All aboard the Snowpiercer

I heard that Chris Evans, aka Captain America, was in a South Korea sci fi thriller. That may have been enough for me to watch Snowpiercer on its own, but I didn’t make it a priority. Movies like this usually have two fates in store from them. A swift death followed by a decent into obscurity or it gains a cult following, an under-appreciated gem. I started seeing it mentioned more often, so I finally gave it a go. So which will it be, had to find out for myself.

In a not so distant future global warming is becoming a serious issue. A mission to release a chemical into the atmosphere will bring down temperatures. Unfortunately the mission works too well and forces falls into another ice age. The only survivors inhabit a massive globe running train called the Snowpiercer.  The rich live in comfort in the front of the train, while the poor live in harsh cramped conditions in the back. After 17 years of these conditions, the inhabitants of the rear car are preparing to lead a revolt.

The conditions imposed on the rear inhabitants by the front are harsh. Hundreds of people live in the rear cars with very little space in which to do so. Their only contact with the front car comes in two forms. The first is when armed guards bring in the protein bars they have been living off for 17 years. The second is when a representative of the trains creator Wilford comes and takes a children. The rear inhabitants are not permitted out of the rear under any circumstance. Defiance is punished very harshly by a unique form of punishment that I will not spoil here (It’s pretty messed up though). Chris Evans portrays Curtis the person chosen to lead the rebellion. He is reluctant because there have been failed rebellions in the past. His mentor Gillian, played by John Hurt, has a plan. Adjacent to current train car is what they label as the prisoner car. The engineer who designed the locking system happens to be in that car for drug abuse. If they free him, they can get him to override the locks that have previously prevented forward progress through the train. With this plan, Curtis tries to enact a plan that will see the rebellion go all the way up to the head of the train and confront Wilford himself.

This is actually a South Korean film by director Bong Joon-ho. He has a bit of a cult following for his films Memoirs of Murder and The Host. Snowpiercer is his first english speaking movie. He has a flair for interpersonal strife and he brings the flare with this film. The premise of the movie is what sets it apart. Even though it isn’t entirely unfamiliar it is still presented in a way that is refreshing. We’re starting to get use to these dystopian futures and it’s good it can still be displayed in a new way. While the scope of a moving train seems small, it is fully realized. A fair amount of effort in making the train feel way more than just a shelter from the harsh outside world. The journey through the train feels like its own brand of moving around the world.

The best word to describe the entire experience is intense. This comes to life in three forms. The first is the setting itself, the train feels claustrophobic. Which is what you would expect right? The last of humanity stuck on a train. The feeling of nowhere to go is a reality. For the poor residents of the rear cars in the train even more so. The harsh conditions they are subjected hard to fathom, let alone see. It actually drives home the point more as you progress through the train and see the lavish conditions of the more fortunate.

The second is the dialogue. Characters get on quite a few soap boxes for monologues and exchanges but all in good ways. There is even a lot of exchange between different languages. A funny story, when I first watched this movie I didn’t know it had subtitles for the non english parts. So I watched a majority of the movie not understanding what they were saying in these scenes. I didn’t have too though, that’s the beauty of the character acting, particularly by Song Kang-ho. For the most part I was able to get the context of what he was saying. I went back and rewatched those scenes with dialogue and they made the scenes even more tense. This film is filled with a social commentary on alot of issues dealing with the nature of survival, and the cost that come associated with it. Everyone stuck on this train is tortured, the grass isn’t always greener on the other side.

Finally, the movie is very violence and brutal, especially in the action sequences. At times it feels cartoonishly violent, kind of like a Kill Bill movie, and other times it feels as unforgiving as Old Boy. I have just recently started watching more South Korean films and they have a flare for violence. Especially in confined spaces like hallways and trains. I love how they don’t feel every single fight needs a large arena, something hollywood has adhered too for quite sometime.

A lot of people will probably never watch Snowpiercer which is mostly unfortunate. As far as B-Movies go, this is likely one of the best you could possibly see. It’s a great combination of western film making meeting eastern film making right in the middle. It isn’t afraid to get you to think and confront certain issues. Fortunately, it isn’t shoved down your throat, just left open on the table. I would love to speak about these in more detail, but it is better experienced unknowingly. I know this is gonna be one of the reason people wont see this film. It’s hard to portray what it’s really about unless you see it. All I will say is, the movie is filled with deep moments. They aren’t earth shattering, but they’ll capture your attention. Snowpiercer is available on Netflix now, so if you’re looking for something a little different, give it a try.



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