Film Review: Snowpiercer dir. Bong Joon-Ho
In a time when Hollywood studios still give Roland Emmerich all the money to make his latest idea for how this world will end, Bong Joon-ho, with the comparatively tiny budget just shy of $40 million steps up to the apocalyptic plate and gives us a film that makes us sit back and ask, was that so hard?
I have never been one for a movie about the end of the world generally, simply because it is so epic, over-dramatic and coated with early 21st centuries anxieties that it is very hard to pull off well. However, South Korean film maker Bong Joon-ho’s adaptation of the French graphic novel Le Transperceneige is quite simply a new high-water mark for this action subgenre.
So the story goes that in the year 2014 humanity, after finally accepting global warming as a thing, attempted to fight against it and thus, set in place a chain of events which ushered in a new ice age. Our present day is now the not-too-distant-future of 2031 and those who have survived managed to do so by purchasing a ticket for a train which travels around the entire planet each year. The locomotive works nonstop, provides heat and destroys the ice it passes through and purifies it into drinkable water. It is also sorted into a class system based upon tickets purchased; the affluent upper class resides at the front, and the dregs of society reside in the tail. Subject to poor living conditions and kept under the control of those better off, the tail class passengers plan a revolt to destroy the class system of this new nomadic world.
Quentin Tarantino once said that he always considered action movie directors to be the greatest simply because shooting action is difficult and he is in many regards correct. There are far too many action/adventure film makers working today who quite frankly have no fucking idea what they are doing and think that blur of speedy images will suffice for excitement. Joon-ho, his camera man, and editor, are thankfully above this. The films fight sequences are notably eastern in style, gorgeous and similarly styled to the way in which other graphic novels have been successfully interpreted (notably Rodriguez with his best work sin city). To its credit this is also a film that balances all its action with both the dramatic and pressing questions that such a film should ask, as well as a very healthy dose of comedy and absurdity thrown in seamlessly.
Tilda Swinton is in this film and if there has ever been a single bad performance by her I have not seen it and furthermore if you do not enjoy Tilda Swinton you are wrong and should not be allowed to comment on any filmic performance ever. As always she disappears as the rather grotesque and yet comic Mason character, and with a rather ugly set of dentures, she reads as the more realized version of the Effie Trinket character from The Hunger Games. Song Kang-ho and Go Ah-Sang give really strong performances as the security designer and his daughter who are addicted to the future hallucinatory substance Kronole; a drug of enjoyment for high society, which has its roots in Soma from Huxley’s Brave New World, which seems to have influenced this narrative in many ways.
For all the strong performances in this film I will say our protagonist Curtis, portrayed by Chris Evans, is a little saggy and I could not help but think that he is the poor man’s Hugh Jackman (and that is not really saying much). Beyond this, criticism does not go too far except for the sort of lazy way in which the film employs a clairvoyant character; her unexplained and somewhat sudden arrival is never, well, explained and remains to be rather convenient.
It’s got a brilliant score, some fantastic set pieces that are as lush and as captivating as any film you are likely to see this year and by the end of it I was really left wondering why it received such a limited run in Australian theatres. This is a South Korean film, that is, it was made with a mostly South Korean crew and funding, however it was then picked up by the Weinstein Company earlier this year who handled the western distribution. Perhaps the biggest flop with this film is its marketing and distribution; The film is almost entirely in English and quite frankly if you marketed it in a similar way to any Zack Snyder film, it would probably prove to box office gold. Perhaps Snowpiercer was thought by the powers that be to be too sophisticated or intelligent an apocalypse film for western audiences, or perhaps this decision is simply a reflection of Hollywood racism. Either way, Snowpiercer is the best action film of 2014 so far.
- Anthony Wheeler