Cart (2014) / Drama
MPAA Rated: Not rated, but would probably be PG-13 for language
Running Time: 110 min.
Cast: Yum Jung-ah, Moon Jung-hee, Kim Young-ae, Kim Kang-woo, D.O., Chun Woo-hee, Ji-Woo, Hwang Jun-min
Director: Boo Ji-young
Screenplay: Kim Seong-Hoon, Lee Hae-jun
Review published February 4, 2015
Based on true events, Cart is a pro-union drama that examines, through one example, the unfair and possibly corrupt nature of the work system as it exists in South Korea, especially in how it regards its female workforce (which is to say, barely at all).
In the store of the fictitious supermarket chain simply known as The Mart, a huge, predominantly female staff constitute their cashiers and cleaning crew, all hired as part-time employees with the promise of full employment if they can keep their record spotless through their probationary period (which is seemingly indefinite). All seems fine until the day all of these part-timers get notice that they've been effectively terminated, then outsourced to a subcontractor that will let them continue working there without their previous pay rates, benefits, or promise of a stable future from The Mart.
Reeling from the news, the women are scared for the future but demonstrably upset at their treatment, ultimately forming a union in order to fight for the company to keep the promises they made to them. However, the company isn't really interested in playing ball with them, offering bribes of full positions to the union leaders and other potentially illegal moves to break them up. The women soon discover how low they're viewed when the media and police seem to be slanted in favor of the corporation, while their home situations get bleaker with each unpaid day that passes.
Directed by female filmmaker Boo-Ji-young (Sisters on the Road), this socially relevant exploration puts a much-needed face on the workers who many often see and avoid engaging with as they picket our local stores, or complain about when seeing them on the news "inconveniencing" everyone with their demands for more pay and benefits. Many of these women are single mothers with mouths to feed, and are looked at as more easy to push around because the company knows these ladies really need their jobs to keep food on the table. Without any allies, if they don't stand up for each other, there's absolutely no one who will stand up for them at all.
With a solid performance by veteran actress Yum Jung-ha (A Tale of Two Sisters), who goes from reluctant and meek worker to staunch advocate, Cart bounces back from its occasional lulls to rouse sympathy for those who fight for workers' rights. It's not exactly a powerhouse like Norma Rae, but it tells its story with a passionate eye, even though it's always obvious where Boon Ji-young's sympathies lie. Corporate suits definitely don't come off looking good, though some of the male permanent workers are offered a bit more nuance, some even joining forces with the women to make sure they aren't next on the chopping block. It's not flashy filmmaking, but the main point still comes across quite well -- there's extraordinary strength in numbers of brave, ordinary people.
©2015 Vince Leo