Wednesday, 18 June 2014

Snowpiercer (2014): Review

Snowpiercer is a 2014 post apocalyptic film. directed by Joon Ho-Bong (The Host) and featuring an ensemble cast including Chris Evans (Sunshine), Tilda Swinton (We Need to Talk About Kevin), Kang Ho-Song (Sympathy for Mr Vengeance), John Hurt (Alien) and Jamie Bell (King Kong). The film is adapted from the French graphic novel Le Transperceneige.

Snowpiercer is set in a post-apocalyptic future in which an attempt to counter global warming has backfired and the earth has been plunged into an ice age. The only refuge from the elements is an enormous train which perpetually circles the globe and is divided into the rich and opulant classes in the front of the train and the poor and oppressed classes in the tail end. The tail end occupants are led in an uprising by Curtis (Evans), mentored by Gilliam (Hurt), in an attempt to overthrow their oppressive masters in the front carriages, under the leadership of Mr Wilfred (Ed Harris). Along the way they enlist the lockbusting skills of Minsu (Song) but are in for more than a few surprises along the way as hench-woman Mason (Swinton) is determined to stop them reaching the sacred engine room.

Although the post apocalyptic struggle between the classes and the masses isn't a new idea, Snowpiercer feels like a breath of fresh air for both the post-apocalyptic genre and the sci-fi genre. Ho-Bong makes a huge impression with his English language debut and the film is directed with all the visual style you'd expect from one of South Korea's many auteurs. There's definitely a world cinema, slow burn pace being utilised and it can take a while for things to get moving but the film is at its most fascinating when we move into the luxury front carriages. This includes an aquarium, greenhouse, swimming pool, night club and even a sushi bar hammering home the the injustice of the rich and greedy enjoying luxury at the expense of the exploited tail end occupants.

Although there are many fine performances in the film, I have to say the one that blows them all away is Tilda Swinton. Almost unrecognisable as Wilfred's spin doctor Mason, she manages to evoke cruelty, pathos, comedy and a weird sort of pathos often in the space of one line or glance. More a bureaucratic buffoon than a super villain she serves as the perfect foil to Curtis' revolution. The action sequences are spectacularly artistic and one sequence in particular seems to pay homage to the Oldboy corridor scene, with the camera always focusing on the physical elements rather than lingering on gore.

Whilst a little slow to get going and slightly too much lingering around the climax (with Harris proving a bit of a wet blanket), Snowpiercer is a triumph and is yet more proof that the great South Korean directors can make the transition to English language (if proof were needed after Chan-Wook's Stoker). An anti-Hollywood action film with all the satirical and philosophical notes of post-apocalyptic films gone by, Go out of your way to see Snowpiercer!

**** 4 Stars

What did you think of the film? How does it compare to other South Korean works?


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