설국열차 | Snowpiercer (2013)
After Park Chan-wook & Kim Jee-woon, the two most renowned filmmakers from South Korean film industry, made their English-language film debut with the gothic chiller Stoker & Schwarzenegger-starring actioner The Last Stand, respectively, it was only a matter of time before director Bong Joon-ho joined them for he has already made his mark as one of the most promising talents to come out from the Asian Cinema powerhouse. And what truly separates his latest picture from the other two master storytellers’ recent films is that despite being an English-language film & featuring a cast of known Hollywood personalities, Snowpiercer never really feels like an American movie but instead has more in common with director’s previous works.
Set in a dystopian future where almost all life on Earth has been wiped out after an experiment to curb global warming goes horribly wrong & throws the planet into an ice age for an indefinite amount of time, Snowpiercer concerns the only human survivors on the planet, all aboard a massive train known as Snowpiercer that travels around the globe via a perpetual-motion engine. Over the years inside the train, a class system has been installed according to which the poor gets to inhabit the tail section of the train while elites enjoy the luxuries at the front. The story mainly covers the mutiny that takes place within the train in which the people at the back join forces to take control of the engine room from the owner but at every doorstep, a new danger awaits them.
Already well-known for his creative ability to play with the elements of many genres at a time & introduce sudden mood shifts in his stories to make the audience go through a roller-coaster ride of emotions, it’s very heartwarming to find out that Bong Joon-ho’s English-language debut sees no compromises from the director in his usual approach to crafting a motion picture. Based on the French graphic novel, Le Transperceneige, the screenplay is deftly adapted from the book but also makes heavy use of humour at unexpected moments & unusual circumstances (one of director’s trademarks) and the smooth yet effective narration with its bizarreness & eccentricity seamlessly manages to keep the viewer’s interest alive throughout its runtime in an efficient manner.
Coming to the technical aspects, the first thing worth mentioning is its brilliant production design. Be it the design of the train, different sections of its coaches or the locomotive engine itself, every single thing is meticulously detailed from top to bottom & makes distinct use of colour palettes. Cinematography makes exquisite use of camera angles, especially in the action sequences, & splendidly captures the dystopian world. Editing is good for the majority of its runtime but it still could’ve used a few more trims in its third act where the film gives out a feeling of derailing a bit but eventually manages to stay on track until the credits start rolling. Visual effects have its highs & lows but it never interferes with the dramatic elements of the story. And music plays a key role in providing the sudden mood shifts whenever & wherever intended.
As far as the performances go, Snowpiercer features an ensemble cast in Chris Evans, Song Kang-ho, Jamie Bell, Octavia Spencer, Tilda Swinton, John Hurt & Ed Harris amongst which Evans gets the maximum screentime & plays the role of Curtis; the one who leads the tail inhabitants in revolt. Jamie Bell plays Curtis’ sidekick Edgar, Tilda Swinton puts up a hamming portrait of Minister Mason & Ed Harris is in as Wilford; the creator of the train & its class hierarchy. But the one who impresses the most is none other than the famous South Korean actor Song Kang-ho in what is a relatively short appearance & he plays Namgoong Minsu; the person who created the train’s door system & whom the rebels need in order to make it to the front. The rest of the supporting cast also chips in with sincere performances, thus leaving nothing major to complain about.
On an overall scale, Bong Joon-ho’s Snowpiercer attempts to take blockbuster filmmaking beyond its own confinements & is a welcome change from the usual effects-laden movies which today’s viewers are more accustomed to. It’s an audacious work of ambition, vision & creativity that’s boldly directed, smartly scripted, spectacularly photographed, nicely edited, subtly themed, sensibly performed & wonderfully scored and even though it may not have turned out to be as impressive a cinema as I was expecting it to be but there’s simply no denying the fact that Snowpiercer is still an exciting & solid work from this steadily rising filmmaker whose remarkable ability to play with contrasting elements of different genres & still cleverly manage to mix them all up into one neatly structured & smoothly narrated storyline continues.