Friday, July 11, 2014

Snowpiercer (2014)

Director: Bong Joon-ho
Notable Cast: Chris Evans, Song Kang-ho, Ko Ah-Sung, John Hurt, Tilda Swinton, Jamie Bell, Octavia Spencer, Ed Harris

Snowpiercer is the kind of film that defies many conventions. It’s a multinational film, although it truly has its heart built from South Korean film making, and in many ways it’s destined to be an instant cult classic. With a major American star in the lead, an action packed pacing, and some almost gimmicky plot progressions, one would think that this would be a prime film for the summer block buster season. Yet, it was crushed down to appearing in arthouse US cinemas almost a year after its South Korean debut. After experiencing the film, it actually makes sense. Despite being one of the best films of the year and knocking my proverbial socks off, I’m not sure a mainstream American audience could have handled a film like this.

In the not-so-distant future, the world has become a glacial and uninhabitable place ruined by human reaction. Only a never-ending train continues to support life on Earth, self-sustained and ever moving. For Curtis (Evans), it is both a blessing and a curse. Living in the tail end of the train and forced to consume protein blocks while pushing through overcrowded poverty, he pines to bring his people up to the front of the train to live with the wealthy. So he begins to plan. With the help of some determined individuals and an imprisoned security specialist (Song Kang-ho), he plans to take the engine.

Director Bong Joon-ho has always been in my peripheral vision for his fantastic monster flick The Host, but Snowpiercer is taking his work to the next level. Channeling his inner Terry Gilliam, Bong Joon-ho tackles a very high concept science fiction action tale (based on a French graphic novel) with ridiculously high energy and strong focus. At first the entire concept is a little hard to swallow, showcasing a blend of fantasy and science fiction to get the plot progressions across to build this intriguing world of the future where current worldly concerns rear their ugly head, but if you are willing to dive headfirst into the somewhat extreme context then there’s no way you are getting out without consuming the film as quickly as possible.

From there, Snowpiercer enlists a slew of memorable and quirky characters to inhabit the strange setting. Evans is dynamic in the lead role as a torn man pushing for equality for everyone on the train and he balances out the rather mysterious and off beat Korean duo that he enlists to help him on his quest. The film is littered with these great characters. From the wacky schoolteacher to Edgar the eager young activist or the two silent hit men killers sent to stop the rebellion, Snowpiercer is brilliantly built on strong characters and brilliant performances.

I mentioned previously that the mainstream American film going audience might find Snowpiercer hard to swallow. Not only is the concept impressively deep with political and social concepts that’s wrapped in science fiction fantasy with damn near everything symbolic with a separate meaning, but the film genre-bends at a wicked pacing. The film is a decently paced action flick in many regards, utilizing Bong Joon-ho’s talents for energy and spectacle that’s slathered in some pretty brutal violence at times, but it’s also quite the satire. This is where the true Terry Gilliam comparisons arise (not to mention having Gilliam regular John Hurt in the film playing a character named Gilliam). The audience I was with was uncertain whether to be shocked, disgusted, or laughing through most of the movie – a school house portion of the film flickers between disturbing and hilarious – and that was at an arthouse cinema. I’m guessing between the political subtext of the symbolism and the off beat humor, the Weinstein Company knew that the mainstream American audience wouldn’t quite buy in. I might have broken Korean box office records, but unless you’re a film fanatic with an open mind it might be a tough one to digest.

"Looks clean to me, sir."
All in all though, Snowpiercer knocked my block off. It was high brow entertainment at it’s best, blending humor, action, and science fiction fantasy into a one-two punch that could knock out most film scholars. Lead by a strong cast of relatable characters in a situation that’s both gimmicky and relevant, Snowpiercer is great and ferocious genre cinema that comes only with the highest recommendation.

 Written By Matt Reifschneider

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