Wednesday, August 10, 2022

Carter

  Carter is a new netflix-produced movie by Jung Byung-gil, his follow up to the awesome Villainess. That movie was made semi-famous for its initial scene, an extended first-person action sequence that followed the protagonist through a bunch of shootouts and hand-to-hand fights and smoothly transitioned to a huge brawl at a gym/dojo. (It's actual lasting claim to glory would actually be a motorcycle chase with katanas that was a referenced on the third John Wick.)

 This new one is what the Villainess would have been if it had put quantity of action at all times over its overall quality. It's an interesting experiment, and honestly, it works for me. Mostly. Almost wholly.
 The entire film is made to look as if it was one continuous shot, but without any pretense that that's what it's actually doing (1917, this ain't) - its trickery is quite transparent; but the camera moves are meticulously planned, constantly in motion and very dynamic (the focus depth changes often, as does even the texture, from GoPro style shots to hyper-clear CGI of varying quality to more professional-looking stuff.) A lot of the film's (clearly insufficient) budget clearly went to support this illusion of seamlessness, which leads to a lot of bad compositing and  pretty piss-poor effects work. So it goes for the action, which very often looks, well, cheap and pretty crappy. Quantity over quantity; why have a couple well realized, realistic looking scenes when you can have them in bulk, and cover most of your running time instead? The movie makes the conscious choice to take the hit and have some truly dire effects now and then, some unsatisfying bad physics to the stunts, some very... videogame-looking mayhem.

 I know this is an old chestnut, but seriously. this one really does look like a video game at times - right down to the transitions from when you're watching a cutscene to when you get to control your character, which I'd never seen replicated in a movie before. So many of the effects are very deep into uncanny valley. So why did I like it? Why would I ever give this a pass when I hate this sort of shit so much in, say, Uncharted, or the vehicle scenes in Train to Busan: Peninsula? (or, to be honest, many of the later Fast and Furious movies).

Kerrrr-Splat!

 For me at least it's energy and enthusiasm. It's like the filmmakers went all out, making these compromises with the full understanding that they would sometimes look like shit, and not caring about it. Or maybe they ran out of money as they began post-production. I'm perfectly fine with the end result, in any case.

 An example: early on during an action beat the camera pans up to the sky, focuses on an extremely shitty looking bird (it looks like someone drew it in with a black sharpie!) It's kinda laughable. But that bird serves as the focus as the scene transitions to a drone shot looking down as a bunch of mooks converge on a building, a literal bird's eye view of the situation. There's a sense of planning, that the movie is busting its ass overtime trying to show you cool shit.

 And there is so much cool shit here. The violence is inventive and gruesome, and often laugh-out-loud audacious; while the camera is rarely still for any amount of time, the blocking is good and it's always clear who is shooting/stabbing/body-slamming whom; it gives the film a lot of momentum, especially as the chases and action scenes fade into each other.

 Yes, there are a couple of times the movie stops dead for an exposition dump, or a couple of truly, truly bad sequences (there's a really terrible free-fall scene that of course Netflix shows as a preview of the movie, because Netflix is operated by idiots. And also a motorbike chase that mirrors the one in the Villainess except that it's shit, though at least its conclusion made me laugh.) And the plot doesn't really provide much of an excuse to care about anything that happens (it's a mixture of elements from the  Bourne films, plus Total Recall, plus rage-virus-zombies) until the last half hour or so.

  It's nuts, and I can perfectly understand why someone wouldn't like it; It made me think of Michael Bay several times (with a fraction of the budget but better technical chops.) It also reminded me of the camerawork at the end of I Robot, of all things. And Hardcore Henry. Which... well, would very understandably put some people off. Maybe the best way to think of this would be as more of a music video, something that's heavily stylized and shooting for something other than realism - balls out, impressionistic, constant action. Its energy is infectious.

 I mean, did I tell you about the first chase scene where a few vans try to box in the protagonist on a delivery bike in narrow Korean streets? Or a later one involving a truck full of pigs and a whole bunch of pursuit vehicles? There's a bit where someone is jumping between soldiers hanging from cords from helicopters while chasing a speeding train, and one where a guy uses a motorbike as a stepping stone while it's mid-wreck, sliding on the tarmac at high speed, to jump into a van. Two separate scenes with people jumping between moving vehicles and punching each other senseless.
 Awesome shit- the reason we watch these things in the first place, right?

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