A generic title with an equally generic name of the protagonist. But the movie itself? Let me put it this way: Netflix’s latest South Korean import “Carter” isn’t your garden-variety action thriller.
What’s “Carter” All About?
Before I get to the review, here’s what you need to know about this movie. The title in question refers to a man (Joo Won), who wakes up in a motel room and has no memory of how he got here in the first place.
Except, of course, a mysterious female voice in his ear tells him that he needs to comply if he wants to live or die from a lethal bomb planted in his mouth. Long story short, the amnesiac Carter has no choice but to agree to fulfil a mission to save a kidnapped girl.
Not Your Typical Action Thriller
The biggest selling point of this movie is the way director Jung Byung-gil chooses to shoot his action thriller. Here, he pulls off a “1917”-style — the Sam Mendes’ acclaimed 2019 World War I epic that was famously shot in one unbroken take. Of course, this is not the first time Jung Byung-gil has experimented with the single-take shooting style. He already did it once in 2017’s “The Villainess” starring Kim Ok-bin, notably the opening seven-minute action set-piece.
Now, imagine Jung Byung-gil taking the same experiment and embracing it wholeheartedly from start to finish. All filmed and brilliantly stitched altogether to make “Carter” as if it was shot in a continuous long take. And it sure feels like a video game but without you holding a controller to control the character’s movement. It’s more of you sitting back and watching Carter fights his way through CIA agents, assassins, and even the Korean soldiers while making sure the girl stays alive.
The elaborate action sequences regardless of hand-to-hand combats, shootouts, and chases are technically impressive. Jung Byung-gil certainly pulls out all the stops to fulfil every shot and even the complicated ones (such as the scene involving a fight inside the speeding van). I do admire his ambition but some of the action sequences tend to look either unconvincing or too over-the-top for their own good.
Meet The Relentless Amnesiac Action Hero
“Carter” also benefits from Joo Won’s physically-demanding lead performance as the no-nonsense title character. His amazing agility and skills in martial arts and weaponry are the result of four months of intensive training and he even went as far as gaining 7kg of muscle just for the movie.
But The Story…
As much as I enjoyed the elaborately-choreographed action sequences and Joo Won’s leading role, the story — credited to Jung Byung-gil himself and Jung Byeong-sik — is unnecessarily overlong and yes, convoluted.
Clocking at over 2 hours long (132 minutes, to be exact), Jung Byung-gil isn’t just interested to make this a straightforward adrenalin-rush of a single-take action thriller. He feels the need of complicating the story by blending the political tension between the US and North Korea. We also do get to learn more about Carter’s real identity and why he is involved in the mess as the movie progresses further. But the more the story demands an expository-heavy scenario, it just keeps diluting the momentum of the movie.
The heavy-handed storytelling in “Carter” has no doubt reminded me of “The Villainess” all over again. The latter also suffered from the same problem — needlessly labyrinthine storyline and tedious pacing. Sometimes less is more and if only Jung Byung-gil could adopt a more restrained storytelling method, which would have worked better for this kind of action thriller.
- Technically impressive single-take action sequences ✅
- Some well-choreographed hand-to-hand combat scenes ✅
- Joo Won’s no-nonsense, physically-demanding role ✅
- Needlessly convoluted story ❌
- Feels overlong ❌
If you don’t mind the shortcomings in the storytelling department, “Carter” remains a thrilling ride worth checking out. “Carter” is currently streaming on Netflix.
Have you seen Hulu’s “The Princess” yet? Check out this review below: