Sunday, 31 May 2020

Snowpiercer


Scenes From
A Carriage


Snowpiercer
South Korea/Czechoslovakia 2013
Directed by Bong Joon Ho
Anchor Bay  Blu Ray Zone A


Snowpiercer is another fine movie from Bong Joon Ho, director of the absolutely brilliant, giant monster movie The Host and the ‘so so’ multiple Oscar winner Parasite. It’s based on a comic book I’ve never actually read called Le Transperceneige so, please forgive me that I’m not able to convey whether this is an accurate adaptation of the source material or not... I just don’t know. It’s also the movie that the notorious Harvey Weinstein famously sat on and blocked from release in the US (it’s still not been released over here in the UK*) for many years now due to the director correctly refusing to cut the film down. I got so fed up with not being able to see this, since there’s now also a TV series based on the work, that I finally got around to importing a Blu Ray release of this thing.

And, yeah, it’s not a bad film. It’s a nice 1950s style sci-fi novel concept (as modern sci-fi often is) although the whole thing feels a little bit dated to me in terms of the film reminding me of a lot of stuff I was seeing from places like Korea in the 1990s. That is to say, the film is kinda complex in terms of the amount of detail crammed into the thing... it made me think of some live action manga adaptations from the end of the last millennium.

The plot is of a post-apocalyptic Earth where nobody can survive (after mankind absolutely doomed themselves by bringing in the ‘big freeze’) unless they are in this specific, very long train which keeps moving and circling the planet on one large track over the course of a year... so, for example, you will always know from the wreckage of the place you are passing again when it is New Year’s Day. Stay on the constantly moving and self sufficient train and you live... exit and you freeze to death within minutes.

However, there is a class system established on the train, from the rich folk at the front, down to the lower classes at the rear who are more or less treated like prisoners in Nazi Germany and it’s here where our main protagonists work together to throw off the chains of their oppressors. The story tells of a group of characters played by the likes of Chris Evans, Kang-ho Song, Jamie Bell, Ko Asung, Octavia Spencer, Ewan Bremner and John Hurt as they finally organise themselves enough to try and fight their way to the front of the train and seize control of their situation. In their path, a whole host of bad guys and henchmen including Tilda Swinton, playing her evil character as kind of a Northern shop steward and the man at the top, Ed Harris.

And so, yeah, if this sounds all very like the original intended version of the late Bruce Lee’s Game Of Death, where his character was supposed to fight his way level by level up the tower... this is exactly what we have here. Except the tower is vertical, moving very fast and much longer. Plus there’s no kung fu action, of course.

As you can imagine from a cast as good as this, all the performances in this are superb (and it’s very grim too, because of it) but it’s the constant changes in interior locations and the inventiveness of different settings which continue to hold the interest as the story progresses. The first three quarters of an hour or more, for example, are really dark and grey and exactly the kind of colour palette you’d imagine for depicting a Jewish ghetto in a film set during the Second World War but, as new sections of the train are unlocked and revealed to the constantly diminishing band of survivors, everything gets more brighter and, of course more decadent as things go on, with the various ruling classes juxtaposed with our ‘low life heroes’ from the back of the train.

There’s a beautiful, breathtaking aquarium environment, for example, where the walls of one carriage are completely lined with aquatic life so the rest of the train can have sushi during certain times of the year. There’s a school room with kids and a somewhat irritating, singing teacher and even some ‘clubbing’ quarters where dancing, drinking and drugs is going on.

There’s lots of fighting going on too and it’s interesting how director Ho manages to get you to feel the emotional weight of some of the deaths when you’ve really only known certain characters for a half an hour. One interesting fight scene is where the incredibly long train is turning around on a huge u-turn of track, allowing a sniper to fire in a gun battle between two carriages while they are in view of each other. This was a nice touch and I have to wonder if this was in the original comic or if someone thought of this visual possibility purely for the film.

Adding to both this emotional weight and the gravitas of some of the action scenes is Marco Beltrami’s excellent score (I need to put this one on order soon). I was especially taken with a ‘call to action’ around halfway through the film where the underlying rhythm of the piece echoes, or actually creates, the sound of the locomotion of the transport. Very nicely done.

Okay, short review then because I’ve not got a whole lot more to say about Snowpiercer other than the fact that there’s a nice kind of twist as to where the narrative is going which you might suspect is coming at some point if you keep your eye on Ho’s regular actor Kang-ho Song... but may not realise is an option until this character starts offering up some science about their situation. It’s an okay ending but doesn’t neccessarily answer anything unless you are able to assume there’s a little more to what you are seeing than you have been shown... at least in terms of the aftermath of the film’s denouement. Not as good as The Host (which also stars Kang-ho Song and Ko Asung) but, at least for me, a solid science fiction vehicle with an interesting premise. 

*Wrote this a few months ago... it’s coming out over here in the on Blu Ray very soon.

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