Tuesday, August 12, 2014


I enjoyed Bong Joon Ho's comedy monster romp, The Host. I've generally had good luck with South Korean films.

This time Bong Joon Ho has a big budget, a mostly English speaking cast and script from a French graphic novel. In Snowpiercer an attempt to solve global warning goes wrong and all that is left of humanity it trapped on a train endlessly circling the frozen planet. The film starts at the back of the train where people who didn't pay to ride, live in overcrowded squalor. They are starting to get restless.

The inevitable revolt starts with the aim of reaching the engine at the front of the train and overturning the class system. They merely have to fight their way passed armed guards and unlock all the doors between the carriages all the way up the train. We have no doubt that the unarmed plebs will get through the locked doors and defeat the army in the way. If we are looking for subtlety, we got on the wrong train.

The idea of an overtly rigid class system feels alien in our current world with its all pervasive propaganda about (theoretical) class mobility. Though it works well with the linear nature of a train.

From the dirt and rags of the windowless carriage at the back of the train the scene changes carriage by carriage. Once we reach carriages with windows we can see the frozen wasteland outside. In this carefully ordered world each carriage has a purpose and is decorated accordingly. Similarly the occupants of each carriage dress according to their caste and purpose. It is obvious that the people designing the sets and costumes had a lot of fun. Though it feel like their brief was make this bit look like Blade Runner or the original Total Recall and that bit look like Stepford etc.

The graphic novel origins of Snowpiercer shows through, not only in the setting, but also the visual humour, simplistic characters (particularly the cartoonish villains), and the holes in the premise.

Unfortunately I didn't care for any of the good guys and their strategy is reminiscent of HAMAS's one in Gaza. The repetitive nature of get through a locked door into the next carriage, fight the bad guys, rinse and repeat began to feel like an unchallenging computer game where the main interest is seeing what the next level looks like. Some South Korean films have spectacular fight scenes, but in one of the Snowpiercer fight scenes, Curtis is leading the good guys against the better armed baddies, but as he moves forward he keeps passing good guys who were massed behind him at the start of the fight! Don't get me started on the avalanche! Once you begin to notice things like this, you know that the director has lost you. There are plenty of good movie scenes shot on trains and it is pity Bong Joon Ho wasn't inspired by them. Tilda Swinton is Snowpiercer's one redeeming feature.

A quick look at the reviews of Snowpiercer shows that the audience either loved it or hated it. I expect Snowpiercer will become a cult movie, but I won't need an intervention.

Ian's rating 1.5/5
Anne's rating 1.5/5

Other views: The Lumière Reader, Forbes and Vulture

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