of subpar John Wick-wannabe films from being complete disasters.
And then there are times when the gimmick actively harms the viewing experience. It doesn’t happen often, but when it does the end result is often tiresome and renders the entire film worse than if they’d just stuck to regular old filming techniques. I’m sorry to say that Carter, the latest film from director of The Villainess Jung Byung-gil, falls in the latter.
The film follows an insomniac who appears to be called Carter Lee (Joo Woon), who wakes up in a pool of blood, having apparently kidnapped a scientist, and is now hunted by the CIA. A voice in his ear (Jeong So-ri) tells him he has a bomb in his mouth, is a north Korean army captain who is working with the South to help kill a zombie virus, and also helps him escape through the window. And from there, the movie just keeps getting faster and wilder and of course has a kidnapped kid that needs rescuing.
Carter is a film that’s trying to do a Jason Bourne, but has decided on two baffling extra things: the first is that the film is set while Korea is currently under threat of a virus that turns people into 28 Days Later-style rage zombies, and the second is that it’s all shot in “one” take. I’m going to skip past the whole zombie thing for everyone’s sakes (it’s barley a factor in the story, somehow) and focus mostly on Jung’s biggest creative failure: the single shot.
I want to give Jung some praise: there’s clearly a lot of effort that was put into the concept, and planning a single-shot movie can’t be easy. That said, the decision to show the story in this format is the biggest cause of the movie’s problems. Ignoring the headache-inducing camerawork (and Christ will that thing not stop fucking moving), it also dictates the pace in which the story progresses. We’re thrown into the action so quickly that we don’t have time to get to know anyone or make up our own minds about which side to trust. Characters are introduced in a hurry, mostly though earpiece exposition and leave the story just as quickly.
This leaves the audience as in the dark as the film’s main character, but while that might work in a slower, character-focused drama it absolutely fails in every regard here. Carter brutally slaughters dozens of people just because some rando in his ear told him to, and no one really knows how to feel about anything. Carter Lee is less a character and more a force of nature. It’s like watching Volcano from the volcano’s point of view.
The action scenes are frenetic as all getup, for better or worse, often leaving the audience bored after the fifth consecutive all-or-nothing battle to the death. But despite their decently-executed choreography, there’s something about them that makes them much more stressful to sit through than, say, the long single-take fights of The Raid. Barely ten minutes pass and you feel like you’ve sat through well over an hour of footage. Everything in Carter is a confusing mess, from the story, to the stakes to the positioning of characters within the scene. When the film doesn’t look like a bunch of Quicktime events from a PS3-era game, it looks like weird mess of zooms and janky-ass cuts that do an atrocious job of hiding the edits.
Carter is the film equivalent of one of those fairground rides that just throw you around until you feel sick, except with a slightly higher body count. If it was shot in the most basic-ass way, all medium shots or whatever, it would have brought us at least one or two fun action clips you could put on YouTube and watch as part of a compilation. As it is, Carter’s endless string of vehicular fight scenes do nothing for anyone, and there isn’t a single reason to watch it. But at least it ends appropriately: as one massive train-wreck.
Verdict: A hot, migraine-inducing mess from start to finish, watching Carter feels like what the title character must have felt when he got that cross sliced into his nape.
Overall entertainment: 3/10, for effort
Sex: Not enough time!
Luke Cage: Doing way too good a job for this film
Ideal getaway vehicle: A Papa John’s scooter of course
Mr Kim: Well, he didn’t last long, did he
Windows: Not one left unsmashed.
Director: Jung Byung-gil
Writer: Jung Byung-gil, Jung Byeong-sik
Joo Won – Carter Lee / Michael Bane (is this a Michael Caine/Get Carter reference?)
Lee Sung-jae – Kim Jong-hyuk
Jeong So-ri – Han Jung-hee
Kim Bo-min – Jung Ha-na
Byeon Seo-yun – Choi Yu-jin
Jung Jae-young – Jung Byung-ho
Jung Hae-kyun – Kim Dong-gyu
Camilla Belle – Agnes
Mike Colter – Smith