Defying genre boundaries and playing successfully with tone has become a staple of filmmaker Bong Joon-ho. In the film "Memories of Murder" the auteur took on the traditional detective mystery, went after the monster movie with "The Host" and explored paternal responsibility with "Mother." So it’s only fitting that his latest flick "Snowpiercer" also skillfully examines separate important issues like class system and the effect of a post-apocalyptic world and turns them on their ear. But unlike the previous films from the famed Southern Korean director this one sports a mostly English language cast and the difference in the delivery is regrettably damning.
The film begins with the notion that due to a global warming experiment gone wrong, the earth has gone back into the ice age. Meaning everything not indoors or in a safe place turns immediately to ice, freezes and dies. The final survivors on the planet are all on a single train that travels around the earth in a non-stop motion that keeps the inhabitants alive. But soon unrest and unhappiness within the confined walls of the moving metal machine begins to erupt.
As a visual piece of celluloid, "Snowpiercer" is certainly Bong Joon-ho’s best and most ambitious work to date. Creating a futuristic world amidst a desolate snowy wasteland is par for the course for the filmmaker and he certainly knocks it out of the park. It’s especially evident when the forgotten folks in the tail end of the train decide to embark on a bold trip to take over the head. Walking through a cavalcade of various vicious foes and wasted and wondrous worlds all within in a single train is the true set piece of the picture. The problem with "Snowpiercer" though lies with the mostly English speaking cast and their inability to match the impact of the story and style. Chalk it up to a language barrier or surface performances, but I never felt any real authenticity in the acting. As the lead man heading the charge, "Captain America" himself Chris Evans is frankly playing a darker version of Steve Rogers, while his supporting cast including Jamie Bell, John Hurt and Octavia Spencer all fit neatly into cardboard cutout stereotypes – the loyal friend, the wise old man and the sassy mom - that don’t impress. (Tilda Swinton not withstanding as she at least hams it up with another memorable nutburger role!) Even an uninspired Ed Harris shows up playing a kind of subpar version of Christof, the overseer of Jim Carrey’s TV life in "The Truman Show." The only exception here is the soulful work by Joon-ho regular Song Kang-Ho, who along with former "The Host" kid Ko Ah-sung, thankfully give the film some substance that matches the depth of the director’s vision. (A coincidence – I think not!)
In some ways "Snowpiercer" reminded me of a five-star top ten 2011 film called "The Divide," in which a group of everyday folks fight to stay alive and sane in a basement amidst a nuclear attack outside. Both films have a great handle on visual intensity and story savvy to give the situations within a true extreme sense of urgency. But in "The Divide" the characters were highly memorable before they were clearly defined, whereas in "Snowpiercer" we’ve seen these unoriginal folks before. In the end it truly bothers me that there’s a pressure to make these stories for an American and more importantly English speaking audience and thus making filmmakers forgo the fine foreign quality of their work. Let me pop the bubble here for all studio execs that are unaware – sometimes subtitles are okay.
Genre: Drama / Action / Sci-Fi
Cast: Chris Evans, Song Kang-ho, Tilda Swinton
Director: Bong Joon-ho
Running Time: 126 Minutes
Release Company: RADiUS-TWC
Added bonus – my ‘Rush Line Experience’ in pics!
Since my press pass doesn’t cover the opening film and the publicist claimed the screening was ‘at capacity’ I’m hitting the everyman Rush Line as a true Bong Joon-ho fan – 3 hours in advance!
I’m watching more DVD’s while in line in an attempt to multi-task – I’m always working!
I’m #1 in the line and have my $20.00 cash in hand ready to pay handsomely if there's a seat!
Once inside just before the show starts I notice not only am I in the very high section, but the lower level has a TON of empty seats – at capacity?
Two presentations before the flick begins. First off a fabulous band performs a piece of music from the film and then Bong and various cast come up and intro the movie. (Short intro alert – Ed Harris gets the mic after Tilda Swinton makes her eloquent remarks and simply says, ‘Ditto!’)