The Villainess director’s new actioner powers through flaws to score an extended combo of mind-melting antics.
Perhaps out of fear that he will miss 100 percent of the shots he doesn’t take, Carter director Jung Byung-gil has compiled 100 shots into a single take—proverbially speaking. In the stuntman-turned-filmmaker’s latest—his first for Netflix and to feature English—every setpiece links into another; you can count on the passenger plane shootout to link up with the pig truck chase later on, and so it goes. As long as Jung scores each of these opportunities, it doesn’t matter if the bridging between moments will be smooth or rocky.
Carter doesn’t care if its viewers guffaw or shake their heads at the utter absurdity on display. Much like its lead, the film looks and moves too much like a bullet out of hell to care. The answer to more isn’t always more, but that’s an answer at least. No action protagonist’s quest should be easy, after all, but if raising the difficulty lies in going silly-ridiculous, then it’s fair game.
Have someone count you down and read this in one breath, just so you can get a feel for what Jung and co-writer Jung Byeong-sik have in store. Carter (Joo Won), with zero memory and one bomb in his mouth, must follow the voice of “Ha Jung-hee” (Jeong So-ri) in his ear to retrieve a scientist’s daughter named Ha-na (Kim Bo-min) from CIA agents (chief among them, Camilla Belle and Mike Colter) if he wants to cure his own from a rage-inducing sickness, to avoid lethal detonation, and to halt a potential war involving the DPRK, ROK plus USA. Whew. Did you catch all that?
To watch Carter is to shadow its lead for every tick of its 132-minute runtime and every step of a mission so complex the very word will fold in on itself. This means no visible cuts or fades; just a cameraperson who is game for whatever action choreographer Kwon Gwi-deok has dreamt up. Carter jumps out of a raided motel into a Yakuza-packed bathhouse and flies around alleys and under cars with drone-like precision. Jung extensively uses VFX usage to give the illusion of real-time transitions between each of these melees.
Sure, this results in the high-octane images jittering and exposing their stitch marks more often. But Jung’s primary task isn’t to make a Russian Ark of action but instead a reason for Hardcore Henry to jolt. Granted, Carter’s setpieces might not reach the dizzying heights of Jung’s prior feature The Villainess, but that film doesn’t have a helicopter doing a butterfly kick. It does look cartoony, but to reiterate, it’s a butterfly kick. Ha!
There may come a point when the guffawing and head-shaking contain no derision or dismissal. Jung and company are living off less your ability to buy into the film’s world, which operates at 110 percent conviction, and more their great chain of absurdity. Carter leans towards the latter, so why frown when its creators are smiling from ear to ear, tethering you toward—let’s see—a brawl across three minivans and at least 12 motorcycles? How much noise can a down note make in a melody composed with undiluted adrenaline?
Carter is a case study in efficiency, trapped in the guise of an exceptional brawler. The plotting is less than perfect, but those flaws are tenable in the face of such unbound, frenzied action—more so than the million-dollar failings of another, far grayer Netflix actioner of recent vintage.
Carter is currently kicking and streaming on Netflix.