Review - Snowpiercer

Snowpiercer (2013), R, 126 minutes - Earlier this year I stumbled upon a trailer for a dark and gritty dystopian thriller starring Chris Evans, Jamie Bell, Tilda Swinton, John Hurt, Octavia Spencer, and Ed Harris.  It was listed as having been released in 2013 but I hadn't seen or heard anything about it before.  How could I have missed a film like that?  After a little digging, I learned that the film - Snowpiercer - was a project of well regarded South Korean director/writer Joon-ho Bong that was released in South Korea last August and was scheduled to make its American debut this summer.

The film opens with a prologue of newscaster voice overs that explain that on July 1, 2014, after seven years of debate, seventy nine countries across the globe agree to launch a substance known as CW-7 into the upper layers of Earth's atmosphere in order to combat the effects of global warming.  The counter effects of CW-7 were underestimated and shortly after its dispersal, the entire planet plummets into an uninhabitable ice age.  All life on the planet becomes extinct with the exception of those who were able to board a gigantic, self-sustaining, perpetual motion propelled train built by Wilford Industries that endlessly circumnavigates the globe (at a rate of one lap per year).  Jump ahead seventeen years to the year 2031: we are introduced to those living in the last car on the train: the poor and downtrodden.  The train may be self-sustaining, but it functions on a strict class system (quality of life increases as you move towards the front of the train).

Curtis (Evans) and Edgar (Bell) have had enough of the cramped, light deprived living conditions at the tail of the train and eating nothing but gelatinous protein blocks for years.  Consulting with Gilliam (Hurt), the elder statesman of the lower class, they have been carefully planning a revolt with the goal of taking over the engine controlled by Mr. Wilford (Harris), Wilford Industries' namesake and the train's inventor.   As Gilliam warns them, all previous revolutions have failed because they were unable to take the engine.  First they have to surge past the guards and advance to the incarceration car where a man named Namgoong Minsoo (Kang-ho Song) is being kept.  He's the man who designed the doors and locking mechanisms throughout the train.  He's also a Kronole addict (a combustible substance that has a hallucinating effect when sniffed).  Once they've convinced him to help their cause - by agreeing to payment of two Kronole chunks per door he opens as well as allowing him to bring his daughter Yona (Ah-sung Ko) with him - they still have an unlikely journey ahead of them.  As the group advances, they are exposed to the wonders and horrors of the different cars and their responsibilities to the train's self-sustaining eco-system.   From time to time they come in contact with Minister Mason (Tilda Swinton), Mr. Wilford's mouthpiece to the people (he doesn't leave the engine).  After surviving a seemingly insurmountable attack from security, Curtis' group is able to take Minister Mason hostage, expediting their advancement through the train.  As with any revolution, the group suffers loses, but Curtis advances forward for the betterment of his people.  His arrival at the engine and confrontation with Mr. Wilford is quite satisfying and takes a couple of nice twists, causing Curtis to question everything he thought he knew about the train.

As mentioned earlier, the cast is great.  Not only is it immensely talented, but they all fit their characters perfectly.  Joon-ho Bong's direction provides suspenseful, thrilling action.  Curtis' group's advancement through the train is well paced and the visuals of the various cars can be beautiful and awe inspiring while others are every bit as disturbing.  I have not seen any of Joon-ho Bong's previous films, but I'm now curious to go back and see what else he has worked on.

I have to be honest.  I cheated on this one.  Snowpiercer is in limited release thus far in the States and has yet to reach this area.  Being impatient and knowing that it had been released overseas last year, I found it on the inter-webs.  This is the type of movie I love and I can only hope that it is eventually released here in Roanoke so that I can throw some much deserved money at it (then again when it gets a blu-ray release).  It is a very entertaining, thought provoking thriller and I would highly recommend it to anyone that may be intrigued by the trailer below and has the opportunity to see it in their area.  There's still half of the year to go, but Snowpiercer may be a dark horse when it comes to compiling my Best Films of 2014 list.


- Snowpiercer is inspired by a French graphic novel from 1984 by Jacques Lob, Benjamin Legrand and Jean-Marc Rochette called Le Transperceneige that Joon-ho Bong discovered while working on his 2006 monster movie The Host.  After seeing the film, I picked up the first volume of the graphic novel out of curiosity (it appears as though the first volume is all that the film covers).  Many of the same themes are present, but the characters and their motivations differ from the big screen version.  I'm glad that I was able to become familiar with the material that inspired the film, but I definitely prefer Joon-ho Bong's vision to the original as it tells a more coherent story (the graphic novel makes a couple of unexplained leaps, including one in the final pages that causes confusion, even if the story continues in another volume).

- The drawings created by Painter in the lower class car towards the beginning of the film were actually drawn by original graphic novel artist Jean-Marc Rochette.

- This is Joon-ho Bong's first English film.

- Other faces that may look familiar: Ewen Bremner (Andrew), Alison Pill (Teacher), Clark Middleton (Painter).

- I was amused when I realized that Kang-ho Song (Namgoong Minsoo) looked vaguely familiar because I had seen him in 2008's The Good, the Bad, the Weird.

- This is the second time that Kang-ho Song and Ah-sung Ko have played a father/daughter duo in a Joon-ho Bong film (2006's The Host being the first).

- I really liked that the Earth becoming uninhabitable was because the proactive attempt at solving the global warming problem backfired as opposed to a war of some sort like most films with dystopian futures.

- The designs of the various train cars were really cool.  It really felt like each car had its own unique purpose.

- Two particularly disturbing scenes (for me at least) where Andrew getting his arm frozen and shattered off and the school car scene where the children are being brainwashed by pro-Wilford propaganda.

- There were a couple revelations that I really enjoyed: Curtis' admission to Namgoong Minsoo of his past and not being the man that so many thought him to be and the fact that all of the revolts (including Curtis') had been manipulated to help preserve the balance of the train's eco-system.

- The final shot of Yona and Timmy leaving the train and seeing the Polar Bear, signifying that life outside of the train was once again possible, was beautiful.


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