Carter (2022) ☆☆(2/4): An intensely hollow action flick

South Korean Netflix film “Carter”, which was released early in this month, is an intensely hollow action flick which did not impress me much for many bad reasons. Its frantic and relentless presentation of stylish action sequences may grab your attention for a while, but these action sequences ultimately feel quite empty and superficial without any solid story element to support them, and you may find yourself wishing to see instead a documentary about how they were actually prepared and then shot.

The story promise of the movie is quite familiar to the core. When its hero, played Joo Won, wakes up, he cannot remember who he really is or how the hell he ended up being in a shabby motel room, and he is all the more flabbergasted when he is promptly ambushed by a bunch of CIA agents demanding the information involved with a certain prominent North Korean doctor. As shown from the prologue scene, this North Korean doctor seems to succeed in developing the cure for a certain dangerous virus threatening not only North Korea but also South Korea, and it looks like CIA is trying to snatch the cure as well as the doctor for some murky reason.

Anyway, though he is baffled and confused, our hero soon comes to show that he is as lethal as Jason Bourne, and we accordingly get the first of many action sequences in the film which all are incidentally presented in one long and continuous shot. As our hero fiercely fight against many opponents of his, the camera smoothly and frantically moves around him and others for capturing every physical movement of theirs, and it steadily follows our hero even when he jumps from a window and then crashes into a building right next to the motel, which also functions as the space for another action sequence to be unfolded.

While I watched the movie along with my younger brother and his fiancée in last evening, my younger brother said that it was pretty much like watching a video game being played by someone else, and I could not possibly agree more with him. Our hero is more or less than a video game figure, and the movie simply moves from one stage to another along with him as he kills and maims a heap of figures ready to defeat him by any necessary. As a matter of fact, he is also constantly instructed and assisted by a female figure who communicates with him via a device planted inside his head, and that surely accentuated what I and my two fellow audiences felt from the movie.

As our hero bounces from one spot to another, his mysterious helper gives him bits of information about his identity, though we cannot entirely be sure about whether they are true or not. According to her, he is an ex-CIA agent who defected to North Korea several years ago, and it seems that he volunteered to do a certain mission involved with both North and South Korea, though he had to erase all of his memories for some unknown purpose.

That mission in question is rescuing the daughter of that North Korean doctor, who happens to hold the key to the cure developed by her father. When our hero goes inside a place where she is being held by CIA agents, she is not so sure about whether she should trust this sudden rescuer of hers, but she has no choice but to trust him because, well, she really wants to go back to her dear father.

All our hero has to do is taking back this girl back to a secret facility in North Korea where her father is waiting, but, not so surprisingly, things continue to get more complicated than before. After surviving another intense action sequence, our hero manages to bring the girl to the people ready to fly her back to North Korea, but, of course, it soon turns out that there is another conspiracy, and we are accordingly served with more actions. At one point, our hero desperately clings onto a flying airplane, and that will probably take you back to the similar scene in “Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation” (2015).

Around the narrative point where our hero gets to know more about what is really going around him, we are supposed to care more about him and a few other characters around him, but the screenplay by director Jung Byung-gil and his co-writer/co-producer Jung Byeong-sik often stumbles in case of storytelling and characterization. Because the plot is quite convoluted with many twists, we are often confused a lot while not caring that much about whatever may happen next, and the main characters are so bland and superficial that they are even overshadowed by zombie-like figures appearing later in the film.

As a result, the main cast members of the film are mostly under-utilized or thoroughly wasted on the whole. While he is an adequate action movie hero, Joo Won does not demonstrate much beyond his physical commitment during those action sequences in the film, and several substantial supporting performers including Lee Sung-jae and Jeong So-ri merely fill their respective spots without many things to do besides that.

In conclusion, “Carter” is another disappointment from Jung, who previously gave us “The Villainess”. Like that film, “Carter” can be admired for its considerable technical efforts, but its weak story and characters are too distracting to ignore, and I observe its action sequences without much fun and excitement. Considering its very last moment, we will probably get a sequel which will reveal more about its hero, but, to be frank with you, I do not give a damn about that at least for now.

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