I managed to finally catch Snowpiercer locally on the big screen – the wait was well worth it, since what was being screened in Metro Manila theatres was the original “director’s cut” that the Korean-French-UK production’s American distributors threatened to edit (i.e., dumb down)
Bong Joon-Ho (Mother, The Host), in his English-language directorial debut, gets to adapt Le Transperceneige, a French graphic novel from Jacques Lob. This is a sleek, uncompromisingly dark story of class struggle on board the titular vehicle, a vast train designed by a visionary (and well-nigh reclusive) industrialist named Wilford (Ed Harris), whose name is equally venerated and feared by the millions who not just ride the train but practically live in it.
Chris (Captain America) Evans is Curtis, a non-entity who finds himself in the center of the seeming revolution; as a resident of the overcrowded “tail-end”, he bears witness to the growing discontent surrounding him. We discover that each car of the train is a carefully – if not meticulously – designed ecosystem; the upper classes tend to inhabit the cars closer to the myth-shrouded Engine.
Joining Curtis on his odyssey are a ragtag bunch which includes Jamie Bell, Song Kang-Ho and Ko Asung. Tilda Swinton and Alison Pill nearly steal the show in their roles, that of Mason, Wilford’s lieutenant and a trigger-happy (and pregnant) schoolteacher respectively.
The dystopian society inside Snowpiercer is creatively visualised, with nods to Soylent Green and Brave New World to name a few. Director Bong uses the otherwise claustrophobic setting to his advantage, particularly during the showdowns between Curtis and Mason’s axe-wielding mooks at the middle as well as the armed party-animals on the car next to the Engine. A typical Hollywood director would have embellished the film with gigantic explosions and large-scale destruction of landmarks; that is not so in this case, where said explosion triggers an avalanche that derails the train near the end of the film.
All in all, Snowpiercer is an impressive piece of work. What makes it even more impressive is that the Korean Government even extended its hand into producing this US$39 million project (along with compatriot Park Chun-Wook) – notwithstanding its foreign source material (a French graphic novel, at that!!!) and heavy reliance on Western talent. Makes you wish that the Philippine government would be equally generous to back its promising filmmakers to produce work that would enable home-grown talent to place their best foot forward along with the rest of the world.