By Howard McQuitter
Snowpiercer is Joon-ho Bong’s first English language film. It is imaginative and smart, putting to shame most contemporary American films in the same genre(s).Bong’s (Mother, The Host, Memories of Murder) Snowpiercer is a piercer, a mindblower, a film that lies on the brain, with surprises and all.
Mr. Bong takes the plot from a French graphic novel written in 1982 telling of a futuristic world catastrophe. Threat of global warming causes several dozen nations in conjunction, and in an attempt to prevent global warming a chemical is put in the upper atmosphere. Yet the plan backfires, bringing on a new Ice Age.
The only survivors are on mad scientist Wilford’s (Ed Harris) fast-moving train that circumnavigates the Earth. Wealthy survivors live in the front cars in opulence, while the poor, crowded in filthy quarters in the rear cars, are forced to eat protein blocks. Although in the book the train has over 1,000 cars, the film has only 26 cars.
Coming to the rear from the front is a nearly unrecognizable Tilda Swinton as Mason, a tyrannical liaison in a white suit, and her teeth are as shocking as the Cheshire Cat in Alice in Wonderland. In the rear, however, frustration and anger is rising to the boiling point as food is scarce and bad, not to mention the terrible living conditions. The muscle for a revolution by the lumpens falls into the hands of Curtis (Chris Evans, i.e. Captain America: The Winter Soldier).
Curtis is joined by a wiry young man named Edgar (Jamie Bell), a venerable elderly man, Gillam (John Hurt), an agonized mother, Tanya (Octavia Spencer), and also aided by the train’s security guard Nam (Song Kang-ho) and his energetic daughter (Go Ah-sung) to push their way to the front, passing by lush gardens, swimming pools, a library, and a huge aquarium and kitchen. Also in the first several cars is a classroom run by a propaganda teacher.
¨You control the engine, you control the world,¨ states Curtis. In order to get to the front there’s going to be tremendous odds(previous attempts failed)such once the action ensues, Curtis and several dozen others collide with herds of armed thugs swinging clubs, knives, chains, and brass knuckles culminating the violence between the two antagonizing groups.
Bong creates arresting visuals in what constitutes small spaces and similar to the class tiers in The Titanic (1999), his social commentary on class in Snowpiercer is compact.
**** out of 5 stars
Cast: Chris Evans (Curtis), Tilda Swinton (Mason), Kang-ho-Song (Namgoong Minsoo), Jamie Bell (Edgar), John Hurt (Gillam), Ed Harris (Wilford), Octavia Spencer (Tanya), Go Ah-sung (Yona); Rated R; Running time: 126 minutes. Languages: English/Korean/Japanese/French. Director: Joon-ho Bong.
Howard McQuitter welcomes reader responses at [email protected].