Carter it couldn’t have been done at any other time – and at the same time, it’s not like anything being done today. The actuality of its idiosyncrasies is obvious: the megalomaniac and absurdist scale of the action refers to Fast and furious; the emphasis on the impact of hand-to-hand combat reflects John Wick; the almost cartoonish or gamified style of the most prominent sequences, in which the protagonist faces legions of enemies at the same time, has something of kingsman; and the trick of making the feature look like it was filmed in a take uninterrupted is the fruit of the very contemporary obsession with action scenes done in the same way (think of demolisher, True Detective and 1917).
the way Carter divorces from these and other productions that influenced him, however, is less evident. Although at first glance it is “only” an amalgamation of trends, the film by Jung Byung-gil (The village) shines precisely for concentrating them in a single recipe thrillermaintaining its breakneck pace for almost 2h20 and extrapolating each element of contemporary action to a level that could easily slip into parody, but doesn’t allow itself to get there – which is simultaneously exhausting, given the level of tension and seriousness that the film maintains. all the time, and strangely admirable, because it means he trusts the value of what he’s doing far more than anything out of the Hollywood machine in recent years.
The title character of Carterlived by Joo Won (O Good Doctor original from South Korean TV), wakes up one morning with no memory of who he is or where he is. Soon, a mysterious voice in his ear instructs him to rescue a girl, Ha-na (Kim Bo-min), whose antibodies are the key to curing a mysterious disease that has spread alarmingly across the world in recent months. Pursued by the CIA (represented in the film by Mike Colter and Camilla Belle) and by South and North Korean agents, he leaves a trail of blood behind him as he tries to complete his mission amid conflicting political interests.
Director Jung Byung-gil is writing the script, alongside Jung Byeong-sikyour partner also in The villageand this is a surprisingly intelligent text, not least because I know very well how much need be smart (spoiler: not much). Carter maintains a subversive stance from start to finish, making the American interventionist presence the main villain of the first half of the film, and later exchanging it for the greed of those trying to gain power in the face of a humanitarian crisis situation. O script does not confront the ethical question of how to portray the North Korean dictatorial regime, because it does not have to: its fight is with those who profit from disgrace, regardless of nationality.
Seems like a fine line to walk, but the truth is Carter you don’t have to work hard to take a firm stand in the rare moments when there’s a pause in the action. The quality of its dramaturgy is even solid, but the film sees no point in pretending we’re here for its political rhetoric or emotional depth – knowing that we’re watching a good session of brawling that doesn’t harm itself morally is more than enough. This approach only bothers even in the final moments of the film, when the screenwriters feel it is appropriate to apply a final stroke of cosmic irony to the characters, exposing a pointless cynicism that makes Carter a confection more bitter than it appeared to be.
It’s hard to get this uncomfortable taste out of your mouth as soon as the credits roll, but what the film presents for the more than 2 hours before it is undeniable: an unconditional surrender to the pleasures of action cinema, to its viscerality as a visual art, to the infinite possibilities of bodies moving humans on the screen, and the even more endless ideas that digital effects are capable of turning into reality. Involving in its artificiality, in the lack of shame of being what it is, Carter it is an intense and admirable cinematic experience, even with its shortcomings – and perhaps even, in some ways, because of them.
Country: South Korea
Duration: 132 min
Direction: Jung Byung-gil
Road map: Jung Byeong-sik, Jung Byung-gil
Cast: Mike Colter, Kim Bo-Min, Lee Sung-jae, Camilla Belle, Joo Won