Musings on Bong Joon-ho’s sci-fi thriller Snowpiercer & How I hope we get to see the director’s cut for US release

I saw the beautiful International poster of Snowpiercer today, a film I’ve been looking forward to for some time. The film’s been breaking all kinds of box records in Asia, especially in South Korea, Bong Joon-ho‘s native country. Unfortunately for most of us in the West, we probably won’t get to see it until next year… and which version of that film we’d end up seeing is still unknown.

Anyway, before I get to that, here’s the poster and latest International trailer:


In a future where a failed global-warming experiment kills off most life on the planet, a class system evolves aboard the Snowpiercer, a train that travels around the globe via a perpetual-motion engine.

I’m so stoked for this film as I’m intrigued by the premise and early look of the film. Plus, just look at the cast: Tilda Swinton, Octavia Spencer, Ed Harris, John Hurt, Jamie Bell, Chris Evans, Alison Pill, as well as some Korean actors Song Kang-ho and Ko Ah-sung. Chan-wook Park, who directed Stoker, is one of the eight producers in the film. The story is actually based on a French graphic novel Le Transperceneige.

Per THR, Snowpiercer was sold to 167 countries, the most territories a Korean title was sold to prior to its release. The Weinstein Co. (TWC) had acquired the US rights of the film. Now, those who keep up with film news probably have read news about über mogul Harvey Weinstein‘s desire to cut 20 minutes of the film to make it more ‘marketable’ for English speaking territories. This is what reported about a month ago on the matter on the reason for the cuts:

According to film critic and programmer Tony Rayns “TWC people have told Bong that their aim is to make sure the film ‘will be understood by audiences in Iowa … and Oklahoma.'”

Oh, and voice overs will reportedly be added to the opening and closing of the film for the US version too [face palm]. Of course, cutting International films for Western release is nothing new, we’ve seen Asian films like John Woo’s Red Cliff and recently, Wong Kar Wai’s The Grandmaster (check out Steven’s review of both cuts) being edited down for US release. I get it that with Red Cliff, the original film is about four hours long, so the cuts might have been warranted, but in regards to Snowpiercer, cutting 20 minutes from a 126-min film AND adding VO is so unnecessary. If the reason is to make it ‘less dark’ and turning it into a mainstream apocalyptic action movie, that’s just disheartening and insulting!

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Recent Updates from director Bong Joon-ho

JoonhoBongWell, as of late August, the director himself said the cuts would be minor. He’s been promoting the film all over the world and this is what he said during one of the press conference (per Bleeding Cool):

I came here after editing for the American version. I’ve never produced a new version for overseas premieres, and this is the first time I’m making a new version. Weinstein is actually being pretty soft toward editing, probably because it’s noticed how critics have praised the film and know how angry movie fans get over new edits. They even asked me which parts I want to include in the film.

Heh, of course I’d rather the studio would just leave it alone and let the audience see the director’s cut as it’s intended. I really don’t get the notion of tailoring a film for certain audience. I mean, I’m from Indonesia who watch 99% Western movies. I don’t expect ANY film to be tailored to my cultural background, that is just absurd. Besides, it’s not like the premise is really THAT difficult to understand, if anything doomsday is a universal theme, as is class system and the struggle for survival.

Tilda Swinton, an actress whose work I respect, makes her views known about this editing hoopla at the Deauville American Film Festival in France (per The Playlist): “There’s no question that all English speaking audiences deserve to see director Bong’s cut, and we hope very much that we will all see it,”

Asked about the film’s effect, she replied, “Maybe an effect of the film, it just occurred to me, is that when one has spent two hours in the claustrophobia of this train we can leave the cinema and feel the relief that we can make life wider, so maybe it’s a sort of aversion therapy to sit in the train for two hours. … That’s two hours, not one hour and forty minutes.” Nice! Thanks you miss Swinton! She’s almost unrecognizable in the trailer, which further proves what a versatile actress she is.

I REALLY hope we’ll get to see the original director’s cut of this. I’d LOVE to see it this year too. So Harvey, would you just release it this Winter, pretty please?

Anyway, what are your thoughts about this film and the whole editing scenario?

47 thoughts on “Musings on Bong Joon-ho’s sci-fi thriller Snowpiercer & How I hope we get to see the director’s cut for US release

  1. This is why I bought a copy of ‘The Grandmaster’ recently from an Asian reseller instead of watching it on the big screen, so I could see its original theatrical cut. It becomes someone else’s film, one tailored for ‘U.S. tastes’, in those circumstances. I’m missing what the director originally intended. And I want to see ‘Snowpiercer’, as I’ve heard good things about it. Thanks, Ruth :-).

    1. Very wise of you Michael. It’s really a bummer why studios do this. I don’t mind not understanding something as that is part of learning about new stuff in the world, I mean dumb-ing stuff just doesn’t do anyone any favors.

  2. Thank you for posting a link to my review of “The Grandmaster” and having experienced what Harvey Weinstein did. I’m upset over what he wants to do for “Snowpiercer” as I’m really interested to see what Bong Joon-Ho is going to do despite having only seen “The Host” and his short from the anthology film “Tokyo!” as I was really drawn by both of those films. I’m also happy that Tilda Swinton is standing by Joon-Ho and making sure that we get to see the film in its original form.

    1. My pleasure! It’s a great, comprehensive review. Yeah, like Michael has mentioned, I want to see the director’s vision of an apocalyptic tale. There are sooo many in this genre so I’m hoping for something unique. Yeah, Tilda is all class, let’s hope the Weinsteins will listen to hear as they sure as heck aren’t gonna listen to us cinephiles 😦

  3. Ted S.

    Unfortunately this kind of practice is not new at all, especially when the Weinstiens took over the movie. Back in early 2000s, they edited down Jet Li’s Hero for the western audiences, apparently they felt the film has too much Eastern mythologies and that most Western audiences won’t understand them. Sadly I do agree with them, as much as I believe most movie fans are willing to give any kind of movie a try, general audiences aren’t like that. If they don’t understand the movie, they’ll either walk out of the theater or turn it off they rent the movie. A good example is Michael Mann’s Miami Vice, I remember I saw it in a theater and a few people next to me didn’t understand the opening sequence and this lady kept complaining she didn’t know what was going. Apparently there were so complaints about that sequence, Mann re-edited the scene for the home video release and called it an extended cur or director’s cut.

    It’s just all business for these studio execs, they want the films to make as much money as possible. Which is why I wasn’t upset when they added a scene in Iron Man 3 for the Chinese audience, I believed you blogged about that too right?

    1. Hi Ted. Yeah it’s nothing new but it’s a disturbing trend I think. That’s ludicrous how people don’t understand the opening sequence of Miami Vice!! Seriously! I guess the studios really cater to the lowest common denominators aren’t they? With Iron Man 3, I guess they ADDED scenes so that’s different from cutting stuff, especially when it involves character development or crucial plot points. I still wish they just have ONE cut for every film no matter where it’d be released, seriously, what happens to things going global??

  4. I too am anticipating this one, mostly due to the stellar casting. As you said Ruth, it doesn’t seem to be that difficult of a concept to understand, even for us here in the flyover 😉 Maybe it will be one cut in the cinemas and then a director’s cut BD.

    1. Hi Paula, always glad to see you stop by, doll! Stellar casting indeed, I sure hope we’ll get the director’s cut for the theatrical release too. I really think 126 minutes is not long at all, esp. if the story is intriguing.

  5. I wish studios would leave films alone. Unless a film requires minor changes for cultural reasons, I think audiences deserve the same version worldwide. Maybe that’s just wishful thinking. 🙂

    1. I know, right? I really don’t think the cultural issue should be tinkered with. I mean, I’d love learning about different cultures from the movies. To me, it’s like dubbing as we lose the elements of what makes a film unique.

  6. Victor De Leon

    I haven’t heard of this one, Ruth. Looking forward to seeing it. I dislike so much tampering with movies especially in order to cater to a demo or another country. Some studio execs are so out of touch with the art and craft of movie making. Just leave it the way it is and let audiences appreciate the director’s vision and material. Thanks for the head’s up. Definitely going to watch out for this one. 🙂

    1. Hi Victor! Glad to be the one who introduced it to you. Yeah, studio execs are all about the bottom line. It’s just ironic as the Weinsteins are the most gung-ho about Oscars but yet they don’t even care about the craft of the film itself. The fact that he’s willing to compromise the integrity of the film just so it sells more tickets speak volumes!

  7. First I’ve heard of this one, Ruth but it looks very interesting. I’ve not seen any of Bong Joon-ho’s work, although he did crop up on the Debuts blogathon. I really don’t like the whole editing debacle though. Every country should see the same film as far as I’m concerned unless there’s a particularly important reason why not. There’s the whole Iron Man 3 issue there too, where unofficial scenes not filmed by Shane Black were added into the Chinese version. Very odd.

    1. Hi Chris! Did you mean to say you haven’t heard of this one? In any case, I haven’t seen any of Bong’s films either but this one looks so intriguing right off the bat. Yeah, I haven’t heard a really good case why a movie has to be cut for certain regions, I mean certainly if the film’s too long for theatrical release (as in the case w/ Red Cliff) maybe, but I’d rather we see the same film whether we’re in Kansas or Timbuktu!

    1. Hello Mark! Glad to be the one who introduced it to you 😀 I love a good sci-fi, and this one has an earthy and gritty look to it like Children of Men.

  8. Darn! I wasn’t aware of this movie’s existence! It does look good, the score in the trailer alone gets me pumped-up! Makes me wish I was on vacation in Korea right now so I could catch the movie too! 🙂

    1. Hi Asrap! I thought that this one is already playing in Malaysia? I know it’s been opened to Asian market. Ahah well that’d be nice to go on vacation to see a movie! 😀

  9. I am looking forward to Evans doing more challenging roles, and i like Joon-ho. So i am excited for this, and i hope this doesn’t turn out to be another Grandmaster. I was really looking forward to that one, and i had rather high expectations. I even went out of my way to see the original cut. But when i saw it the film left me sooooo disappointed. The directing was great, but the script was a real letdown for me.

    I really, really hope that doesn’t happen with Snowpiercer too. The Grandmaster was one of the most disappointing movies i’ve seen in a while,so hopefully Snowpiercer will make up for that.

    1. That’s too bad about The Grandmaster, Julian! I thought the US release was the edited version, how are you able to see the original cut? In any case, I hope Snowpiercer will indeed be a good one. Fingers crossed!

    1. Yay! Glad I blogged about this then. I just couldn’t help it as it looked intriguing from the get go. Yeah, we probably will get the director’s cut on the DVD/Blu-ray but I want it to be on the theatrical version too.

    1. Insulting AND hugely inaccurate, too. It shows how myopic his view is about people in Middle America, he really need to get out more, ahah. I think they’d still cut it though, the question is how much 😦

  10. Honestly, I don’t plan on seeing this in anything other than the original version. If I have to wait some years to see a full version on Blu, then i’m gonna wait. Why give the Weinstein’s my money for an inferior product!

  11. This sounds great!! But BOOOO on the cutting. One of the main reason I beginning to get further away from Hollywood movies is because of this, because they always want to make it ‘marketable’

    1. Yeah i think you hv a point there Nov. i’d think this would be released in Indo sooner than in US as it’s been quite a hit in other parts of Asia.

  12. Pingback: New Posters of the Week (9/13/13) | The Focused Filmographer

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