The South Korean director of The Host, Memories of Murder and Mother, goes Hollywood (sort of) with Snowpiercer a post apocalyptic action film. Though the film has an international cast headed by Captain America’s Chris Evans it is Korean produced.
The film opens 17 years after the earth has been frozen and one train houses the only survivors. The train circles the world continuously, the passengers are devided by class and a darwinian approach to survival. Chris Evans is the anti hero who leads a revolt against the oppressive regime who rule the classes aboard the train. He must makes his way to the front and overthrow the leader who has the people skils of Stalin. As he and his working class compatriots make there way through the train the audience lays witness to some spectacular action set-pieces and some awe inspiring art direction and production design.
Though fulfilling as a futuristic action film Snowpiercer offers much more in its exploration of the politics of class warfare. Bong is clearly interested in the plight of the working class in modern society, a number of his films have been devoted to exploring how the everyman battles oppression. Think of the Hangang river side vendors in The Host or the plodding detective in Memories of Murder. Ordinary individuals who must seemingly overcome extraordinary odds to save the victims from death, those who have seen the directors earlier films know he does not favour predictable happy endings. Famously the serial killer in Murder goes unpunished. Snowpierecer is penned by Kelly Masterson who wrote the masterful Before the Devil Know Your Dead, the last film directed by Sidney Lumet. A similarly complex story of greed and moral corruption.
The journey to the front of the train is thrilling and funny. Scenes of bloody conflict are intersperced with moments of outlandish comedy. When Curtis (Evans) and his cohorts reach the classroom section they enter a world of propoganda and high camp to rival Tim Burton, as the school teacher played to the hilt by Alison Pill fevourishly espouses the greatness of the leader to the indoctrinated children. The shift in tone from feverish action to comic farce is at times unnerving but those familiar with Bong’s style will find it consistent. The performance by Tilda Swinton as the priggish upper crust Mason who looks unrecognisable is a standout.
Those looking for a filmmaker who can subvert a genre will find much to like with Snowpiercer.