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REVIEW: Snowpiercer (Joon-ho Bong – 2013) [Sydney Film Festival]


Snowpiercer, the first English language film from renowned South Korean director Joon-ho Bong (The Host), is set in a not too distant future where global temperatures are skyrocketing as a result of global warming. To turn the tide a chorus of countries around the globe fire a compound called ‘CX7’ into the atmosphere. Instead of hitting the reset on Earth’s simmering, the entire globe is snap frozen, extinguishing life on earth. Thanks to an eccentric billionaire, Wilford (Ed Harris) that built a self-sustaining locomotive that perennially circumnavigates the globe; there’s a minuscule population of humanity surviving aboard. 17 years after the world has frozen over we are introduced to Curtis (Chris Evans), Edgar (Jamie Bell) and Gilliam (John Hurt) and their resistance conspiring to overthrow the Wilford’s reign at the front of the train.

Snowpiercer has a lot to like. The production design and detail that went into this glorious beast of a train and it’s little ecosystems throughout are damned impressive. From the squalor of the rear cars, to an incredible school house, aquariums, greenhouses and night clubs give you and the filmmakers the opportunity to examine multiple potential sci-fi film concepts in manageable portions. Bong and co-writer Kelly Masterson (based on Le Transperceneige by Jacques Lob, Benjamin Legrand and Jean-Marc Rochette) are able to tackle the disparity between rich and poor widening and inevitably leading to class oppression; the mythic concept of humanity surviving on an arc after a cataclysmic event renders the world unlivable  dictatorial figures corrupting history with propaganda, which invariably leads to rebellion. Bong also takes us out of the train to see this metal snake slicing through the icy remnants of the earth and the icy skeletal remains of civilisation; making the prospect of escape unfathomable.


Snowpiercer conversely was tonally undermined by Bong and Masterson’s scripting and Bong’s performance direction in the most serious moments that you couldn’t help but laugh out loud when it was attempting to move you. Evans is stoic and fierce in the action but he’s the primary victim to having to deliver dialogue that’s unforgettably cringe-worthy.Octavia Spencer’s Tanya sheds any memory of an Oscar winning performance as she’s reduced to something akin to a Saturday Night Live sketch. The two performance standouts are definitely Kang-ho Song’s Namgoong Minsu, a kind of bad-ass genius, released from imprisonment by the rebellion to assist with getting through the train that is living out a separate film from the one we’re watching. He’s just the right kind of understated crazy and smart to keep you unsure of his lucidity. And of course Tilda Swinton’s Mason is divine. Swinton is at her larger than life, scenery chewing best barking orders, demanding a swift and bloody end to the carnage and as a raving fan of all things Wilford. Despite the baffling weirdness popping up throughout, it seemed to actually make the overall picture more enjoyable.

Snowpiercer is strange, leaning toward strange good.  

Blake Howard – follow Blake on Twitter here: @blakeisbatman and listen to legacy audio reviews on That Movie Show 2UE here or on top-rating film podcast Pod Save Our Screen, available now on iTunes.

Directed by: Joon-ho Bong 

Written by: Joon-ho Bong and Kelly Masterson (based on Le Transperceneige by Jacques Lob, Benjamin Legrand and
Jean-Marc Rochette)

Starring: Chris Evans, Jamie Bell, Tilda Swinton, John Hurt, Alison Pill, Ed Harris,Luke Pasqualino, Octavia Spencer, Ewen Bremner, Kang-ho Song, Tómas Lemarquis, Ah-sung Ko

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