Bong Joon-ho (director)
25 May 2020 (released)
24 May 2020
With Snowpiercer Bong Joon-Ho entered the international film arena via a half-forgotten French graphic novel. Bong adapted Le Transperceneige from Jacques Lob (writer) and Jean-Marc Rochette (illustrator) 1982 book though as we learn from the Blu-ray documentary about the writers, he had the project in mind much as he was preparing for The Host which had to be completed first.
But again as we see from the extras it was worth the wait as the scale of the production to get from page to screen is realised. A vast and expensive production that did justice to the images of artist Rochette, and the words of Lob who unfortunately passed away in 1990.
The Snowpiercer is a vast train - the creation of inventor and transport expert Wilford (Ed Harris) - on a perpetual journey looping around the world carrying all that is left of humanity after a failed attempt to lower the Earth’s temperature actually froze the planet, killing 99% of the population. Cooped up over 16 years some recall the days before while others know nothing else and are the ‘train babies’.
Revolutionary thinking was already afoot but a brutal punishment - a man’s arm is forced outside the train so it freezes solid then smashed to pieces – and the discovery that the soldiers guns have no bullets sets it off and the revolutionaries led by Curtis (Chris Evans) and advised by Gilliam (John Hurt) set off freeing security expert Namgoong (Song Kang-ho and his daughter Yona (Ko Asung) to help them get through the carriages, though both are addicted to a substance called Kronole.
As they go through the carriages the various sectors are revealed and the injustices of their situation laid bare: a meat wagon, an aquarium, restaurants and bars catering for those privileged, and most disturbing of all a classroom where the Wilford’s ideology is taught. It’s not an easy journey with ‘welcoming’ committees’ intent on stopping them on the way until they finally reach the engine and Wilford.
The success of Snowpiercer is that it continues to reward even after several viewings. The main element of the story is actually quite an unsubtle view of class differences and elitism with metaphors abounding. The elites at the front of the train with the rest cooped up at the back in horrendous conditions of squalor and confinement.
Beyond that the film has several levels. There are the solid characters, good and bad, woven into an allegory and satire on the use of power and position to indoctrinate an ideology. Bong also plays with our environmental fears in an original and unexpected way; an emotive issue that is arguably just as susceptible to manipulation.
As is the nature of these things the villains probably are the most memorable with the grotesque Minister Mason (Tilda Swinton) all buck teeth and garish suits and an unwavering credo that people need know to their place, closely followed by Ed Harris as the genius engineer of the train. A softly spoken frightening creation totally blinkered and convinced that his actions are right. Not quite so upfront is Evans playing Curtis subtlety and thoughtfully; a burdened world-weary man with an innate sense of what is right and able to dispense summary justice if required.
It’s clever and thought provoking but let’s not lose sight that Snowpiercer is also a thriller and an action film of the highest order with some fantastic sequences and effects work.