director Bong Joon-ho
viewed: 07/06/2014 at AMC Metreon 16, SF, CA
The second movie of our sci-fi double feature day for Felix and I was Bong Joon-ho’s Snowpiercer. Adapted from a French graphic novel/comic book, it’s one of the weirder concepts for a big budget action movie that I’ve heard in a while.
Humans trigger an Ice Age in their attempt to stem global warming, and the only people left alive are on a supertrain, “the Snowpiercer”, that runs all over the world in a massive interconnected loop over all continents, somehow perpetually charged, the only closed ecosystem to contain survivors. Only this train is also a very specifically ordered social structure, with the poor living in dirt at the back and the rich living in luxury at the front. So when the rebels revolt, they have to fight their way from back to front to get to the engine and the man who built the train.
While it’s an interesting idea and makes for a coherent internal world for the film, the whole concept is so remarkably full of holes and nonsensical that if you even begin to think about the concept, water starts pouring from billions of holes. I won’t even begin to break them down. There are so many threads you can choose to unravel the thing that it really doesn’t even bear unraveling.
Clearly, it’s a more metaphorical situation. This is a microcosm of society, its strata, the haves and the havenots. But more than that, it’s a violent and brutal action film, dark and strange.
The film’s best elements are its more comical ones, like the character that Tilda Swinton plays, a straight-up English Tory from the 1980’s, telling the poor to know their place, not in the least bothered about the reality of the poverty and want of the poor. She’s very funny. Also, the schoolroom car into which the rebels break offers a hilarious, delusional take on indoctrination and clean, miseducated ignorance perpetuated by some closed system like this.
The film looks good and keeps a steady clip moving along, like the proverbial speeding train. It’s got a bunch of good or decent actors, including Song Kang-ho and Go Ah-sung as father and daughter drug addicts. It’s Chris Evans (Captain America) under that big beard, as head of the revolt.
It’s a film whose reach extends further than its grasp. That grasp is hamstrung (to mix my body metaphors) by its purely nonsensical scenario. So it’s an entertaining, definitely “different” sci-fi action movie with some clever, humorous flourishes. Just don’t scratch the surface of its set-up.