[By JOSEPH WONG]
Snowpiercer is based on the 1982 French graphic novel ‘Le Transperceneige‘ by Jacques Lob, Jean-Marc Rochette and Benjamin Legrand. And having been picked up and adored by South Korean director Bong Joon-ho (he read the whole series in a comic book store in 2004!), his first English-language effort could be considered his passion project. Boon’s Korean influence, from slow-mo action sequences to the dark humour seen in his previous works, are merged into this science fiction caper about class differences and survival to good effect, and can proudly sit alongside the many greats of the science fiction genre.
Set in the distant future, after an experiment to combat global warming goes awfully wrong and instead freezes the world over, the only survivors of human life now reside in Snowpiercer, a self-supporting locomotive that travels on a track that spans the entire world. Inside, a class system is established between the rich, who actually bought tickets to board the train, and the poor, who snuck on and now reside at its tail end.
Unfair treatment of the poor by the rich, which includes disgusting protein blocks and child abduction, leads to a revolt led by Curtis (Chris Evans) and his sort-of mentor Gilliam (John Hurt). The story in a way sounds a lot like last year’s Elysium (poor vs rich)- so this is basically Elysium On A Train. However, Snowpiercer is miles ahead in many ways- the characters here are more fleshed out, whilst Elysium on the other hand suffered from underdeveloped characters and a lousy political motive behind the story.
The cast itself is diverse on many levels, from a host of British actors such as John Hurt, Jamie Bell and Tilda Swinton, to Koreans such as Song Kang-ho and Ko Asung (both of whom had previously worked in Bong’s well-received monster movie ‘The Host’). The main man of this international cast is obviously Chris Evans, who turns in a performance so driven and scared that you wonder why he was stuck in rom-com affairs a few years ago and is now on a roll as Captain America. The two main Korean characters, Song and Ko, also excel in their roles as Curtis’ sidekick junkies, delivering a funny while-at-the-same-time serious performance alongside the mainly foreign cast (“He’s as high as a f*cking kite“).
On the supporting front, Tilda Swinton delivers a menacing Margaret Thatcher-like performance as the tenacious Minister Mason, while John Hurt… well, John Hurt always delivers the goods in whatever role he plays. It’s tough to see Jamie Bell in his role as The Thing in the Fantastic Four reboot next year, what with his very heavy English accent. The character Wilford, one sought out by Curtis for 17 years, is only revealed at the end of the movie, and the reveal might surprise you (provided you don’t go through the cast list).
Action is aplenty in this flick. From the initial fight (“THEY’VE GOT NO BULLETS!“) to the face-off at Yekaterina Bridge (“IMPACT!“) to the final showdown against Wilford (“Nice“), Bong shows just how much he can do within the cramped constraints of a train carriage. With each action sequence happening in different carriages, the movie does not drag on as our heroes progress to the front of the train.
Snowpiercer puts Bong forth as one of the best South Korean directors around, and it wouldn’t be a surprise if Hollywood starts luring him into their empire. The movie has yet to be released in the US and UK (it was released in limited theaters in Malaysia early in the year), but it has made bucketloads in native South Korea, where it has become one of the most-attended Korean movies in the region (The Host holds first place). And while the international cast might give overseas audience some incentives to watch this, it should not cloud the fact that this is one of the smartest science fiction movies around, from the execution of its story and characters to the set pieces along this unstoppable train.