Friday, June 27, 2014



Snowpiercer official site The conflicts among classes in a society seem to last forever as long as human beings exist, unless Marx's communism utopia becomes reality. Many of today's unrests around the world can be traced back to deepened social and economic inequality. Even in an imaginary sci-fi world, the class struggle remains to exit. For example, "In Time" (2011), "The Hunger Games: Catching Fire" (2013), and "Divergent" (2014), just to name a few films in recent years. When Korean director Bong Joon-ho (봉준호) transforms a French graphic novel "Le Transperceneige" into an strangely entertaining spectacle "Snowpiercer" (설국열차 | 雪國列車 | South Korea/USA/France/Czech Republic 2013 | 126 min.), the collision between the haves and have-nots in a post-apocalyptic age is put at the front and center.

Who would have thought that the today's worsening global warming is going to cause an inhabitable frozen world by the year 2031? An experiment aiming to cool down the earth works too well and the entire planet freezes up. Only few thousand people survive on earth by living on a train called Snowpiercer that circles around the world continuously. The brilliant train is designed by a visionary billionaire Wilford (Ed Harris). Wilford not only foresees the catastrophic destiny and builds this impressive maintenance-free train (no one seem to be able to survive the cold outside the train), but also he keeps social class structure intact inside the train. The rich live a lavish life in the front portion of the train, and the poor barely make it on the back of the train under a horrific condition.

As in any society that nourishes social and economic inequality, unrest and rebellion are inevitable. With one-armed Gilliam (John Hurt) as a wise adviser and a brave Edgar (Jamie Bell) by his side, a tough looking Curtis (Chris Evans) leads a new revolution, followed by a desperate crowd, including a distraught Tanya (Octavia Spencer) who tries to get back her little son. The goal is to overcome heavy armed army then pass multiple highly sophisticated gates between train cars, and finally reach the engine room where Wilford resides.

That certainly sounds impossible. However, these rebellions are lucky because drug-addicted Namgoong Minsu (Song Kang-ho 송강호), the one who designed these gates, is still confined in the prison section on the train with his teenage daughter Yona Go Ah-sung 고아성). After the two joined the force, the violent battle advances one car at a time, toward the front section of this non-stop fast moving train.

Snowpiercer Official Site

This film is the first English language film by the Korean director Bong Joon-ho who is best known for his entertaining blockbuster "The Host" (괴물 2006) and his brilliant "Mother" (마더 2009). Unlike many Korean films that are impeccably detail-orientated in plot development, this film is like a piece of ambitious work from a confident master who takes big strokes with a huge brush ignoring small details. Even as a sci-fi, the film seems to violate the fundamental law of physics. For example, the train is able to continuously run on a forever existing track, and when it is occasionally blocked by ice and snow it simply ramps through the ice without any damage. How could that happen without any special equipment or technology, because we all know how easy a high-speed train can be derailed? After each fight between the rebellions and the Wilford's army, these malnutrition and almost unarmed underdogs are miraculously able to proceed. The show must go on.

What appears to interest Bong Joon-ho the most is the characters who fall into different preordained social classes and how the conflicts escalate. Along the way, he is having fun by letting Tilda Swinton hilariously steal every scene she presents as Mason, Wilford's deputy commander. The amusing episode in a kindergarten classroom further indicates that the director is enjoying playing with his material by injecting his quirky sense of humor and a plausible explanation about the film's happening is secondary to him, if necessary.

However, Bong Joon-ho changes his mind toward the end of the film. He lets Curtis tell a lengthy and tearful, yet yawning and unconvincing story about what happened when he first boarded the train. Does that make the whole uprising action more justified and more sympathetic? Not really.

Despite its flaws, the film provides solid entertainment and a bizarre ride on a train that you probably wouldn't want to board even the earth were indeed turned into a giant refrigerator.

"Snowpiercer," a RADiUS-TWC release, opens on Friday, June 27, 2014.

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