Monday, June 30, 2014

Review: "Snowpiercer"

Snowpiercer is the first English-language film from Korean director Bong Joon-ho. Bong Joon-ho is known for the Korean films The Host (2006) and Mother (2009), South Korea's official entrant in the Academy Awards for Best Foreign Language Film. Snowpiercer is based on the French graphic novel Le Transperceneige, first published in 1982 (with an English translation just this year). Bong gathered a talented cast for his first major North American release: Christ Evans, Alison Pill, John Hurt, Octavia Spencer, Ed Harris and Tilda Swinton. The summer season is full of blockbusters and Snowpiercer is no exception with its terrific visual effects, but it has much more depth than Transformers could ever manage. At a time when the world is suffering from repeated natural disasters - and May was declared the hottest month of May to have ever happened - Snowpiercer is a disturbing and shocking look at a future we would all like to avoid. Global warming has caused an ice age that has threatened all natural life on Earth. All surviving humans ride  a train travelling in perpetual motion. But the train's inhabitants are subject to a class system where the elite are pampered at the front and the rejects are stuck at the tail. Snowpiercer is emotionally complex with many great performances, particularly from Chris Evans and Song Kang-ho. Tilda Swinton, wearing almost as much makeup as in The Grand Budapest Hotel, is a delight as Minister Mason. Swinton has also been outspoken against major studios who may or may not release the film with a twenty minute edit. I had a conversation today with a friend about how many young adult novels - and films - have taken a post-apocalyptic approach (see Divergent, The Hunger Games). Hollywood - and the film community - have long been obsessed with life-after-death, but Snowpiercer is definitely one of the most adult and mature films of the genre due to its depiction of class and the themes of human decision. Snowpiercer is one of the best films that I have seen this year and one that should be seen. Jaw-dropping from beginning to end, Snowpiercer is a wonderfully crafted and acted film.

In 2014, global warming causes an ice age that threatens to make all life on Earth extinct. The mysterious Wilford creates a train that runs in perpetual motion that will keep the human survivors alive. The train travels across the icy and snow-covered terrain of the Earth over the course of a calendar year. The elite are housed at the front of the train, enjoying many of the luxuries of life on the outside. The tail, however, is where the lowest-ranking humans are hidden away from the rest. Seventeen years later, in 2031, the inhabitants of the tail are preparing for another rebellion. Curtis (Evans), along with Gilliam (Hurt), Tanya (Spencer) and Edgar (Jamie Bell) fight their way to the prison car where they rescue Namgoong Minsu (Song Kang-ho) and his daughter (Go Ah-sung). Namgoong was responsible for building the dividing doors between each train car and Curtis needs his knowledge to travel towards the front. The guards on the train have withstood previous rebellions and even though bullets no longer exist, they are better prepared for violence. After a victory against the guards, Mason (Swinton) agrees to lead the team towards the front in exchange for her life.

I interpret Snowpiercer as an allegory of our life on Earth. Global warming is an honest issue that must be addressed because natural disasters are becoming more common and creating more chaos on our planet. But there are those who refuse to acknowledge - or admit - that there is a problem. Those who are most heavily affected are those who are leading the revolt. On the train, the inhabitants of the tail are left to fend for themselves. Men and women are killed and children are taken away. They are willing to risk their lives to make the world (the train) a better place while other members of the train are ignorant of the situation. There are teachers who adhere to the Wilford's propaganda. There are high-ranking humans who dance through the night as if at a club. Snowpiercer was released August 1, 2013 in South Korean and did not earn an American release date until 10 months later. Is it too politically damaging for audiences to understand that global warming is a severe threat to life on Earth? It has an important message. It is an action film with many great sweeping shots and a tremendous amount of violence. You must look past its facade to see the true intentions behind the story. Life on Earth is better than being trapped on a train for two decades, right? But there are eight billion people on Earth, how many can fit on a train? Snowpiercer is definitely fiction with a very important message. I think we should all see it.

My rating: 4 stars out of 4.

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