Sunday, July 06, 2014
Based on the graphic novel Le Transperceneige by Jacques Lob, Benjamin Legrand, and Jean-Marc Rochette, Snowpiercer is post-apocalyptic film set in an ice age where survivors are living on a train as the poor and hungry rebel against the elite as they try to take over the train. Directed by Bong Joon-Ho and screenplay by Joon-Ho and Kelly Masterson from a screen story by Joon-Ho, the film is a futuristic dystopia where class is being separated as it all takes place inside a train. Starring Tilda Swinton, Chris Evans, John Hurt, Jamie Bell, Octavia Spencer, Ewen Bremner, Alison Pill, Song Kang-ho, Go Ah-sung, and Ed Harris. Snowpiercer is a thrilling yet mesmerizing film from Bong Joon-Ho.
Set in an ice age in the middle of the 21st Century where survivors of the ice age live inside a train. The film is about a rebellion led by the poor who live on the tail-end of the train as they trek through their way to front to confront the mysterious creator of the train. It’s a film that explores not just class structures where the poor is forced to suffer and eat protein bars, unaware of its true substance, while enduring all sorts of abuse as the only person from the front they meet is the train minister Mason (Tilda Swinton). For a young man in Curtis (Chris Evans), it’s all too much for him to take as he would lead the rebellion with the help of his mentor Gilliam (John Hurt) where they free the gates designer Minsu (Song Kang-Ho) and his daughter Yona (Go Ah-sung) only to encounter all sorts of horrors of the train they’ve been living in.
The film’s screenplay does begin with bits of exposition about how the ice age had begun all due to an experiment, that was to combat global warming , suddenly went wrong and led to this dystopia where its survivors live on the train. Yet, that is only in the first few minutes as it fast-forwards 2031 where Curtis and his friends Edgar (Jamie Bell), Tanya (Octavia Spencer), and Andrew (Ewen Bremner) are planning a revolt where both Tanya and Andrew want to retrieve their respective child who had been taken by an associate of the train’s creator Wilford (Ed Harris) who is seen by Mason and the elite as a god. For Curtis, seeing friends die and children taken away as well as the horrors he had experienced has him wanting to confront Wilford as the journey he and his friends take becomes an arduous one where they see things that don’t make sense as it shows how oppressed they are.
Yet, Mason is just a spokesperson for the elusive Wilford as she is eventually taken hostage to take Curtis and his band of rebels to the train and its different compartments. Upon these encounters with the compartments, there are these strange ideas of satire in the way Wilford’s teachings are handled as it has this very offbeat approach to dark humor. A lot of it is quite absurd yet it adds that film’s approach of dystopia where everyone has to be in the train in order to survive or else endure the horrors of what is outside as the ice age is still happening. There are images of what is outside the train as it on the same track for an entire year that spans all over the world in this massive track that goes from continent to continent. All of which plays into a world where there maybe no hope yet Curtis believes the answer to that hope is at the front of the train and its engine.
Bong Joon-Ho’s direction is very chilling in the way he maintains a sense of atmosphere as it’s shot almost entirely inside a train. There are a few wide shots in the film yet much of the compositions that Joon-Ho creates are focused on medium shots and close-ups along with some unique camera angles to play into the sense of terror and suspense. At the same time, there’s an element of claustrophobia as some of the compositions are very tight as is the train compartments where the poor cluttered inside to showcase the tension that is building up. Some of which involve these very gruesome images of violence where Joon-Ho brings in a lot of shooting styles from hand-held to more controlled approaches of action and suspense while also creating some moments that is all shot in one take
There is that sense of build-up into each compartment that Curtis and his character go through as Joon-Ho creates these set pieces inside the train compartments that are very surreal as well as off-putting. Some of which is played for laughs such as this very strange scene where Curtis and his gang encounter a schoolteacher (Alison Pill) who is a very cartoonish character just like Mason in some respects. Of course, things become more dangerous and deadly where it would play into not just Curtis’ motivations into meeting Wilford but also the chance to know why he was put into these situations. Curtis’ meeting with Wilford is very climatic but also filled with a lot of revelations into Wilford’s own motivations that showcases a lot about humanity and its fallacies. Overall, Joon-Ho crafts a very intense and provocative film about a revolt inside a train in a futuristic ice age.
Cinematographer Hong Kyung-pyo does amazing work with the cinematography from the grimy look and lighting in some of the compartments such as the tail end to the array of lighting styles to play into the different look of the compartments to showcase its offbeat and surrealistic tone. Editors Steve M. Choe and Changju Kim do brilliant work in the editing in creating some very unique rhythms to play into the film‘s action, drama, and dark humor along other stylish cuts from slow-motion and such to play into its action. Production designer Ondrej Nekvasil, with set decorator Beata Brendtnerova and art director Stefan Kovacik, does superb work with the design of the train compartments from the very drab and stuffy look of the tail compartment to the very different settings of the compartments to play into its offbeat tone.
Costume designer Catherine George does excellent work with the costumes from the ragged look of the poor to the more colorful and cartoonish look of the rich. Hair/makeup designer Jeremy Woodhead does nice work with the look of the Mason character in her very weird presentation from her hair and teeth that makes her more like a cartoon than a serious authority figure. The visual effects work of Kang Changbae and Eric Durst is spectacular for not just the look of the train in its exteriors but also in some of the action set pieces as well as what Earth looked like in its ice age. Sound designers Sung Rok Choi, Timothy Nielsen, and Dave Whitehead do fantastic work with the film‘s sound from the way the train sounds inside and out to the some of the atmosphere in the different train compartments. The film’s music by Marco Beltrami is wonderful for its orchestral flourishes along with some bombastic, electronic-based pieces while some of the film’s soundtrack includes a classical piece by Johann Sebastian Bach as well as a song from Cream.
The casting by Jenny Jue and Johanna Ray is incredible for the ensemble that is created as it features some notable small roles from Paul Lazar as the maker of the mysterious protein bars, Tomas Lemarquis as a Wilford agent known as Egg-head, Marcanthonee Reis as Tanya’s five-year old son Tim, Steve Park as an officer of Mason, Emma Levie as a strange associate of Wilford, Clark Middleton as a poor painter who makes portraits for his friends, Vlad Ivanov and Adnan Haskovic as Mason’s muscle-men, and Luke Pasqualino as the mute fighter of the rebellion known as Grey. Ewen Bremner is terrific as the angry yet resourceful Andrew while Alison Pill is very funny as the offbeat teacher who tries to teach children the ideas of Wilford.
Ed Harris is excellent in a small yet very memorable role as the mysterious Wilford as a man who runs the train as he believes that he can save the world. John Hurt is amazing as the aging rebel leader Gilliam as he would guide Curtis into leading the rebellion as he hopes to confront Wilford himself. Octavia Spencer is brilliant as Tanya as the woman of the group who aids Curtis so she can retrieve her son. Tilda Swinton is great as the train minister Mason as she is this very cartoonish and offbeat character that tries to assert authority but is really a slimy coward. Jamie Bell is superb as Curtis’ sidekick Edgar who aids him in every way while doing a few funny things yet proves to be very reliable in every situation. Go Ah-sung is fantastic as the clairvoyant Yona as this young woman who can see through the gates while being an emotional compass of sorts in the film as she deals with the different worlds she’s never encountered.
Song Kang-ho is phenomenal as the drug-addicted gate designer Namgoong Minsu as a man who can open gates while making some realizations of his own about what is happening in and out of the train. Finally, there’s Chris Evans in a remarkable performance as Curtis Everett as a rebel leader who had seen and endured so much as he decides to take charge and confront Wilford as it’s a role filled with command but also anguish over some of his decisions as it’s a truly Evans in one of his best roles to date.
Snowpiercer is an outstanding film from Bong Joon-ho. Armed with a great ensemble cast as well as captivating themes on humanity, dystopia, and class structure. It’s a film that manages to do a lot of things where it’s not just an action film with brains but it’s also quite funny at times as it hits all of the marks and more. In the end, Snowpiercer is a sensational film from Bong Joon-ho.
Bong Joon-ho Films: Barking Dogs Never Bite - Memories of Murder - The Host - Tokyo!-Shaking Tokyo - Mother - Okja - Parasite - The Auteurs #44: Bong Joon-ho
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