Film Review: Snowpiercer

Based on the French graphic novel Le Transperceneige by Jacques Lob, Benjamin Legrand and Jean-Marc Rochette, Snowpiercer is an epic sci-fi that serves as Korean director Bong Joon Ho‘s English language debut. Set in a dystopian future world, the film follows the final survivors of Earth who have boarded the Snowpiercer, a train that travels around the globe via a perpetual-motion engine, after a failed global-warming experiment killed off all life on the planet. But for the few that remain, life only gets more difficult as a class system is enforced on the Snowpiercer’s passengers. When cryptic messages make their way to the back section of the train – into the hands of Curtis (Chris Evans), Edgar (Jamie Bell), Gilliam (John Hurt), Tanya (Octavia Spencer), and Andrew (Ewen Bremner) – the less fortunate of the survivors are incited to revolt, thrusting the train full-throttle towards disaster, as those at the front of the train – Wilford (Ed Harris) and Mason (Tilda Swinton) – must do their utmost to maintain control.

I say this a lot, but dystopian literature and films are my favourites – when they are done right, that is. Snowpiercer is undeniably one of the best examples of how to work with the genre, and there are a few people we have to thank for that. First off, Lob, Legrand and Rochette have obviously written a tremendous novel, as a film like this needs a strong source to work from; background, development, structure, and setting are all incredibly important when creating a futuristic environment, and that’s usually why dystopias work best when they are adapted from novels. But most of all, we must put our hands together for director Bong Joon Ho; it’s always obvious when a Korean filmmaker is behind a film, and I’m in awe of his efforts here. Korean filmmakers have a certain knack for stripping back a genre to reveal a rawness that not many directors are able to capture. And that’s why Snowpiercer is one of my favourite films of this year.

To expand on my comment, all you have to do is think of Chan-wook Park, his masterpiece that is Oldboy, and his English-language debut Stoker. Producer of this film, there are many similarities between his work with this film itself, which, again, I put down to their Korean heritage. There’s something about the way they can tell a bleak a story, making it disturbingly powerful but so emotionally affecting at the same time. Maybe it’s nothing to do with being Korean at all, but when you think of Park’s work and films such as Battle Royale and Joon Ho’s own The Host, you have to understand what I mean.

The dystopian setting is immensely clever, and as the story progresses, and the characters make their way to the front of the train, it gets a more complex and in-depth, evolving from a story of revolt to one of unsettling power. I don’t think the ending itself left enough impact, as much as it tried, but the scenes leading up to this are full of some bold truths, leaving the audience in a slight state of disbelief. This film really is all about how it progresses, and you will find yourself really enjoying the journey itself.

Also starring Korean actors Kang-ho Song and Ah-sung Ko, the cast list for Snowpiercer is well thought out. All give incredible performances, with Chris Evans taking a strong lead that doesn’t involve a huge shield, and Tilda Swinton showing off her brilliant diverse skills. There’s also a small role from Skins star Luke Pasqualino which is a big step up for him, but unfortunately he wasn’t given much dialogue to take advantage of the opportunity, which was a shame.

Yet to have a theatrical release in the UK, Snowpiercer was released in the US last year and debuting in the UK at the Edinburgh International Film Festival. I sincerely hope it gets the release it deserves, as this is a film that all thriller and science fiction fans should see.

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