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Snowpiercer - Movie Poster
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South Korea, USA, France, Czech Republic 2013

Sci-Fi, Action, Thriller

Bong Joon-ho

Chris Evans
Song Kang-ho
Ko Ah-seong
John Hurt
Tilda Swinton
Ed Harris
Jamie Bell
Octavia Spencer
Ewen Bremner
Alison Pill

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Story: After temperatures keep rising all over the world and there is no doubt anymore that a climate change is about to happen, scientist resort to drastic measures. A new chemical is released in the atmosphere - which leads to the doom of mankind. The commencing ice age makes surviving impossible. Only a train with the last survivors is still circling the same route for 17 years now. While those fortunate enough to have the money could get a front cabin ticket, the people who have nothing live in the back cabins under cruel conditions. Curtis (Chris Evans) is one of those people treated like animals and so he starts a revolution. He has to fight his way to the front car. Opening the doors to the front is engineer Min-soo (Song Kang-ho), who in return wants a popular drug for his daughter Yona (Ko Ah-seong) and himself. Target of Curtis and his people is the "engine" which keeps the train moving and along with the inventor of the train, Wilford, is worshipped like a god. If you have power over the "engine" you have power over the train...

Review: First of all, it was kind of difficult to decide whether "Snowpiercer" is actually eligible for getting some space on this website or not. However, apart from Bong Joon-ho being the director and Song Kang-ho a leading actor there was also CJ Entertainment involved in the movie's production and one of the producers was even Park Chan-wook. So somehow this science fiction blockbuster is in fact Korean cinema. Being highly praised by critics I sat in front of the screen with high expectations and yet expecting a disappointment. Fortunately, "Snowpiercer" is a smart and most importantly unique movie, that doesn't care about what might work cinematically and what not. This unwillingness to compromise could have made the movie fail, but it instead turns out to be the actual strength of this sci-fi flick.

Snowpiercer - Film Screenshot 11

The story of the movie is based on the French graphic novel "Le Transperceneige" and outlines a microcosm in which humans fight for survival. The train stands as the safest place in the world as well as a prison. The social classes are clearly defined and there is no chance of working your way up the social ladder, which naturally leads to a revolution. This is where the first complex layer of the film becomes apparent. There isn't really any good and evil. Curtis, played by Chris Evans ("Captain America"), is a leader who doesn't want to be one and who would sell his own grandmother. Some of the decisions he makes surely make it difficult for the viewer to relate to him. But in the end he is simply willing to make sacrifices for the greater good.

Snowpiercer - Film Screenshot 12

Playing a really interesting part in the movie is Song Kang-ho, who after director Bong's "The Host" is reunited with Ko Ah-seong as his daughter. He is a drug addicted engineer, who was given a major role in the train, until he eventually succumbed to his drug addiction for good. On a side note: For some reasons, maybe it's the drugs, he seems to be almost invincible. Nonetheless, there is of course more to his character than first meets the eye. But we don't get answers to everything. Accordingly, the source of Yona's clairvoyant skills, for example, remains a mystery.
How morally objectionable even the "good" characters are is reflected in the costumes as well. The people in the rear cars of the train look dirty and aggressive, the soldiers of the front cars, however, seem without emotions or find sadistic pleasure in doing their work.

If you look at the costumes, sets and drawings of the characters you are strongly reminded of a Terry Gilliam work. There is without a doubt also a certain steampunk flair to "Snowpiercer". Furthermore, there is also some odd humor to be found in the movie. In the midst of a brutal battle the combatants stop in their tracks and greet the new year; or the possibility of kicking the bucket is simply treated very lightly. No wonder that numerous individuals won't survive to see the end in "Snowpiercer". The sci-fi flick is a dark allegory of what defines humanity. The way to the front cars of the train is bought with lots of blood and although there is never a scene that is too bloody you still need strong nerves. That Curtis isn't meeting his maker that soon should be obvious, but apart from that everything is possible considering the movie's intransigence.

Snowpiercer - Film Screenshot 13

Watching the hero fight his way to the front of the train one car after the other easily could have become tedious, but there is never even a minute that feels lengthy. Being captivating at all times the movie provides variety and always brings the moral decisions of the protagonists into sharp focus, forcing you to deal with them in some way. Towards the end we also get some surprising twists and we get to know more about the characters. "Snowpiercer" shows its strength towards the end, namely its smart story, and is entirely convincing. Technically, the movie stands out with a tense atmosphere and great shots. Even the special effects are (for most part) very well done. The oddities of "Snowpiercer" culminate in an ending that might not be to everyone's taste, but that way director Bong ("Memories of Murder") creates a sci-fi movie that you won't forget so soon. Alhthough I hate to share the opinion of everyone else, "Snowpiercer" certainly is a small masterpiece.

(Author: Manfred Selzer)
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