A serious sleeper-hit—a social commentary film about social class crafted elegantly in a metaphor of an ‘end-of-the-world’ train. Everything’s beautifully design (without attempting to be realistic) as it reminds me to Terry Gilliam’s Brazil only with a more straightforward plot and twists.
“Know your place. Accept your place. Be a shoe,” Mason shouted to remind people from the tail.
17 years following the failed global-warming experiment, the earth is left for dead—ice and snow covers the whole surface of the earth and the temperature falls extremely. In aftermath, a new era of ice age has arrived. Everyone dies except those who luckily board themselves on a massive train that goes around the world, namely Snowpiercer. Yet, some those men are not simply the luckiest one—as the system in such train separates people according to their social classes: put the highest-borns on the head eating steaks and everything they like while the lowest on the tail eating suspicious protein blocks. And so, the train is their only survival, until the natural selection rises…
Snowpiercer comes not only with the dystopian vision of earth; it’s not even a disaster film. From the beginning, Snowpiercer has shown its gut to be a social riot—an innuendo of social class issue existing in the society that strips all its realism elements off. Here, we got a riot group led by Curtis the half-hearted (portrayed by Chris Evans) and supported by people like Edgar (Jamie Bell) and bad-ass Tanya (Olivia Spencer); they try to breach the gates of carts to carts, to seek out equality and to better their chance of living. How they do it? Hiring a father-and-daughter team from The Host, Namgoong Minsu (Song Kang-ho) and Yona (Ko Ah-sung). While there are uprising on the tail, the frontier acts.
The director Bong Joon-ho, along with fellow South Korean directors like Park Chan-wook (also served as a producer) and Kim Jee-won, always shows the fervently penchant of genre fiesta—with dramatic black comedy on the spotlight. Yet, social criticism through films in one thing he could always do; like criticizing South Korean government for their inability to sue the U.S. for what later inspires The Host (Gwoemul), or criticizing local police officers in Korean remote areas as seen in Memories of Murder and Mother (Madeo). In Snowpiercer, he takes his penchant to a larger scale commenting on how the world reacts on social-class issue—emphasizing on the inter-class frictions and putting it on the views of a world that hasn’t yet come.
Although this film is originally inspired by a French graphic-novel Le Transperceneige, the story and everything there is not simply ready-made materials. Bong basically works on making every detail of this film looks natural but futuristic at the same time. Fortunately, he has his production design team along with costume and make-up team did the best they could do. The modern-baroque set of each cart in Snowpiercer is artistically crafted that makes the social-class issue here alive; along with proper costume for each level, we can see how the Detroit-like tail cart is pictured or how everything gradually changes towards the head. It seems that Snowpiercer is over-stylized in some parts, but, that makes this film a hi-fi piece of art.
Alongside its promising premise and visual beauty, Snowpiercer sometimes looks like other films. The uprising goes very quickly, and, in some points, unsatisfied—things comes and goes so easily, leaving regrets (on-screen and off-screen). Twists and turns also constructs the conflict on each cart like a head-or-tail toss of coin—some goes exciting but some goes sour. If you don’t like what this film might concludes in the end, it must be the works of self-loathing system on the plot—whatever the result comes to be, it’s still a reflection of a coin toss. Head or toe? Which is good? Not everything good is good; not everything bad is bad. I guess that’s what the film tries to convince— a Bong Joon-ho typical.
Snowpiercer is fun, it is. It’s frustrating as well, it is. To be sure, it’s a piece of art that can make you amazed if you look closely (and not merely as a bleak entertainment).
Action, Drama, Sci-Fi Running Time: 126 Mins. Directed by: Bong Joon-ho Written by: Bong Joon-ho, Kelly Masterson (screenplay), Jacques Lob, Benjamin Legrand, Jean-Marc Rochette (Graphic novel) Starred by: Chris Evans, Tilda Swinton, Jamie Bell, John Hurt, Ed Harris, Octavia Spencer, Song Kang-ho, Ko Ah-sung, Ewen Bremner