Director: Bong Joon-ho
Screenwriters: Bong Joon-ho, Kelly Masterson
Cast: Chris Evans, Kang-ho Song, Go Ah-sung, Jamie Bell, Alison Pill, John Hurt, Tilda Swinton, Octavia Spencer
The Weinstein Company
Rated R | 125 Minutes
Release Date: June 27, 2014
Directed and co-written by South Korean filmmaker Bong Joon-ho (The Host, Mother), Snowpiercer is based on the French graphic novel Le Transperceneige by Jacques Lob, Benjamin Legrand, and Jean-Marc Rochette.
In 2014, an experiment to counteract global warming causes an ice age that kills nearly all life on Earth. The only survivors are the inhabitants of the Snowpiercer, a train that travels around the globe via a perpetual-motion engine. A class system is established on the train, with elites inhabiting first-class while the poor are sequestered to the slums of the tail section.
2031. Tail inhabitants prepare for the latest in a series of rebellions. Curtis (Chris Evans) leads Edgar (Jamie Bell), Tanya (Octavia Spencer), and the rest of the tail inhabitants in revolt, forcing their way through several train cars to the prison section. There, they release prisoner Namgoong Minsu (Kang-ho Song), the man who built the doors dividing each car, and his daughter Yona (Go Ah-sung). They offer him Kronol, an addictive drug, as payment for unlocking the remaining doors.
The starving masses of the tail section are rebelling against Mason (Tilda Swinton), Minister of the Train, who is dedicated to maintaining its caste system. Swinton’s sniveling overlord serves Mr. Wilford, the beloved creator of the train. Wilford is a mysterious, prophetic character – an amalgam of the Wizard of Oz, Willy Wonka, and BioShock Infinite‘s Zachary Hale Comstock.
“I am the head. You are the foot. It’s preordained,” says Minister Mason. The class metaphor is blatant, and yet the political satire never disrupts one’s enjoyment of the fully realized world Bong Joon-ho has created. This is a science-fiction action film with a social conscience – a film that delivers tension and thematic intricacy while defying conventional wisdom that summer blockbusters must be brainless, soulless spectacles.
Like Edge of Tomorrow, Snowpiercer is a brilliant realization of what we’re coming to define as video game cinema. As Curtis and his companions stab and bludgeon their way forward, we are experiencing the cinematic equivalent to a side-scrolling beat ’em up. The train cars they pass through serve a unique purpose; the greenhouse, the aquarium, the sushi bar, the night club, the meat locker, the kindergarten – each one with their own puzzles to solve and enemies to defeat.
As he progresses, Curtis upgrades from a blunt object to a bladed weapon before acquiring more advanced weapons like guns and explosives. There’s a momentum that drives the movie forward – a relentless urgency that demands we reach the front of the train, even though we have no idea what’s waiting for us there. The trajectory of Bong Joon-Ho’s film is similar to Gareth Evans’ The Raid: a group of ill-equipped good guys fight tooth-and-nail on a linear path to the big boss fight. In The Raid, the path is vertical. Here, it’s horizontal, with the rebels clearing train cars instead of floors in an apartment building.
For filmgoers numb to effects-driven blockbusters, Snowpiercer is a welcome change of pace. Like all of Bong Joon-ho’s films, his English-language debut is filled with black humor, sudden shifts in mood, and characters who earn their humanity. It’s bleak, but like all dystopian science-fiction there are glimpses of hope in the darkness. Snowpiercer itself is a glimpse of hope in a summer of empty, shock-and-awe toy commercials. Thoughtful, entertaining blockbusters do exist, and Snowpiercer is one of the year’s best.
Snowpiercer is currently in theaters. Click here for a list of select theaters. Bong Joon-ho’s film will also be available on VOD Friday, July 11.
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