It's going to be a good day my friends, almost by default, as we are privy to view the English language debut of the great Korean film director Joon-ho Bong and 'Snowpiercer'. It's a different kind of film, that's for sure, a movie that sometimes had me thinking that Bong was channeling his inner Terry Gilliam as opposed to tapping into his inner Joon-ho Bong, but ultimately it still ended up being a very good day.
In the year of 2014, Global Warming is no longer a political issue but a serious problem for our planet and something has to be done about it. So the world organizations, in their grand wisdom, decides to launch some kind of agent into the atmosphere which will bring down the earth's temperature a couple of degrees. Or more. Say goodbye to the Planet Earth.
So while the entire planet has completely frozen over and pretty much the entirety of its eight billion or so inhabitants are dead, society does continue on thanks to the wisdom of the great Mr. Wilford (Ed Harris) and his amazing Snowpiercer supertrain which runs on this phenomenal technology he invented called the Perpetual Motion Engine. All of the remnants of humanity exist only on this train which has tracks that circle the globe.
That was seventeen years ago. The train still runs, humanity still exists, but all is not well. There is a definite class division as haves sit in the exquisite front of the train and the have-nots are clustered in filth and squalor of the rear. Curtis (Chris Evans) has had enough of this. Up front they eat steak and chicken, in the tail they eat these gelatinous protein bricks made out of heaven only knows what. I'm fearing a 'Soylent Green' moment… please don't let this be this case.
So Curtis has decided it's time to revolt. Take the train. His aged mentor Gilliam (John Hurt) agrees, his hot headed adopted little brother Edgar (Jamie Bell) is raring to go, Tanya the super angry sista (Octavia Spencer) is chomping at the bit, especially since the powers up front have stolen her five year old son from her for some unknown reason, and the offensive is on.
The first order of business is to free the engineer. Minsu (Kang-ho Song) is the guy that designed the doors of this thing and his expertise will be most useful. He is violent and a drug addict, which are issues, but these should be manageable. And he needs his daughter Yona (Ah-sung Do) freed as well. Also a drug addict, but at least she's not violent.
The journey from the tail to the head will not be an easy one. Obstacles of monumental portions will be in the way Curtis and his fellow revolutionaries, sacrifices will have to be made, lives will be lost, and secrets will be revealed that will completely blow the mind of poor Curtis. And the fate of humanity will be in his hands.
Can we here at the FCU give a shout out? Of course we can, we run this thing. This shout out goes to actress Tilda Swinton and her character Minister Mason. For starters, we wouldn't have known this character was even Ms. Swinton had we not been told this after the fact, but if ever there was anybody who seemed to be having a good time playing a character, as cartoonishly reprehensible as this character turned out to be, it had to be Tilda Swinton. I don't know if this was by design or not, but despite the fact this character was the villain, more or less, she was pretty difficult to take seriously which did serve the purpose of lightening up what was a fairly dark affair.
Tilda aside, what you are going to get with 'Snowpiercer' is a very unique film experience. That, in of itself, almost makes it worth the price of admission. I made reference to Terry Gilliam earlier in that this movie does possess some of the same styling cues, set design and quirky characters that often pop in that director's films, only much darker. And if anybody is familiar with the works of Terry Gilliam, his films can be pretty dark to begin with, so that too is saying something and will hopefully prepare you for some of the shocking imagery you will see in this film.
It is this imagery and the design of the train cars, as Curtis and company hack and slash their way towards the front, which is one of the many reasons that 'Snowpiercer' is special. Each of the cabin cars of the train are unique and each represent something significant and have their own story to tell, stories which aren't necessarily explicit but implicit. But this isn't to say that 'Snowpiercer' is an exercise of style over substance, though there is style to burn. The narrative penned by Bong and Kelly Masterson… while somewhat fractured and dotted with a plot hole here and there… does have depth, solid dialog, and enough allegory of current events to fill four movies. You just have look for some of it. There's also plenty of action for the action junkie out there as you will be hard pressed to find anything more chaotic and violent than initial raid on the trains water supply. Think Old Boy's corridor scene, only with a lot more people and sharpened axes.
The acting performances were solid, for the most part, but outside of Chris Evans and of course Tilda Swinton, there were so many characters played by so many really good actors, that there wasn't a lot for them to do, so I think it was difficult for some of these actors to find their footing. In addition, there wasn't a lot of development of these characters for these actors to rest on which probably made it even more difficult for these actors. John Hurt, Octavia Spencer, Kang-ho Song and Ed Harris are all such good actors that they don't need much to get up and run with something, but in a movie that's as hectic as this one was, something had to go and depth of character that was sacrificed in this one, albeit for the greater good I would imagine. While Chris Evans will probably be known in this business more so for his physique than his acting ability, his talent did bring this film home as it neared its conclusion. He performed a fairly amazing soliloquy which went a long way in filling a lot of blanks and coloring in the edges of a narrative, which to that point, still needed some coloring in.
While, as a general rule, we don't watch films more than once, I might have to make an exception for 'Snowpiercer' as there is so much going on beyond what we are watching in front of us, it would be difficult to catch it all. This is pretty amazing film from very talented filmmaker.