Snowpiercer (2013)

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The world is a frozen wasteland. The last remnants of humanity are confined to a giant train, and forced into castes based on what car they live in. Those in the front lie in the lap of luxury, whilst those in the tail dwell in total squalor. Twice before, the inhabitants of the tail staged uprisings, only to be beaten back into submission. Now, though, the tail Enders are smarter. They’re better organized. They’ve got a charismatic leader in the form of Curtis Everett, and, this time, they’re going all the way to the front. They’re going to take control of the engine, and, by extension, the world. Will they succeed? Watch it, and find out.

Snowpiercer is a special film, for multiple reasons. Not only was it the most expensive Korean movie ever made, with a budget of about $40 million, it was also director Bong Joon-Ho’s English language debut, and cemented his status as a cinematic superstar. Because even though films like Memories of Murder earned him critical praise, and The Host, which I reviewed here recently, put him on Hollywood’s radar, Snowpiercer’s massive critical and commercial success guaranteed he would continue to be given high profile projects.

But why was the movie such a huge hit? Well, like The Host, it all comes down to superior craftsmanship. And I don’t just mean the acting or the script, both of which are excellent. I mean the way the movie looks, how its edited, the sound design. It’s all top notch. This really feels like a fully-fleshed out world, with each of the train’s cars having a distinct look and design. My favorite one, easily, is the sea food and aquatic life car. It is, to put it simply, gorgeous! The movie is also extremely exciting. There are two really great action scenes; one in the dark where the tail Enders are being attacked by guys with night vision goggles, and one involving a sniper, who’s trying to shoot the heroes from across the cars. If nothing else, you never feel bored while watching this movie. And that alone is enough to warrant a recommendation.

That being said, Snowpiercer does have flaws. The biggest, by far, is the fact that it doesn’t have much replay value. There’s a huge exposition dump at the end of the movie where we learn several twists in rapid order. When you’re watching the film for the first time, and you don’t see the twists coming, this scene is okay. When you revisit it, however, knowing all the twists in advance, it becomes a chore to get through. Not just because you know all the information they’re about to spill, but because it completely  lacks any action or forward momentum. It is a big pocket of dead air. And this isn’t the only thing that suffers as a result of repeat viewing. Despite the fact that this was the most expensive Korean movie ever made at the time it was released, it still had a fairly small budget. And there are moments, such as when the characters are looking out the window at the frozen wasteland, that it really shows. Repeat viewings also highlight certain plot holes that you might not have thought about the first time, such as, if the air is so cold that it can freeze someone’s limbs into solid ice if they’re exposed to it, why would the characters shoot big holes in the windows? Wouldn’t that kill them all? And as in every Bong Joon-Ho film, characters survive things that would have killed them so quickly in real life. In this flick, the main villain has an enforcer, this fat Romanian dude that never speaks, who gets stabbed, shot and choked about six times, and he just shakes it all off. Finally, because the cast is so big, and the film is an action movie, whose primary goal is to thrill you and move foreword, you really don’t get to know anyone that well. Chris Evans is probably the most developed, but, spoilers, he doesn’t make it till the end. And the characters that do survive really aren’t given enough screen time for us, the audience, to want them to live. They just kind of exist.

Even so, the film’s strong performances, unique premise, tight plot and impressive effects do make it worth watching. Don’t hesitate to give it a look.

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