“Snowpiercer” Is One Wild Train Ride

August 8, 2014

Snowpiercer is more thought-provoking than your average sci-fi action flick.

When I first saw the trailer for Snowpiercer, I expected a loose plot and a grungy, gory action thriller, but I was wrong.  The film is engaging in how it addresses issues of social class, humanity, population and global warming. It is the first English-language film made by South Korean director Joon-ho Bong, and is an adaptation of the French graphic novel Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead. 

Snowpiercer begins in the year 2031, 18 years after an attempt to remedy global warming that backfired and caused a second Ice Age.  The only survivors of the catastrophe are stuck on a train that circumnavigates the world. A brutally enforced class system separates the train cars. The people at the back of the train are confined to filthy close quarters and must eat beetle-based gelatin protein blocks in order to survive, while the elite commanding the front enjoy all the amenities of a modern society, including schools, spas, fine dining and clubs.

snowpiercer, curtis, film review, the audience awards, chris evans

Still courtesy of The New York Times.

The people in the rear plan a revolt (the second in the train’s history) to gain control of the engine—ultimately to control the train. When the train master visits the slums and takes a child to the front of the train, rebel leader Curtis (Chris Evans) moves up the time of attack to the ensuing day.

When the rebels realize that the guns worn by the totalitarian regime are blank, they quickly push their way past them. After defeating the first line of guards the rebels release prisoner Nagoong Minsu (Kang-ho Song), who designed the doors that separate the cars, and his daughter Yona (Ah-sung Ko). In exchange for Minsu’s help, he receives the drug, Kronoles, a drug that is also inhaled by some of the upper class, who are partying in the clubbing cars.

The fight scenes that follow do not exhibit your typical fast action special effects.  When the rebels must fight terrifying masked brutes who tote medieval weaponry, the battle is coupled with beautiful, languid piano music. The film exudes feelings of discomfort experienced by the rebels, but there are also moments of ease as they walk through the aquarium car and the botanical car.

Curtis makes his way to the designer of the train Mr. Wilford who resides at the nose of the train.  Wilford offers Curtis the Oz-like position of train conductor. During this scene, the brutality of human nature plays out behind them as Yona and Minsu fight off the partiers from the neighboring car. Curtis considers the roles attributed to the two classes and whether or not the people have pre-ordained positions. Curtis appears nearly convinced by Wilford’s propaganda, until he finds out the heart of the train’s “eternal” engine is run by child laborers.

Here’s what takes this film beyond its typical summer sci-fi action predecessors:

A) It refreshingly stars two Korean protagonists.  Yes, Curtis is the lead protagonist in the film, but the performances by Kang-ho Song and Ah-sung Ko outshine Curtis’s acting.

B) The confinement of the train is the perfect framework to consider current population dilemmas, sustainability, propaganda and problems with hierarchical class systems.  If there was a middle class when the train ride began, it has vanished to a majority of people living in poverty and a smaller portion of the population living outlandishly.

Is the train a representation of a social-biased, capitalist society and the children the cogwheels of consumerism and preferred ignorance that keep that train cruising down its tracks? Like I said, don’t be turned off by the trailer — the world in Snowpiercer‘s train leaves a lot to ponder.



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