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SNOWPIERCER (director/writer: Bong Joon-ho; screenwriters: Kelly Masterson/based on a screen story by Mr. Bong/based on the graphic novel “Le Transperceneige” by Jacques Lob, Benjamin Legrand and Jean-Marc Rochette; cinematographer: Hong Kyung Pyo; editors: Changju Kim/Steve M. Choe; music: Marco Beltrami; cast: Chris Evans (Curtis), Song Kang-ho (Namgoong Minsu), Tilda Swinton (Mason), Jamie Bell (Edgar), Octavia Spencer (Tanya), Ewen Bremner (Andrew), Ko Ah-sung (Yona), John Hurt (Gilliam), Ed Harris (Wilford), Alison Pill (Teacher), Emma Levie (Claude,Woman in Yellow); Runtime: 126; MPAA Rating: R; producers: Tae Sung Jeong/Steven Nam/Park Chan-wook/Lee Tae-hun; Radius-TWC; 2013-South Korea/USA-in English & Korean, with English subtitles when needed)
The provocative film is one big metaphor for the chaos in present-day society, divided along class-lines.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

The futuristic sci-fi thriller that plays out as a stylish Orwellian allegory about wealth and political differences is from a 1982 French graphic novel “Le Transperceneige” by Jacques Lob, Benjamin Legrand and Jean-Marc Rochette. This is the first English-language film by the horror film maven, the South Korean director Bong Joon-ho(“Mother”/”The Host”/”Barking Dogs Never Bite”). The pic takes place on a train in 2031, some 17 years since the world was frozen over due to a failed global-warming experiment and no one ventures out without freezing in the new Ice Age. The only survivors are a group of diverse international passengers, who are aboard the gigantic high-speed train called the Snowpiercer that operates on a perpetual-motion engine as it travels across the planet annually. It has the capability to break through ice blocks, as it circles the planet’s track system in its journey to nowhere. In the tail section, cramped together, are the masses of the poor and the disenfranchised. The highlighted passengers are the angry number one rebel, the awakening politically unfortunate named Curtis (Chris Evans); his younger number two man is the volatile Edgar (Jamie Bell); Curtis’s crippled provocative older mentor is Gilliam (John Hurt); the black mom is Tanya (Octavia Spencer), who is trying to find her son taken from her by Claude (Emma Levie), an agent for the locomotive owner, after being measured; and, the awakened by Curtis and gang from sleep in a shelf is Namgoong Minsu (Song Kang-ho). He’s the Korean security expert who designed the train’s technology and is the only one who knows how to open the gates to the cars ahead, who is needed by the revolutionists to reach the Sacred Engine car and thereby overthrow the master. Minsu is also an addict, addicted to the waste product drug Kronol (which is also highly explosive), who will only cooperate with the rebels if supplied drugs and if his addict teen daughter (Ko Ah-sung) is also awakened to accompany him. The rear car passengers live in discomfort and survive on protein bars with questionable ingredients, that are given them by the crazed toothy Mason (Tilda Swinton). She’s a hollow Thatcher-like figure, who is an unfeeling flunky for the ‘haves” and rides in the luxury cars with the elites, the one percent of the train, while taking her orders from the mysterious and wicked train owner, the secular lord who rules the train with authority even if never seen, Wilford (Ed Harris). He poses as the supreme leader, who resides in comfort alone in the head car and is responsible for keeping everyone in their so-called place-claiming it’s a “preordained” order he’s following.

When cryptic messages begin popping up in the caboose car encouraging revolt, especially called for by the one-armed Gilliam (John Hurt), the rabble revolt against the class system when the train goes under a tunnel and then try to get to the supreme leader Wilford in the lead car but are met with overpowering force by either his armed security people or mean-spirited villains as they pass an aquarium, a sushi bar, a school run on political propaganda by a brain-washed teacher (Alison Pill) telling her pupils how to act as the privileged in society, and a car for discos.

The provocative film is one big metaphor for the chaos in present-day society, divided along class-lines, but its powerful visionary images are somewhat offset by Boon’s awkward attempts to explain with some gravitas how the train (all the world’s a train, and all the men and women are merely passengers) operates as an allegory for current world conditions between the haves and the have-nots. The social commentary, which is not fresh, is less persuasive than viewing the journey itself–the speeding train moving across the frozen tundra in the post-apocalyptic era–meant to be the same failed world we now live in.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”