We moviegoers sometimes use the phrase “non-stop action” when talking about a movie or describing it, which I admit is often an exaggeration, because of course, even if it is an action movie, there must be some storytelling and to some extent drama in such movies, so there are of course some pauses in the plot that we refer to as “non-stop”.
However, this movie called “Carter”, which I came across in Netflix’s South Korean action-thriller category, I think is one of the productions that can come closest to what we call “non-stop action”.
An experimental action thriller; Carter
Director: Byung-gil Jung / Cast: Joo Won, Kim Bo-Min, Sung-Jae Lee, Camilla Belle, Foster Burden, Seo-yun Byeon, Mike Colter, Mitch Craig, Enrico Dennis, Christina Donnelly, Andreas Fronk, Michael Fujioka, Geoffrey Gaudet, Jonathan Ehren Groff, Hae-Kyun Jung, Jason Nelson, Simon Rhee, Jeong Sori, Maurice Turner Jr., Gina Theresa Williamson / Duration: 132 minutes
Released in Netflix’s Asian Action Movies category, Carter (Kateo) is a fast-paced thriller about a man with no memory of his past who wakes up one day with a mysterious device in his ear and finds himself in an extremely challenging hostage rescue operation.
The plot of the movie begins with an intense introduction stating that Korea is grappling with a terrible infectious virus outbreak, and people are unable to control their movements due to a virus that has taken over the whole world.
This virus, which makes infected people more violent by the minute, poses a great threat to everyone.
However, after a while, the cure for this virus, called DMZ, is found by Dr. Jung, a South Korean doctor.
Dr. Jung’s discovery of the cure has rid South Korea of the virus, but it continues to affect the rest of the world, especially North Korea.
Meanwhile, a man who wakes up in the midst of the pandemic caused by this deadly virus, which has been ravaging America and North Korea for two months, but has no memory of his past due to amnesia, learns from a voice giving him instructions that his name is “Carter”.
As if waking up with several guns pointed at him wasn’t bad enough, Carter discovers that there is a device in his head and a deadly bomb inside his mouth, and he must act according to the mysterious instructions he receives from the strange voice in his ears.
If “Carter” does not follow these orders and instructions and fails to save the girl, the only antidote to the virus, the bomb inside him is in danger of exploding at any moment.
Carter decides to go to the North and find the girl in order to successfully complete the hostage rescue mission he has been assigned, but things are never as simple as he thought, because both the CIA and North Korean soldiers are on Carter’s neck.
Finding himself suddenly embroiled in a dangerous and mysterious operation, Carter must complete the mission in time and successfully to reclaim his true identity.
A vicious story without depth
While the outlines of the plot I outlined above are partially coherent and good in themselves against the geopolitical backdrop and the intertwined tensions of the health crisis, unfortunately, I have to say that the film has a barren story that lacks depth and falls apart after a certain point.
It’s not surprising that the biggest casualty in such an action-oriented movie is the story; Joo Won plays a mysterious man who wakes up in a blood-soaked hotel bed with no memory of who he is or how he got there, while Byung-gil Jung, who directed the movie, seems more interested in the violent action and attention-grabbing technique of the movie than the story.
Meanwhile, as Carter, the film’s protagonist who, like “Jason Bourne,” embarks on a mad race to regain his identity and find out who he can trust, Joo Won is nearly indestructible, playing a character more over-the-top than any skilled fighter in recent cinematic history; despite constantly taking part in gunfights, jumping out of windows, running, and performing physics-defying acrobatics, he’s rarely injured in any significant way, which at some point makes you put your logic aside.
There are also a lot of fascinating characters in the plot, including foreign liaisons, members of the North Korean Workers’ Party, military leaders, intelligence agents, infectious disease doctors, and children, but unfortunately, since most of them appear in and out of frame, Byung-gil Jung seems to have deprived the audience of a better narrative by not taking the opportunities he had to deepen the film’s storytelling and characters.
All the issues addressed in the movie’s story sound interesting enough, but the problem is that most of them are communicated to the audience through brief exposition.
We don’t learn about them from the plot or witness their actual dramatic conclusion, we get bits and pieces of this story in certain places and then move on to the next action scene without wasting time.
An adrenaline-filled escape game
Yes, I was personally disappointed with the storytelling and tired at the end of it all, but I can’t ignore the kinetic feel of these action sequences and the sheer craftsmanship behind them.
With the ferocity of the fights, the non-stop action sequences, the camera work and the editing, “Carter” seems to take inspiration from several movies at once and re-cooks a familiar narrative, and to be honest, I personally found it both ridiculous and extraordinary; the fast-paced, ultra-violent action spectacle, unlike anything I’ve ever seen, was quite remarkable.
With its extended shooting style and camera work and editing that aims to immerse the audience in the action, the movie’s near-perfect fight scenes have both fluidity and unbridled brutality.
There’s a dynamic and stylistic beauty to the film that allows the viewer to feel almost as lost as Carter, between the punches, kicks and attempted attacks that raise anxiety and adrenaline levels.
At times, the movie looks like a giant, complicated escape room game, but in a way, this is also a testament to Carter’s cinematic achievement.
One of the most striking aspects of Carter is the seemingly “single shot” style in which it is shot.
I say “looks like…” because, as you’ll notice when you watch it, the film is undoubtedly composed of several shots, but the overall effects work well enough to make the film look like a single shot.
There are many cleverly disguised cuts, and they’re not hard to find, but ultimately the movie manages to give audiences an adrenaline-fueled experience that never takes its eyes off the action.
As Carter breathlessly moves from a bathhouse, to a bus, to a warehouse, to a medical facility, to a clothing store, to an airplane, the “one-shot” style of flow is given a sense of vastness that few action movies have.
All in all, “Carter” delivers more than it promises.
Viewers looking for a solid action movie may find plenty of excitement in the elegant editing of the mesmerizing action sequences, which are strung together to give the movie a “single shot” effect.
But of course, those looking for a more character-driven story, or those with a lower tolerance for long, elaborate action sequences, may find Carter’s 132-minute running time too tiring and a little overwhelming.