Tuesday, July 15, 2014
Directed by Bong Joon-ho
Where & When: Arclight Cinemas, Hollywood, CA. July 4, 2014 12:00PM
End-of-the-world, sci-fi thrillers do not get any stranger than "Snowpiercer", the Korean director, Bong Joon-ho's first foray in English-language film-making. Due to long-term complacency over global warming, our planet has finally shut-down and frozen over, leaving what's left of humanity to live on a high-speed train circling the uninhabitable globe. The complete destruction of Earth certainly doesn't mean the end of a class system. The privileged few live in comfort and style in the front of the train while the folks in the back are left to suffer in discomfort and squalor. This may all sound way, way out there and kinda silly but in the very steady hands of Bong Joon-ho, he makes it all seem possible and plausible. Much like his quirky, box-office hit, "The Host" where the director successfully merged horror and politics, "Snowpiercer" is a loopy, feverishly imaginative, thought-provoking, thrill-ride.
The film begins seventeen years after the apocalypse with the passengers living in the last car of the train, surviving on tasteless, protein bars and treated more like animals, feeling fed-up and miserable. Although there have been previous failed attempts to revolt, Curtis (Chris Evans) has a plan that might actually succeed. A brooding man of few words, he is seen as their great savior which makes him feel very uncomfortable and unworthy of all the praise. His idea is to get to the water supply which will give them some leverage but first they will need to get to the prison section to release a man that knows how to unlock the train car doors. With his loyal, scrappy sidekick, Edgar (Jamie Bell) by his side, Curtis signals his fellow inhabitants to overtake the guards and advance towards the prison.
Once they locate their target, Minsu (Song Kang-ho, star of "The Host") proves to be unreceptive to the plan. Aware that he's addicted to Kronol, a narcotic made from explosive chemical waste, Curtis uses that to bargain with Minsu. Insisting on taking his equally addicted daughter, Yona (Go Ah-sung) along, Minsu begins unlocking the car doors where unforeseen dangers lurk behind them. As the militant mob move forward, the director keeps the tension and suspense on high throughout. The brutal, bloody battles are equally horrific and quite beautifully staged. Based upon a French graphic novel, "Le Transperceneige", production designer, Ondoej Nekvasil successfully brings the images to life, giving each section of the train a bold and distinctive look every time we move in to a new car.
There is little surprise that Mr. Evans, who has made his career playing men capable of incredible feats, delivers in the intense action sequences but he's also surprisingly effective in the film's quieter moments, particularly when retelling the harrowing experience of life on the train when they first boarded. In addition to the familiar faces such as Oscar-winner, Octavia Spencer and John Hurt, an international cast of lesser known but equally fine actors have also been assembled. This includes Vlad Ivanov, the Croatian performer who would be known here for his work in "4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days", Adnan Hasković from Bosnia and Icelandic actor, Tómas Lemarquis. The highlight, also of little surprise, is the incomparable Ms. Swinton and just like her recent appearance in "The Grand Budapest Hotel", the actress is barely recognizable buried under elaborate make-up. Filling in for a role originally conceived for a male but with none of the pronouns altered, she is deliciously batty as Mason, the overenthusiastic mouthpiece for Wilford, (played by Ed Harris), the creator of this fascist society.
There usually are not many serious messages to be found in summer action thrillers but "Snowpiercer" offers something to consider in between all of the histrionic fighting. The film delivers all the mind-blowing excitement you would expect as well as plenty of unexpected.twists. Forget about the uninspired "Transformers", "Snowpiercer" is the action film of the summer.