Based on the French graphic novel Le Transperceneige by Jacques Lob, Benjamin Legrand and Jean-Marc Rochette, Snowpiercer is an epic sci-fi that serves as Korean director Bong Joon Ho‘s English language debut. Set in a dystopian future world, the film follows the final survivors of Earth who have boarded the Snowpiercer, a train that travels around the globe via a perpetual-motion engine, after a failed global-warming experiment killed off all life on the planet. But for the few that remain, life only gets more difficult as a class system is enforced on the Snowpiercer’s passengers. When cryptic messages make their way to the back section of the train – into the hands of Curtis (Chris Evans), Edgar (Jamie Bell), Gilliam (John Hurt), Tanya (Octavia Spencer), and Andrew (Ewen Bremner) – the less fortunate of the survivors are incited to revolt, thrusting the train full-throttle towards disaster, as those at the front of the train – Wilford (Ed Harris) and Mason (Tilda Swinton) – must do their utmost to maintain control.
I say this a lot, but dystopian literature and films are my favourite – when they are done right, that is. Snowpiercer is undeniably one of the best examples of how to work with the genre.
There are a few people we have to thank for that. First off, Jacques Lob, Benjamin Legrand and Jean-Marc Rochette have obviously written a tremendous novel, as a film like this needs a strong source to work from. Background, development, structure, and setting are all incredibly important when creating a futuristic environment, and that’s usually why dystopias work best when they are adapted from novels.
But most of all, we must put our hands together for director Bong Joon Ho. I’m in awe of his efforts here. Korean filmmakers have a certain knack for stripping back a genre to reveal a rawness that not many directors are able to capture. And that’s why Snowpiercer is one of my favourite films of this year.
With Chan-wook Park, director of the masterpiece that is Oldboy and his English-language debut Stoker, serving as producer of this film, as well, there are many similarities to his work, too. Another talented Korean filmmaker, there’s something about the way that Chan-wook and Bong Joon can both tell a bleak a story whilst making it disturbingly powerful but emotionally affecting at the same time. Chan-wook’s Battle Royale and Bong Joon’s The Host are both excellent films, so to see them come together to create a film was always going to be an exciting prospect.
The dystopian setting in Snowpiercer is immensely clever, and as the story progresses and the characters make their way to the front of the train, the plot becomes more complex and in-depth, evolving from a story of revolt to one of unsettling power. I don’t think the ending itself left as much of an impact as it could have, as much as it tried, but the scenes leading up to this are full of bold truths, leaving the audience in a slight state of disbelief.
Also starring Korean actors Kang-ho Song and Ah-sung Ko, the cast list for Snowpiercer is well thought out. All give incredible performances, with Chris Evans taking a strong lead that doesn’t involve a huge shield, and Tilda Swinton showing off her brilliantly diverse skills. There’s also a small role from Skins star Luke Pasqualino, which is a big step up for him, but unfortunately he wasn’t given enough dialogue for you to pick him out of the crowd if you didn’t recognise him.
Yet to have a theatrical release in the UK, Snowpiercer was released in the US last year after debuting in the UK at the Edinburgh International Film Festival. I really hope it gets the release that it deserves at some point, as this is a film that all thriller and science fiction fans should see, but until then, make sure you keep an eye out for it.