Thursday, November 27, 2014

Penny Thoughts ‘14—Snowpiercer (2014) ***½

R, 126 min.
Director: Joon-ho Bong
Writers: Joon-ho Bong, Kelly Masterson, Jacques Lob (graphic novel “Le Transperceniege”), Benjamin Legrand (graphic novel “Le Transperceneige”), Jean-Marc Rochette (graphic novel “Le Transperceneige”)
Starring: Chris Evans, Kang-ho Song, Ah-sung Ko, Tilda Swinton, Octavia Spencer, Jamie Bell, John Hurt, Ewen Bremner, Ed Harris, Allison Pill, Luke Pasqualino, Vlad Ivanov, Adnan Haskovic

So, it’s the future. The world has been thrown into a frozen state following an ill-conceived solution to global warming. The only survivors of the human race have been living on a supersonic train that traverses the planet once very year. The train is sectioned off into social orders with the poorest passengers stationed at the back of the train, eating protein bars provided by the train’s administrators, while the upper class citizens live in luxury in the train’s front cars. The back passengers plan a revolt to gain control of the train.

The plot of “Snowpiercer”, the English language debut of South Korean director Bong Joon-ho (“The Host”), might seem too ridiculous to work on paper, but it makes for a surprisingly engaging and effective science fiction action film. Like many South Korean efforts the story is so original that you really can’t tell where it’s going to go from one moment to the next. And yet its origins are not South Korean, but a French comic book.

The premise would make you think that the setting would be restrictive. With all of the action happening on a train, it would seem that the action would get redundant over a two-hour plus running time. Instead Bong sees it as an opportunity to infuse each train car with a character and atmosphere of its own. This approach also makes it easy to track the rebel progress throughout the train. As they get closer to the front, the set decoration gets more imaginative and the color palate grows.

“Snowpiercer” is genuinely an international cast, as many other science fiction films, like “Cloud Atlas”, are becoming. Led by Chris Evans, the film also features British, Korean and Russian actors. While technically a Korean production, the movie feels like something Hollywood might produce in this day and age of superheroes and science fiction popularity, although it’s a little further out there than a Hollywood production. It has the impact of a sci-fi flick like “The Road Warrior” or some other post-apocalyptic account where society tries to reestablish itself. The difference here is that society has already been reestablished as it was before within this train microcosm, and our heroes question whether that is right.

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