Listen to the review by David H. Anthony above, or read it below.
Snowpiercer, a Film by Bong Joon-Ho
Summer is an acknowledged times for blockbusters. Snowpiercer the latest film by Korea’s Bong Joon Ho, is an apocalyptic dystopic entrant into that category. Bong Joon-Ho may be familiar to moviegoers as the director who brought us the creepy horror flick The Host (also known as Monster) and a poignant melodrama, Mother. Qualities in evidence in both these previous works recur in Snowpiercer: Bong’s penchant for the macabre and his ability to incite intense emotional responses from viewers.
In brief, Snowpiercer takes us into the very near future; in fact, he deftly begins with credible stories ostensibly drawn from early July 2014, even though the film was initially released in 2013. In an attempt to counteract global warming a scientist has invented a chemical compound which purports to be able to quell the effects of the process. Sadly, applying it shows that the solution has its own unanticipated deleterious impact. The result is a frozen world. The only survivors in what we are told is an otherwise extinct mass of species are locked in a lengthy, constantly moving train piloted by a mysterious industrialist-futurist named Wilford, played by Ed Harris.
However, we do not actually see Wilford until the last half hour of the film. In the short run we meet an aging John Hurt, who along with most of the more sympathetic characters is in the tail of the train. We quickly get the symbolism of the train as the embodiment of class and power divisions, but who is in front and who is in the rear. Among the rear dwellers is a reluctant leader in the making, Curtis, played by Chris Evans, accompanied by Octavia Spencer and Jamie Bell. Soon Chris will need to rendezvous with Namgoong Minsoo, an enigmatic Korean intelligence expert who knows the train inside out, played perfectly by Song Kang-ho and the lovely Yona played by Ko Ah-seong. Their mission is to get to the front of the train. But this is as challenging as Jason’s quest for the mythical Golden Fleece. The intrepid warriors are blocked at every turn by all manner of evildoers with varying degrees of violence and gore; Snowpiercer is not for the squeamish. Then there is Mason, hatefully hideous chief henchwoman to the still unseen Wilford, portrayed by the skillful Tilda Swinton.
Snowpiercer’s message is not new. The rich and powerful will do anything to remain so. What is striking is the way in which Bong Joon-ho integrates people and plots to remind us of the pervasiveness of venality and greed even among those who possess the tools to make things better. The vivid vistas are breathtaking; the special effects are well-executed and thankfully enhance rather than detract from the story. The focus on major characters and survivors who are people of color in what we used to call a science fiction film is also innovative, as is the wise expedient of permitting a gifted Korean actor to emote solely in his native tongue. Snowpiercer allows us to envision a future colored in vastly different hues from much of the familiar present and past.