The Netflix original Carter is the most recent example of this genre in Korea. With enough Resident Evil components sprinkled in, Byung-Gil Jung’s heart-pounding, continuous action extravaganza is a sort of John Wick meets Train to Busan meets Kate knockoff. The only reason to watch Carter is for the 360-degree, point-of-view shots, which include hand-to-hand combat, weapon discharge, chase scenes across busy streets and isolated train tracks, jungle warfare, or drawn-out aerial assault (aircraft and helicopter). These shots were created by the action directors, stunt coordinators, and stunt actors who worked on the production.
As predicted, the cinematography (both on flat ground and high in the sky) is pretty amazing in addition to the absurd yet incredibly realistic (for the most part) action. Certain passages give the impression that you are fighting with our protagonist as he eliminates the advancing swarm one body at a time. The rather absurd story weaves together far too many disparate elements: temporary amnesia, a microchip in the brain, loyalty to one’s country, familial ties, parental responsibility and sacrifice, an international conspiracy and espionage, a deep mistrust between the North and South, and a strange pandemic that sets off this spiraling madness.
To begin with, it isn’t a particularly clever concept, but I suppose Byung-Gil Jung wasn’t aiming for that. A man discovers he has lost all memory as he awakens in a bloody and bruised hotel room. He is trying to figure out how he got there, his name, and why the CIA is at his door. Worse, he has an auditory gadget that plays instructions for survival from deep inside his ear. He hears a woman’s voice telling him to believe her or else his wife and child—a family he can’t remember—back in North Korea will be in danger. Since he appears to have nothing to lose, he believes the voice’s assertions about him—Carter Lee—at its value. He pieces what little he can together as he goes along, but the evil guys arrive thick and fast (giving him little choice except to murder or be killed). The DMZ (originating from the Korean Demilitarized Zone) is an unidentified, lethal virus that has infected both Korea and the US. Effective treatment was discovered by a well-known Korean epidemiologist, but he has since vanished. While rumors of a destabilizing coup circulate, the South and North accuse one another of defamation. US Intelligence steps in to protect its interests. The child comes first and foremost. Where is she, though? Where is the physician? An untrustworthy voice inside Carter’s ear, a voice he is skeptical of from the start, is leading his suicide espionage operation to find the girl and bring her to North Korea.
This one will end up being a huge letdown if you place too much emphasis on the narrative and its ludicrous contradictions. The idea is to have an open mind about the plot and be amazed by the onscreen blitz of action sequences. Because Carter isn’t created for its characters, it would be unreasonable to hold Joo Won and the rest of the cast in any kind of blame. Byung-Gil Jung’s attempt reminds me a lot of Tony Jaa’s Thai movies, where it’s difficult to see past the excellent stunt choreography.