Snowpiercer: revolution on the rails

The story of Snowpiercer’s production is a somewhat depressing one. The first English-language film by South Korean director Joon-ho Bong, it has faced a lot of challenges even making it to an Anglophone audience. After being released in South Korea last year, it was prepped for a summer 2014 US and UK release. However, the Weinstein Company, which holds the US rights, insisted on 20 minutes worth of cuts. Thankfully, the Weinstein Company has now changed its mind, but the trade-off is that the film will not have such a wide release. It finally hit US screens last week, but, after a few screenings at film festivals, a UK release date is still to be announced. Its troubled story shows up just about everything that’s wrong with the Hollywood machine. So, as we eagerly await Snowpiercer’s arrival in UK cinemas, let’s take a look at the film itself.

Snowpiercer is a post-apocalyptic story set after an experimental procedure to reverse global warming leaves the Earth in a perpetual ice age. Whoops. Humanity’s last survivors inhabit a gargantuan train, powered by a perpetual-motion engine, which circumnavigates the globe year after year. Within the train, a stark class system develops, with the poor at the back and the rich at the front. Enter Curtis (played by Chris Evans), who has become tired of the injustice and plans to work his way to the front and kill the man in charge.

The story itself is not particularly original, but the somewhat bizarre setting offers something a little more interesting and unusual. The narrow, cramped spaces give the action sequences a sense of claustrophobia and urgency. The inescapable setting highlights the brutal violence on show. And violence is what the director excels in; in each battle you almost feel each slice, stab and crushing blow.

The lengthy fight scenes are broken up by surreal depictions of the inner-workings and hierarchies of the train. Each new villain our protagonist comes across is a sociopathic caricature. Head and shoulders above them all is Mason (Tilda Swinton), the liaison between the back and the front of the train, who enjoys cracking a few jokes while doling out brutal punishments on those who are unruly. 

Chris Evans’ performance proves once again what a charismatic leading man he is. He takes the character of Curtis, a reluctant leader guilty of horrific transgressions in his past, and makes him both likeable and unpredictable. All the while, he is assisted by a great supporting cast, including the ever-reliable John Hurt and Korean star Kang-ho Song.

In the end, Snowpiercer is a near-masterpiece which is, hopefully, coming to a cinema near you.

Jon Fuge is a writer based in London.

Watch the trailer for Snowpiercer:

 

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