Production Company: Apeitda
Director: Jung Byung-Gil
Producers: Jung Byung-Gil, Jung Byeong-sik
Scriptwriters: Jung Byung-Gil, Jung Byeong-sik
Main Cast: Joo Wan, Lee Sung-jae, Jeong So-ri, Kim Bo-min
Release Date: August 5th 2022
Running Time: 132 minutes
Now in the last couple of years there has been an explosion of Korean dramas and films in the West both in cinemas and streaming services, and Carter is a perfect example of this. Jung Byung-Gil’s ambitious one shot action film often feels like it fulfils the age old argument of style over substance. While the fight scenes definitely benefit from a more fluid camera, often the camera becomes a bit annoying at points. Don’t worry I’ll come back to that point later… So without further ado, let’s jump into my review of the film.
Carter follows North Korean agent and assassin, Carter (Won), as he wakes up with amnesia and only a voice in his earpiece to guide him where to go. So what is Carter’s mission? He has to deliver a young girl, Jung Ha-na (Bo-min), back to North Korea in order to manufacture an antidote for a virus that makes infected people into zombies. So not only does Carter just have to trust a voice which is his only guide throughout the film. But Carter also has to contend with the idea that his entire existence could be a lie. This is due to some distinct similarities between him and a former CIA agent who defected to North Korea. As Carter journeys closer and closer to regaining his memories, he begins to realise how he might just be a pawn in a larger international game of espionage. So, now let’s get into the analysis portion of the review.
Cinematography in Carter
To begin my analysis of the film, I’m going to talk about one of the film’s greatest strengths: it’s cinematography. Now, also Carter is an ambitious attempt at a one take film. So, how successful is the attempt at one take? Well, pretty good mostly because of the heavy usage of panning shots. This allows the film to achieve continuity, especially during a very violent fight sequence in a bathhouse. Another advantage of very fluid cinematography is the ability to show different perspectives. This is seen throughout the many bird’s eye shots of Carter, which gives the impression someone is watching him from above.
However, whilst the fluidity of the camera is definitely a bonus during some sequences it can often be a detriment in others. Take for example, the ending fight scene. Whilst the fluidity is useful for continuity purposes within the sequence, it can often be incredibly disorientating to watch. This is mostly due to the use of shaky cam, which when combined with the panning shots, makes it feel like the film is taking place on a trampoline at points. Why do I say this? Because the camera is shifting from a fight in a helicopter to a fight on a train to a fight in a car then back to helicopter. You get the picture… Anyway whilst the cinematography is very good at points, it definitely has some downsides.
The Bathhouse Fight in Carter
In a rather nice segue from my last paragraph, I’m now going to discuss the bathhouse fight in Carter and why it is pretty good. So, as mentioned above this is an example of good cinematography in Carter. Now I hear you asking why it is so good? Well, the fact the camera slowly pulls back to reveal the sheer amount of assassins trying to kill Carter. Also, from here the camera pans rapidly throughout the bathhouse whilst nearly always keeping Carter in the centre. This not only creates continuity but also allows the audience to know where Carter is in relation to everybody else. This is a massive positive for the scene. Oh and also the ending pan where we see the destruction Carter caused is another very good shot.
Style over Substance in Carter
To conclude my analysis of Carter, I’m going to discuss the age-old argument of Style over Substance. So, how does Carter fit into this argument? Well, whilst Carter is very well made from a technical perspective, it often struggles slightly on the story front. Take the zombies for example. Now one of Carter’s many plot points is that the Korean peninsula has succumbed to a zombie outbreak which has killed a lot of people. So how does this tie into Carter’s mission to deliver Ha-na back to North Korea? Well, she is apparently important to creating an antidote to this zombie anthrax or something.
Anyway, despite the outbreak seeming like a big deal at the start, it slowly fades into the background. Now while this isn’t such a bad thing to keep multiple plots going it does feel like the zombie outbreak becomes less important the further the film goes on. This is mostly due to the glossiness of the cinematography almost masking the zombie plot due to the overtop nature of the cinematography. This is the crux of the style over substance argument in Carter: the cinematography is so good at points it destroys a lot of the story beats that the film uses.
To summarise Carter, this is a violent, brutal and stylised film which does have some beautiful cinematography and fight scenes. However, sometimes the cinematography does come at the cost of a completely cohesive and successful narrative. Still worth a watch if you’ve got a couple of hours free on Netflix.
Overall Rating: 6/10 – Reasonable
Target Audience: 18+
Content Warning: Severe Violence and Gore, Moderate Sex and Nudity, Moderate Frightening and Intense Scenes