¨Know your place. Accept your place. Be a shoe.¨
I was pleasantly surprised at how well Korean director, Joon-ho Bong, made the transition to this his first English language film because the style and tone of the film still felt entirely Korean despite starring some well known Hollywood actors. I enjoyed this film so much that I ended up watching it twice and that is something I rarely do. Based on the French graphic novel, Le Transperceneige written by Jean-Marc Rochette, Snowpiercer is an ambitious dystopian sci-fi film that despite having a very absurd premise works really well thanks to Bong's direction. It has some great performances with memorable characters, several exciting action scenes mixed with bizarre comedic moments, and a thought provoking metaphor on classicism. It is a bleak film but Bong handled the material so well that it kept me engaged and interested. Unfortunately the film does suffer from a rather unconvincing final act, but for most of its running time I was so entertained that I wasn't too disappointed.
Snowpiercer takes place in 2031 after a failed global-warming experiment has frozen all of Earth and wiped out all life. The only survivors are the passengers of a super train traveling across the globe with a perpetual-motion engine. Designed by Wilford, an engineer who knew the experiment would fail, the train has been running for 17 straight years and a social class system has developed as the passengers of the rear end live in extremely poor conditions. Here we are introduced to a young man named Curtis (Chris Evans) who is trying to come up with a plan to get past all the security guards in order to reach the front section where Wilford is presumed to be. He isn't alone on this quest as most of the passengers are upset for the abuse they've suffered and the extreme poor conditions in which they are forced to live in. A wise old man named Gilliam (John Hurt) who helped Wilford design the engine, has been helping Curtis rally the men together. Curtis's good friend, Edgar (Jamie Bell), is also awaiting the moment to begin their revolution as things begin to get worse once the guards take a few kids away from them. Tanya (Octavia Spencer) and Andrew (Ewen Bremner) are among the victims whose children have been taken away from them so they are also eager to attack. The first step of the plan involves freeing Namgoong (Song Kang-ho), a prisoner who has a special gift for unlocking the doors to each section, but the task won't be easy as the guards will do what it takes to make sure they stay at the rear section of the train.
Bong has directed several successful Korean films like The Host and Memories of a Murder, and in his first English language film his style remains untouched. Despite having some scenes that borderline in the ridiculous he somehow manages to balance those moments really well. For example there is this huge action scene that he has set up between the rebels and the guards who are awaiting them with axes. The bloody and violent confrontation begins, only to be interrupted as the train is approaching a bridge which serves as a landmark for the New Year. The fighting stops for a few seconds as everyone begins the countdown and admires the view of the outside world from inside the train, then the violence and mayhem continue. There are several moments like this where Bong perfectly balances these gorgeously crafted choreographed scenes with moments of quirky comedy and twisted sense of humor. The best example of this type of humor comes from the two characters played by Tilda Swinton (who is unrecognizable in this film) and Alison Pill who are terrific and steal the few scenes they are in. I really loved that classroom scene that felt completely out of place with the dark tail section of the train. I think it was those goofy moments that I enjoyed the most in this film. It was a great sensory experience to get to follow these characters through each section of the train and I have to give Bong credit for his visionary style because as our heroes progress to the front of the train things begin to get more and more bizarre and you never know what to expect. The film is short of being a masterpiece because the final 30 minutes are disappointing, but as a social satire Snowpiercer worked better than other recent sci-fi films like Elysium. It is a very weird and strange film, but it is really good and I enjoyed it even more on my second viewing.