Hello. This is “AKIA Talking” formerly talked from the US and now talking from Korea. This is a movie review of a Korean movie “Cart”. Yes I know that the title is bad. But the movie is at least not as bad as the title. Oh and I am going to use an “Arial” font today. It is just that kind of day.
It has been a bad decade and a half or so for “message” movies. I cannot remember the last great or even good message movie. Usually they either end up too shallow and fluffy or become weighted down in how deep the film maker thinks he/she is. The right balance in the visual medium that is movies is very difficult. I mean Ridley Scott is on his fifth so called “message” movie and he has failed every time. When will he learn that being a visual artist does not make him a great thinker?
However, even bad “message” movies could be interesting in how they go wrong. One of the reasons that great “message” movies have not been made for a long time in, let’s say, Hollywood is associated with the culture of today. While, on an informational level, people may know more, it cannot be said that people understand more than the prior generations. It is human nature that how information is “really” understood is rooted in “personal” experience. And I mean really really personal.
Sympathy and understanding originating from deep personal pains are very different from those originating from youthful conceptual idealism. And, to be really frank, the peoples on this earth currently have significantly less experience with real personal pain than the peoples that came before. It is just a fact that we live better lives in relative terms. And, before some complain, it is not that we do not experience pain. It is just that we feel far less and it is a good thing but not great for making “message” movies.
What is the plot of the movie cart?
It is a movie about a worker strike. Yes it is one of those “message” movies. The movie “Cart” is about 70 or so older women going on strike because the company decided to cancel their contracts as they decided to outsource their jobs to a 3rd party contractor.
What kind of jobs do you ask? They are or, to more accurate, were to cashiers and stock “boys”. Who are these workers? They are mostly women over 30 and include both married and single mothers mostly. Who is the company that is tossing them out? It is a large supermarket chain in Korean which the movie calls just “The mart”. This movie just involves a strike in one store of that chain. Think a Walmart store and you will get the image.
At this point, you may start to get a picture about the movie in your head.
Sympathetic protagonists…mothers are always good for that. Check.
Crappy but unthreatening to the public jobs. Check.
Finally, everyone seems to hate Walmart for some reason. Check.
The movie “Cart” is outright a workers’ union “propaganda” movie based on real events. Or more accurate, it is a PR movie as it is intended to glorify the union’s struggle. It does not have enough teeth to be called a proper “propaganda” movie. I recently did a review of a similar movie called “The informant”. Here is a link to that review.
Is it a good movie?
“Cart” is a somewhat conflicting movie to evaluate. On one hand, it tries so hard to promote the Unions as such innocent, simple but pure people that everything feels extremely bleached over. When the strike first stared, it feels like a junior high school girl sleep over. It tries so hard that it is actually funny if you think about it. In a lot of ways, it reminds me the Christian movies that are recently coming out in America. Even though they are Christian movies made for Christians, I doubt that anyone involved in the movie actually picked up a theology book in their lives. It is just pandering to a less than well-educated audience who wants to be pandered to.
On another hand, “Cart” is actually a better made movie than those Christian movies. The script does its job in setting up the situation, defining the, albeit, two dimensional characters, and at least providing those characters an arc in the movie. In other words, the movie making is competent that I will give it a B- on that level. The screen writer and director at least did their jobs. However, this does not mean that the movie is actually a great movie since it does not really work because the movie really does not have much to say other than to pander to the pro-union or more accurately the anti-“anyone more successful than me” crowd in Korea. Considering the size of that crowd, it is actually a surprise that the movie is not doing that well. It is disappearing from the theaters fast.
Why does the movie not work?
This type of message movie does need to have a strong focus to garner the audience’s dormant rage about what the movie itself is raging about. However, this movie feels like it is throwing a tantrum rather the raging against a specific injustice. The movie, in its first act, tries to establish that the protagonists are being oppressed and demeaned in order to garner sympathy from the audience and justify their action against the company. The problem is that this is not really the case.
The protagonists are in the lower rungs of society. However, on an economic level, it is not as bad as we have seen in movies and even around on the streets. No one is starving. No one cannot go to school. No one seems to be up to their necks in debt. Everyone has cell phones and some seem to have laptops. In fact, I think there are thousands of people below the Mexican border that will call the life shown on screen as preferable to what they currently have.
Even when the movie gets to the company, things are not bad for what their job is. No one was not getting paid prior to the events of the movie. No one was getting beaten. No one was getting sexually abused. They had to do some over time without pay but it was not totally “voluntary” but not compulsory also. In fact, in order to portray the protagonists as these pure and innocent people, the work place in the first act in the movie seems like the “mystical poor but pleasant village” socialists imagine communist-Eden to be.
This does not mean that the movie fail to show that the protagonists have no cause for resentments. I said before that the screenwriter and director did their jobs. The problem is that the focus of that resentment is more on Korean society as a whole rather than on the company the strike will be against. Yes the protagonists are somewhat mistreated but the mistreatment comes from being in the lower rungs of Korean society which likes to look down with distain and look up with jealousy. So, is that the company’s fault? Really?
Also, the protagonists do not show any attributes that warrant them climbing up the rugs of Korean society or even be on the moral high ground in regard to the mistreatment lower people of Korean society. The movie portrays the protagonists bathed in the light of “ignorance as virtue”. The protagonists are such innocent simpletons that they sometimes seem like children. Well let’s say junior high schoolers. They do no really understand the concepts of contracts, property rights, or even show much strategic thinking.
The Korean service industry and why I dislike it
On the legal aspect, the case would have mostly ended in suing for breach of contract and moving on to another job since it is not that there were any real futures for them, career wise, in the company. To understand better, you may need a slight picture of the service industry in Korea. One thing you will notice when you come to Korea is that there are at least twice more employees per customer than what you see in the US. It is three times more than what you see in the Europe.
This is not because there is more revenue coming in per customer also. While the reason for this complicated, you will have to say that the employment market has rather been distorted by failed government meddling in employment. There are significant populations just meandering in low paying service jobs in which they have to compete with high schoolers. And, as this has been lasting for more than a decade, the normal customer base has gotten accustomed to being waited on for a cheap cost.
I personally do not really like the quality of service in Korea. They either do not give a crap or are oddly condescending or aggressive. I would rather not have anyone waiting on me than getting either. I do not need to compensate for my insecurities by lording over people who wait on me. I write for that. I cannot believe I am saying this but I miss paying tips in exchange for decent service.
Well the service in New York is an exception.
This all leads to me not buying into the objectives of the protagonists’ strike. As a matter of fact, while I was staying in the U.S., I got used to self-check outs which replaced the work functions of the protagonists of “Cart”. So, my immediate reactions were good riddance. It is not that they would care if I had no job.
Bring on the touch screens and scanners.
I want to deal with a machine.
As a side note, there is something very weird about the labor situation in “The Mart” in the movie. The protagonists are doing menial jobs but, because they are older women, the management call them by the Korean title equivalent to “Madam”. So, it is a respectful term used with a demeaning attitude.
That is the result of the activist in Korea. But this is another complicated thing.
Raging against nothing?
This all culminates to the fact that the movie “Cart” is raging against nothing really specific. This is somewhat of a complicated dance the movie is trying to do and fails. At its core, it seems to be raging against Society as all the internal motivations seem to originate from that direction. But the movie does not have the guts to actually state it. So, the movie shifts focus. Thus, on the surface, it seems to be raging against the company. However, the movie fails to not really show this. Most of the interaction with the company the movie shows is just people doing their jobs and trying to run a business. So, the movie does not specifically point them out as the bad guys.
The upper management of the company is dealt with in a similar manner as they are barely in the movie. The upper management only really appears in two scenes saying that they want to reduced cost and etc. There is nothing wrong with this. It is not that they are mustache twirling villains. They are somewhat condescending against the protagonists in concept but nothing really deviant in regards to Korean culture. In Korean culture, we are condescending towards lower beings. The only real fault of the company is being very bad at execution. In any case, the movie does not really pick them out from the crowd as the bad guys. Thus, there are no bad buys really in the movie. There are only the protagonists throwing tantrums to no one in particular.
One thing interesting about this is that I do not think this approach is unique. This approach seems to be somewhat of the trend in recent Korean movies. Something similar happened with the movie, “The Informant”. It can be viewed as a characteristic of modern Korean culture. On a personal level, we are living in the most plentiful age ever in Korean history. However, we never really got modern civic responsibility since we are philosophically still one foot stuck in Feudalism. Those lofty things are the purview of the lofty lords that rule the world. As a result, there is no target to the rage building living as a Korean in Korean society. It is just simmering and waiting for someone to pander to it and thus provide an opportunity to throw a tantrum.
As a side plot, the movie has a main lead’s son go off on his tittle side adventure. He starts out as a spoiled poor kid which is now a major character archetype in Korean entertainment. He mother and father works in menial jobs and he acts like they are presidents of a company or so. Then he meets a poor “Candy” archetype character working her way and proud of it. This subplot had some promise for the son to become better than his mother. To become a person who is able to work up the social ladder. However, this never goes anywhere with a very awkward series of events.
At the end
The movie “Cart” is just an ok movie. It is competently made but has nothing really to say which is a serious flaw for a “message” movie. You will not remember seeing this movie after leaving the theater. I found something interested in how Korea society and culture is reflected in this movie. However, I was still looking at my watch at last leg of the movie.
I give it as C+ in terms of the whole movie.
Warning…. I am not trying to be sexist here.
As a side note, it was the first time in a while that I saw Yeom Jeong-ah in a role and I was somewhat distracted by the fact that it looks like she got new “chest pillows”. I mean breasts. There is no nudity or even cleavage in the movie but how things have changed since I had left Korea a long time ago. Most of the flat actresses seemed to have upgraded since then. I am not saying it is a bad thing but just rather jarring. However, I’m getting used to it.
Score: C+ Or 5.25/10