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Director: Joon-ho Bong
Writers: Joon-ho Bong (screenplay), Kelly Masterson (screenplay)
Stars: Chris Evans, Jamie Bell, Tilda Swinton
If you’re after the perfect blend of action and post-apocalyptic philosophising on the state of humanity, look no further than Snowpiercer from critically acclaimed Korean director Bong Joon-Ho.
Screened at the Sydney Film Festival in the magnificent State Theatre, this is a film that deserves the grandeur of crystal chandeliers, sweeping staircases and grand foyers, if not to simply remind us of the cruel polarisation of the “have and have-nots” depicted in Bong’s sci-fi thriller.
Adapted from the French graphic novel Le Transperceneige, Snowpiercer is set in 2031, 17 years after an experiment to combat global warming has left the world in a complete polar freeze making it virtually uninhabitable. The last vestiges of humanity live together on a train broken up into different classes, with the elite at the front and the poor at the tail. Circling the globe on a purpose-built track to circumnavigate the world yearly, there are some who only know an earth aboard their carriage. As for the rest, the outside world is a distant memory preferably forgotten.
Spurred on by the squalor and oppression of the rear of the train, the poor plan an uprising led by Curtis (Chris Evans) with the help of a mysterious stranger feeding information from further up the train. With beautifully choreographed action, gory death scenes and hair-raising twists, it is a riveting revolt to the head of the train to overthrow the all-knowing Wilford.
Bong’s ability to mix comedy and the gruesome comes to be a unique strength in Snowpiercer, as he carefully treads the line between farce and the bleak prospect of eventual annihilation. Pairing the overly zealous, yet plainly dour Minister Mason with the unfathomable punishment of freezing one tail inhabitant’s arm off is simultaneously humorous and horrific. This mixture of gruelling scenes of torture (imagery of lost limbs are prevalent) with absurdly comic dialogue creates the perfect balance of tension and release. This adequately distracts the audience from interrogating the storyline too intensely, suspending your sense of disbelief in this fabricated reality in order to care about Curtis and his band of rebels up against seemingly insurmountable obstacles.
The cast is outstanding, with Tilda Swinton as the twisted Minister Mason, Song Kang-Ho as the junky security expert Namgoong Minsu and John Hurt as the wise, one-legged, one-armed Gilliam. The story is equal parts suspenseful action, intricate detailing revealing the nature of class and the basis of perceived social order in this system. Bong’s greatest achievement here is that you are equally engrossed in the suspense and combat as you are the investigation of class warfare and the human condition.
The true success of Snowpiercer lies in its ability to be enjoyed at face value as a sci-fi adventure, with the hero battling the maniacal villain or digging a little deeper to discover the twisted logic presented in compartmentalising class so no one can travel the length of the train.
Whatever your views are on class warfare or the state humanity, Snowpiercer is both a conversation starter and highly recommended.