In many ways Snowpiercer possess many traits that could have made it a disaster. It is a South Korean production with director Bong Joon-Ho making a film in a language he’s not accustomed too. The language barrier and in some cases studio interference can ruin what could have been a potentially great film with the director vision being tarnished. This often quite often when Hollywood wants international talent helming on their very own production with various degrees of success. However, as is the case with Bong Joon-Ho’s Snowpiercer the English language never once is an visable issue creating a film that show’s his prowess crafting an intellectual blockbuster.
Snowpiercer is set in a future where a failed global-warming experiment kills off most life on the planet, a class system evolves aboard the Snowpiercer, a train that travels around the globe via a perpetual-motion engine. Bleak from the start “Snowpiercer” holds nothing back in its narrative. Acquiring the barest of plot essentials progression is always made much like the titled train it never linger in one place. Our characters are given, their background are given, our setting is given, the function of the world is given, and the conflict to achieving a single goal drives everything forward. Mindful of its physical limitations (its all takes place in a train), the narrative of the film is linear and straightforward. Following the protagonists’ movement through the train as they proceed from one carriage to the next, encountering and defeating various adversaries along the way. It’s less a single narrative than a chain of linked connecting set pieces with a intellectual story that respects its audiences intelligent. Nothing about its subjects, themes, characters, morals, nor motivation are simplified.
There’s no romance and precious little in the way of character-development; these people don’t change, and neither, for the most part, does the world they inhabit. For the filmmaker as for the train, velocity and momentum are everything; nothing is allowed to distract from the immediate objective. In the same way our characters move forward so does the elements that were introduced. Carriages serves more than a location layered with meaning in specially how its people live, the role they serve, and history of “Snowpiercer” creation itself. Nothing about the film story feels like it’s pandering to a specific audience. It always has the audience wondering what’s going to happen next as it unexpected turn constantly surprises with twists that work. Pacing is another key element and even though it goes fast nothing is left untouched. Merely it’s reinforcing the urgency of the character endeavors to reach their goal and the dire situation at hand.
Filming an ambitious sci-fi in confined spaces is no small feat and director of photography Hong Kyung-pyo has done a magnificent job of bringing each of the train’s carriages to life with rich and eclectic cinematography. Bong’s camera stubbornly refuses to violate the claustrophobic geometry of the narrow train cars, visually reinforcing how defined and unyielding the path is from one end of Snowpiercer to the other. Combined with Ondrej Nekvasil’s excellent production design, Steve M. Choe’s layered editing and Marco Betrami’s evocative and multifaceted score, the film’s technical specs are a feast for the senses. Set pieces serve the narrative, but also provides thrill their unique take on familiar action scenes. Despite the confined and limited spacing on a train arguably the most technically accomplished is a large fight between two class faction. It’s a bloody fight and also one where the director isn’t shy on showing a weapon make impact utilizing lighting, long steady shots, and a person angle to show the brutal battle. Other set pieces far and few in between never match the large faction fight, but are just as equally creative and tense as the director never shies away killing off a character when he sees fit.
Leading man Chris Evans is secretive, noncommittal, yet ultimately a strong and resourceful leader – something the audience never honestly doubts for a second. Evan is compelling bringing to life a very complicated and difficult character. Under her false teeth, wig and pasty makeup, Tilda Swinton is uproarious as the train’s unhinged prime minister. Measured and full of delightful ticks, her memorable Yorkshire madam steals every scene she’s in. John Hurt’s performance as the elderly patriarch of the tail section is marked by raspy gravitas and a mournful gaze. Bong stalwart Song Kang-ho effortlessly keeps up with his English-speaking co-stars, strutting and shuffling about, providing comic relief and a dash of cool as the train’s incarcerated former chief of security.
Snowpiercer is a perfect sci-fi film offering everything you could possibly want; an intellectually fast pace story with subtle commentary, a dystopian future only it can offer, set pieces that thrills, an excellent cast that disappears into their roles, and plenty of entertainment. Technically impressive and narratively captivating there’s very little flaws to find being more than capable to stand proudly with the sci-fi genre best films.