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21 April 2014 @ 02:19 pm
Film Review: Snowpiercer  
A dystopian futuristic thriller about the last of humanity living aboard a self-powered, never-stopping train based on the French graphic novel by Jean-Marc Rochette. It's directed by South Korean director Bong Joon-ho (The Host) and features a rather impressive international cast that includes Chris Evans, Jamie Bell, Tilda Swinton, and Song Kang-ho.


This film has already opened up in Korea but is set to come to the US under the Weinstein Company banner. I'd read that Harvey Weinstein plans on editing out a chunk of the character development stuff because apparently America is too dumb to handle anything past explosions. So I really wanted to see the original cut of the movie and this is where having relatives in Korea comes in handy.

Anyway, the premise of the film is that due to humanity's irresponsibility with Science, the entire world has frozen over. Having predicted this, an engineering genius named Wilford built essentially a train version of Noah's Ark. A huge, sprawling machine, the train gives protection to the last of mankind and operates like a small class-based society where the rich and upper class live at the front of the train with all its luxuries while the lower classes are relegated to the back of the train where the conditions are barely livable. At the start of the film, Curtis (Evans) who resides at the very back of the train hatches a plan to take a small group and make it to the front of the train to demand more humane treatment for his community at the back. Part of the plan involves finding the man who helped Wilford build the train, Namgoong Minsu (Song) in order to figure out how to unlock each compartment door. Most of the movie is devoted to Curtis and his team slowly moving forwards on the train, trying to reach Wilford and take over. But obviously, it's never as simple as that.

What really makes this movie worth viewing is the acting. I remember watching Chris Evans awhile ago in Danny Boyle's Sunshine and being completely floored by the fact that he could do dramatic acting. At that point I'd only ever seen him in those terrible Fantastic Four films so I'd never had much faith him in actually emoting real feelings. Evans has to more or less carry the entirety of Snowpiercer as I'm fairly certain he's in every single scene and he's rather good at it. He's not always given much to work with in terms of the script but I very much enjoyed what he did with what he got, particularly when the film shifted gears into being less about punching people and more about quiet dialogues.

His co-star in this is Song Kang-ho who is one of the most popular actors in Korea. I don't think I've ever written about Song or reviewed any of his films but he more than earns his place as one of Korea's best actors. He starred in one of my all time favorite Korean films Secret Sunshine whose lead actress won the top award at Cannes that year. I was only disappointed he himself didn't get as many accolades. Unlike a lot of popular male actors in Korea, Song is not boyishly good looking. He's actually well past the age of when Korea tries to promote its actors (25 seems to be the cut off point. He's in his 40s) and looks very much like a middle aged man. All his stardom comes from his pure acting talent because really, when he's on screen you can't stop watching him. His performance in Snowpiercer is no different. His introduction in the movie is him staring silently and then smoking silently for 3 minutes but I was completely mesmerized. He's a good actor to be placed in a film where the main language is English because he's able to convey quite a lot with just his expressions and use the language barrier to up the suspense rather than frustrate us. He's one of two characters who speaks Korean (the other being his daughter) so he remains largely isolated during the movie. He communicates with Evans and his team through electronic translators but because he doesn't always use them if you don't know Korean, you do get pulled into the mystery of his character and what his personal agenda is in helping Evans.

The resolution of the film itself is a bit ho hum. I felt like there was so much build up that when Wilford finally appears and we get about 20 minutes of exposition in one go, it all feels like a letdown. But for me this movie was less about the secrets of the train and more about the mysteries surrounding the character. Toward the end of the film there's a rather substantial reveal about Curtis (done in an excellent monologue by Evans) which puts so many things into context. I rather wished the film had done more with that than the countless scenes of violence. I frankly can't even imagine WHERE Weinstein is going to cut the character stuff because there's barely any when stacked against all the gunfights and head bashings. If anything, I felt like there was a golden opportunity missed to expand a bit on the tenuous working relationship between Curtis and Minsu. The two actors have an unusual sort of chemistry that only gelled all the more once you found out Curtis' backstory and Minsu's ultimate personal goal. If the movie had devoted more time to telling us more about its characters, I probably would have given this way more praise. As it is, there's some good stuff here but only if you're willing to slog through four too many battle scenes per train compartment.
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