Korean Films in Review: Snowpiercer

When looking at the cast of Snowpiercer, which includes Chris Evans, Tilda Swinton, John Hurt, Kang-ho Song and Ed Harris, you can’t help but wonder why such a film is only now being premièred in the UK or why Snowpiercer hasn’t had a UK cinema release.

Snowpiercer is based on the French graphic novel Le Transperceneige, and is the English-language debut for South Korean director Bong Joon-ho (The Host, Mother).

After a global warming experiment to save mankind fails, Earth is reduced to a frozen lifeless world. The remaining survivors board a train which travels around the Earth powered by the sacred engine. Those at the tail end of the train are reduced to the worst conditions living in squalor and forced to simply obey, those at the front have their freedom to live in luxury. The train is the world. Eighteen years later after receiving cryptic messages the tail end passengers start a revolution to claim control over the engine. The rebels are led by Curtis (Chris Evans) with his right hand man Edgar (Jamie Bell); we are with the rebels throughout their entire brutal crusade. They can’t escape and neither does the audience; we are never afforded the insight into any other characters at the front of the train. We are kept in the dark along with the rebels creating a more devastatingly tragic and unpredictable series of events.

In terms of originality it is difficult to fault the sci-fi epic that is Snowpiercer. Little quirks are inserted into the plot including the creative use of torture, the most revolting protein bars you could imagine and the fact that each carriage holds different uses which allows director Bong Joon-ho to get creative and show off his potential in its best form, from an impressively violent and bloody battle to the sickly colourful and manipulative education carriage.

The characters are inventive and individual enough to remain interesting and entertaining throughout. All actors hold their own presence well enough, but none stand out quite so much as Tilda Swinton who plays the brilliantly wicked Mason. She is amusing in her role that radiates political ignorance. We also see a much darker tormented side to Captain America, a wise role that Chris Evans duly fits into well.

Evan’s character Curtis is our lead and though his character development is somewhat guarded there are instances where we see deeper glances into his mind. That’s until near the end of the film when he drops all barriers with a rather bold and risky confession that ties all those previous glances into place. A factor that could have improved the film entirely would have been to delve deeper into, arguably, the most interesting character Namgoong Minsoo (Kang-ho Song).

The films tone is colourfully communicated through the darkly rich style it adopts, which is also effectively complemented through its impressive score as well as its set and costume design. The theme of control is ever present throughout Snowpiercer, as it becomes unclear at times which side has the upper hand until the bitter end when we realise having control over the engine may not mean having total control over the world after all.

At times the film is just too bold in nature; when unpredictable can simply become highly unnecessary. The South Korean-American mix in themes and style is interesting though at times does not blend perfectly. Snowpiercer crosses into darker boundaries such as cannibalism that some may argue is too dark for much of American cinema.

Overall the film is highly entertaining and has the potential to attract a cult following, and is definitely worth being released worldwide.  Bong Joon-ho is still a master.

Snowpiercer is the most highly anticipated of the 4 feature films from Korean directors being shown as part of this year’s Edinburgh Film Festival. Find out more about this and all the other films being shown here.

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Erin McDermott

  • whateverwha

    I saw it and read the graphic novel. I guess I preferred the graphic novel but the movie was pretty good. The ending of the movie is more optimistic so it’s all good. (These 2 pieces of works are linked but actually go separate ways.)
    It was about time the US gets a release date…*sigh* (I’m not American but still)