Bong Joon-ho wildly entertains in this high-concept sci-fi picture about survival and class issues that features a high-speed train hurtling through an apocalyptic world.
Dir. Bong Joon-ho
2013 | South Korea/Czech Republic | Drama/Sci-Fi/Action | 126 mins | 1.85:1 | English, Korean & various other languages
NC16 (passed clean) for violence, language and drug content
Cast: Chris Evans, Song Kang-ho, Jamie Bell, Tilda Swinton, Ed Harris, John Hurt, Ko Asung
Plot: In a future where a failed climate-change experiment has killed all life except for the lucky few who boarded the Snowpiercer, a train that travels around the globe, a new class system emerges.
Awards: Official Selection (Berlin)
Distributor: CJ Entertainment
Subject Matter: Moderate – Class, Survival
Narrative Style: Straightforward
Audience Type: Slightly Mainstream
Bong Joon-ho’s first English-language movie may have its detractors with some calling it flawed, but I think it is a great film and I enjoyed it very much.
Based loosely on the French graphic novel ‘Le Transperceneige’, Snowpiercer is wildly entertaining as a high-concept sci-fi picture about survival in a dog-eat-dog world.
In this case, the world is a high-speed train that revolves around the Earth’s icy wasteland, irreversibly destroyed by Man as they battled global warming decades ago.
What’s left of humanity are in this train, split into different carriages that are determinants of class—the tail section houses the lower-class in perpetual hunger and grime, while the other extreme end is Wilford, the brains behind the technology—and ecology—that power and balance the train’s continuous sustenance.
“My friend, you suffer from the misplaced optimism of the doomed.”
Snowpiercer can be rather violent in its portrayal of ‘revolution’ by the disenfranchised against the even more brutal upper-class authorities within this claustrophobic space. As the revolutionaries attempt to advance from one carriage to the next, we see different worlds inhabited by an assortment of people.
With an all-star cast including Chris Evans, Tilda Swinton and Song Kang-ho, possibly the most star-studded of all Bong’s films, Snowpiercer shows us humanity’s savage side when pushed to the extreme.
A fight sequence shot in the dark and lit only with flame torches as humans bludgeon one another up remains to be one of Bong’s most breathtaking scenes.
Some may find a high-tech locomotive hurtling through an apocalyptic world absurd (coupled with video game-like CG in its exterior shots), but its very concept produces a narrative that can be highly thought-provoking. I must admit I like this more than The Host (2006) or Okja (2017).