Film review: Snowpiercer (2013)


“Snowpiercer” with Chris Evans, Kang-ho Song, Ed Harris, John Hurt, Tilda Swinton, and Jamie Bell

Directed by Joon-ho Bong, Written by Joon-ho Bong (screenplay), Kelly Masterson (screenplay), Jacques Lob (based on Le Transperceneige by), Benjamin Legrand (based on Le Transperceneige by), Jean-Marc Rochette (based on Le Transperceneige by)

Snowpiercer PosterScience-fiction films and television have made quite the re-emergence into pop culture over the past several years.  After decades of relative mediocrity (with only a sprinkling of gems to break the lull), blockbuster franchises like Star Trek, Planet of the Apes, and the superhero movie have once again revitalized the genre whilst paving the way for smaller, independent science fiction films that normally would not have made the cut, otherwise.

“Snowpiercer” is one such film— Heralded as the best sci-fi film since “Children of Men,” this international contender had a lot to live up to.  Besides touching upon similar themes of the human condition, global warming and classism, it manages to create a wonderful balancing act between the three that keeps all of the aforementioned heavy topics spinning in perfect harmony.

“Snowpiercer” takes place in the near future where global warming has run rampant and begun heating the Earth’s service to disastrous results.  Humans (in their infinite wisdom) decide to create a chemical compound to counteract this phenomenon.  Inevitably, the humans create a chemical workaround and release it into the atmosphere, which counteracts the induced global warming.  The solution is short-lived, instead of leveling off at ‘a normal’ global temperate the Earth continues to cool…plummeting it into a new ice age.

Before the great freeze, a select few are herded onto a perpetual, everlasting train that serves as the last bastion of humanity— Shielding them from the cold and providing food and comforts for the coming years, all seems well upon the Snowpiercer.  However, the people who live at the front of the train closest to the engine live a life of wealth and luxury, while the individuals who live in the tail live in near starvation and blatant poverty.

This leads to conflict.

01

The film takes place 18-years after the initial boarding of the train and follows a group of the ‘tail section-ers,’ led by Curtis (Chris Evans) and Gilliam (John Hurt), as they try to change society’s rules in order preserve their people.

“Snowpiercer” is a whirlwind of action and intrigue, the plot is less about the cause of the train’s inception but rather the plight of its passengers.  It focuses upon the struggle of the impoverished as well as the decadence of the affluent.  The film is rich with symbolism—  Specifically concerning synergy.  All parts affect the greater whole, especially in reference to the human body.  The head cannot exist without the feet and humans cannot exist solely, without humanity.  Numerous facets of the human condition and the aforementioned extended analogy permeate “Snowpiercer,” resulting in a complex film that keeps audiences thinking long after the credits roll.  Coupled with excellent acting “Snowpiercer” stacks up to be one of the best sci-fi films of the decade.

00Chris Evans leads this star studded cast as the young leader (Curtis), hellbent on leading his people to a better future, John Hurt plays the aged leader (Gilliam) who is effectively passing the baton to Curtis, Jamie Bell plays Curtis’ lieutenant, Edgar, and the villains are rounded out by Tilda Swinton and Ed Harris.  Kang-ho Song and Ah-sung Ho round-out the cast as unlikely allies to the film’s protagonist.  All of the acting is in finest form, however, Kang-ho Song’s acting stands out in particular because of his overall screen presence and difficult scenes.  Many of his lines are delivered in Korean, however this does not diminish any of the emotion or conveyance to the audience.

As an aside, “Snowpiercer” is a South Korean directed, written, and funded film and was expected to see a wide release United States via The Weinstein Company.  However, company head, Harvey Weinstein refused to distribute the film unless 20-minutes of the film were cut and introductory and closing monologues were added.  Director Bong Joon-ho politely declined, and the film only saw a limited release in art house theaters on June 27, 2014.  Due to the high amount of critical acclaim and buzz that “Snowpiercer” has received since its limited run, it was announced on July 2 that it would be run as a wide release in the near future.

02

This controversy is unfortunate, not because of the fact that it is a South Korean film, but rather the hoops that international films have to jump through to be seen—  US film companies have such a monopoly and controlling stake in the market that quality films (such as “Snowpiercer”) get shoved to the bottom shelf, solely being shown in art house cinemas or digital streaming service.  In the case, it seems as-if the quality of the film out trumped the big film companies, so tip of the hat to critics who urged film-goers to give “Snowpiercer” a watch.

If you get a chance, I urge any science-fiction fan to watch “Snowpiercer.”  If you enjoyed “Children of Men,” you’ll love “Snowpiercer.”  The acting is superb, the plot is captivating and poignant, and to top it all off director Bong Joon-ho throws in enough bits of color, flair, and quirkiness to give the film a unique flavor without taking it to obscurity.

 

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