Given that I’m a fan of South Korean cinema, I was very interested to hear that Bong Joon-ho, the award-winning director of the speculative fiction movie the Host, was set to direct a post-apocalyptic action movie based on a French comic and starring Chris Evans. Snowpiercer, however, had a few hurdles to get into theatres, and I almost forgot about it until it popped up again recently.
I was not blown away by this movie, but I was entertained. I had expectations, but after all the problems the movie encountered, they were not excessively high. The movie delivered on what I hoped it would – action, acting, and atmosphere. The script was good, but it was certainly not great. The story is very high-concept, but it demands such a willing suspension of disbelief that there is little left over for other demands.
(I mean, why is survival only possible on a moving train when I would expect the stress on the rail line infrastructure from the cold and lack of maintenance would make this one of the worst choices for survival?)
Once one swallows the initial horse pill of a setting, the rest goes down much easier. This movie has Chris Evans, John Hurt, Tilda Swinton, Ed Harris, and Song Kang-ho (the Weird from the Good, the Bad, the Weird, one of my favourite Westerns which happens to be set in Manchuria in the 1930s) so it has got the acting sewn up tight. In places, the dialogue can be clever, but most of the time it’s pedestrian. It does its job but does not impress.
The fight scenes are visceral and tense, using a very small amount of shaky-cam and close-ups, meaning that we can see more of the fight and follow the ebb and flow of the combat. While this is not “realistic” fighting in any sense of the word, it is much more grounded than many action movies. The consequences of the violence are still generally narrative for main characters, meaning that being wounded will effect them when this is narratively interesting.
But the atmosphere – the setting of the train and the glimpses of the frozen world outside – is excellent. Again, you are asked to swallow a pretty big pill, but each train car has its own character, its own charm, and its own dangers. The ghettos look depressing and stark whereas the leisure class gets to live in something pristine.
If you like post-apocalyptic movies, you’ll probably find Snowpiercer interesting. I would actually recommend it to anyone who digs speculative fiction movies.
I give Snowpiercer 4 pieces of uncut Kronole out of 5.