BY CHRISTOPHER HASKELL
OCTOBER 20, 2014
“Passengers, eternal order flows from the sacred engine. We must occupy our preordained position. I belong to the front, you belong to the tail. Know your place! Keep your place!”— Minister Mason (Tilda Swinton)
Dystopian future. Impaired class systems. Pending apocalypse. These are the themes being beaten to death in Hollywood these days. “The Hunger Games.” “Divergent.” “The Maze Runner.” All of these films have come out in the last few years and tend to tell the same stories over and over again. Not to mention all of these films are directed by white males, starring predominantly white men and women. Truth be told, producing something different under these parameters seems almost impossible. Yet South Korean director Bong Joon Ho steps in and shows exactly how to revitalize these devices with his dystopian future saga in “Snowpiercer.”
In the world of “Snowpiercer,” the Earth has become a land of ice unable to sustain human life. The last remaining humans are aboard a train that revolves around the globe at incredible speeds, thanks to an incredible engine. Like any anti-utopia, a class system has formed on the train, with those living in the front wanting for nothing and those in the back living in squalor, being fed black gelatin bricks that will make you cringe when you find out what is actually in them, and often having their children taken from them by members of the front sections. Taking time away from carrying his shield for Marvel, Chris Evans steps into the role of Curtis Everett, a man from the back of the train that has become a quiet symbol of rebellion. Curtis follows the guidance of the mysterious Gilliam (John Hurt), waiting for the perfect moment to free the key maker, Namgoong Minsoo (Song Kang Ho) and fight their way towards the very front car of the train.
Whereas most of the dismal future films have predominantly white casts, Bong Joon Ho brings together a formidable cast from all different cultures and races. Brits Tilda Swinton and Jamie Bell represent their homeland, Octavia Spencer provides the film some color, and Song Kang Ho and Ko Ah Sung, who both hail from the director’s home country of South Korea, deliver two of the best performances in the film. Just as the train is a melting pot of culture and race, so is “Snowpiercer” a melting pot of themes and styles. Martial arts fights are mixed with straight-up barroom brawls. The humor that is known from Korean cinema meets the twists and turns of an American thriller. Even the themes of age transcend anything in Hollywood at the moment, with some of the most important characters in the film being children. Bong Joon Ho is unafraid of taking chances and every one taken in this film pays off.
“Snowpiecer” is the dystopian future film that Hollywood wishes it had made. Deftly dark, by being separated from the Hollywood machine, Bong Joon Ho is allowed to take the unorthodox steps required in making this one of the most original movies of the past decade, even while brushing against every single theme listed earlier. Along with the perfect desaturated cinematography for this specific genre, choreography that rivals many of the most recent martial arts action films, and some truly phenomenal writing, which produces some of the most memorable on-screen moments this year, “Snowpiercer” is one of those near-perfect films that does not come along often enough. By the time the credits rolled, I realized how sick I was of white directors directing white casts in Hollywood movies. To get some real flavor and to create a truly dynamic masterpiece, a filmmaker has to be willing to change the spectrum and take some chances. Bong Joon Ho does that on every level and still garners a critical success that most Hollywood films could only dream of.
July 11, 2014
Bong Joon Ho
by Jacques Lob, Benjamin Legrand, & Jean-Marc Rochette
The Weinstein Company
(for violence, language and drug content)
Steve M. Choe