In honor of Parasite’s historic Oscar win, T.H.C. is dedicating the month of February to the films of Bong Joon Ho.
Based on the post-apocalyptic novel “La Transperceneige,” Bong Joon-ho's "Snowpiercer" begins in a not-too-dramatic recreation of the future as mankind spearheads a final attempt to navigate from the reach of global warming once and for all. Naturally, the plan backfires dramatically and drops the world into a new ice age that causes the extinction of all life forms. Fortunately, a driven industrialist Wilford (a galvanized casting that I dare not reveal) constructed a high-speed luxury train that can circle the globe without stopping or suffering the effects of the weather outside.
(Above) Curtis leads the charge against the bourgeoisie from the front cars.
Now, humanity's last remnants reside on the train—the privileged patricians living in comfort in the head cars with the poor plebians and downtrodden masses stuck in back in congested quarters and forced to subsist on protein bars made from... don't ask what goes into the protein bars.
The back of the train is a pressure cooker that after 17 years is about to explode and Curtis (Chris Evans) is unofficially positioned to lead the charge. Old-man Gilliam (John Hurt) scarred (literally) from the past failed revolutions has an idea that might just work—one of the prisoners placed in cryogenic sleep, Namgoong (Kang-ho Song), was one of the train's original engineers before turning into a junkie and knows how to override the complicated system of locked doors to help with the forward progress. After realizing that the armed guards sent by Wilford's right-hand woman Mason (a nearly unrecognizable Tilda Swinton) are not as threatening as they seem, Curtis and Namgoong, along with a party that includes Edgar (Jamie Bell), Tanya (Octavia Spencer) and Namgoong's daughter Yona (An-sung Ko), set off for the head of the train and a final confrontation with Wilford to determine their fates.
In his earlier films and especially in his latest film, Bong has demonstrated a knack for taking standard generic premises and twisting them around in new and unusual ways that entertain genre expectations while subverting them at every turn. Even though the idea of watching people trying to push their way through an unstoppable train may seem to have certain visual and dramatic limitations, he and co-writer Kelly Masterson always manage to keep things interesting.
From a visual perspective, "Snowpiercer" is never less than stunning as it provides thrilling images ranging from the desolate landscape outside (complete with the occasional body still frozen in mid-step) to a full-size aquarium with a beauty that is outdone only by its implausibility. Despite the close quarters, Bong also comes up with a number of inventively-staged action sequences, the most memorable of which include a first-person look at a savage brawl in a completely dark car as seen through a pair of night-vision glasses and a visit to a classroom run by a teacher (Alison Pill) with an unexpected lesson plan. From a dramatic standpoint, the film is equally effective in the way that it includes the expected pulpy thrills and weirdo humor but also some unexpectedly affecting dramatic moments. There is one moment in which a character remarks that, because of conditions on the train, "I know what people taste like and I know babies taste best." It sounds like a sick joke but the line is delivered with the utmost seriousness, and, because we care about who is saying it, it turns out to be an unexpectedly powerful moment of human drama amidst the chaos. Likewise, the film's final shot is impressive in the way that it suggests triumph and potential terror at the same time.