FlixChatter Double Review: Snowpiercer (2014)

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Ted’s Review

After last summer’s mediocre Elysium, I wasn’t that interested in seeing another sci-fi/action picture about the poor vs. the rich set in the future. Heck even after I saw the trailer, I sort of didn’t really want to see this new film from South Korean director Joon-ho Bong at all. But thanks to so many great reviews from critics, I’ve decided to check it out and I’m so glad I did. I think it’s my favorite film of 2014 so far.

The film opens with a prologue explaining what has happened to earth. A failed global-warming experiment has killed off pretty much all living things on the planet and only the few survivors are now living in a train that can travel all over the globe. In this train, there are two classes of people, the rich and the poor. The rich gets to live in the fancy front side of the train and all of the poor folks have to stay in the back. Of course the living conditions on the back of the train is horrendous. We’re introduced to two friends Curtis (Chris Evans) and Edgar (Jamie Bell), right away we know they’re planning to attack their oppressors and get to the front side so they can have control of the train. That’s pretty much the whole plot of the film, Curtis and his followers battles their way into each car of the train to get to the front side. The message about our current economics system gets a little heavy handed at times but I wasn’t bothered by it as much. Yeah I know the 1% is living large while the rest of us have to suffer and so on. Basically everything that Elysium did wrong, this film got it right.

I can’t believe I’m saying this but Chris Evans has starred in two of my favorite movies of the year, the other one being Captain America: Winter Soldier. I was never a fan of his before and now I think he’s grown as actor. As the lead in another action picture, he did a good job of commanding the screen, we don’t know much about Curtis until the film’s climax and the payoff worked for me. I don’t think I’ve seen Jamie Bell in anything since the dreadful Jumper, here he’s the sidekick/comic relief and I think he did alright. Tilda Swinton looked like she had a blast playing another villainous role, I would’ve liked to see more of her character in the movie though. John Hurt played a minor role as the old mentor to Curtis and the rest of the poor folks and he’s your typical father figure type. I think I’ve seen him played this kind of role so many times that I knew what to expect from his performance. Scenes stealer belongs to South Korea actor Song Kang-ho, he was recruited by Curtis and his team because he invented the train’s door security system and he’s their key to their success. For those who’ve seen Bong’s previous work, you know that Song is his go to actor and here he didn’t disappoint. Another well known actor showed up as the train inventor and main villain, I thought he was quite effective. I don’t want to mention his name since I think most people don’t know he’s in the movie and I think it’s better for people to find out for themselves.

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To me the main reason this film worked was because of Joon-ho Bong‘s direction. He was able to elevate a silly concept and made into something that kind of original and fun to watch. The film’s actually based on a French graphic novel called Le Transperceneige. Bong co-wrote the script with Kelly Masterson (she wrote Sidney Lumet’s last film Before The Devil Knows You’re Dead), the story had me on the edge of my seat throughout and I like the fact that they didn’t chicken out and end the film in a Hollywood fashion. Bong staged some cool action set pieces, including a brawl between Curtis’ gang and the rich folks’ army and unusual shootout between Curtis and one of the villains. For anyone who’s never seen Bong’s other films, you might find his style a little weird and un-Hollywood like. I also think he pay homage to Sam Peckinpah for this film, in fact I thought had Peckinpah ever made a sci-fi picture, it would be like this one. For a film that cost less than $40mil, the visual effects looked pretty great. I can only imagine what his next film will look like if Bong gets a budget of $150-200mil.

After witnessing the atrocious Transformers 4 a couple of weeks ago, I was glad to have seen this excellent film. It’s smart, exciting and well paced. It surely will be on my top favorite films of the year, this one comes highly recommended.

four reels


SnowpiercerPoster

Ruth’s Review

Science fiction thriller set in post-apocalyptic world is a dime a dozen. Seems that Hollywood is quite obsessed with this sub-genre, even young adult fares are set in this dystopian future, often with a hero/heroine who’s destined to change the world. Thankfully, Joon-ho Bong‘s Snowpiercer manages to set itself apart from the pack. This is my intro into Bong’s work, and it’s also his first Hollywood film. I’ve blogged about the furor over Harvey’s Weinsteins constant meddling with the film’s cut last year, so finally, after waiting for over two years, I got to see this on the big screen.

What strikes me right away about this film is how bleak it is. Bong’s imagined future has that gritty, soiled and grimy look as we’re shown how the poor, unfortunate souls have been living the past 17 years in the tail section of a rackety train, Snowpiercer. Given that earth is now inhabitable due to a cataclysmic accident that renders everything frozen, the train has to keep running nonstop with what’s left of humanity on board. Having been oppressed for nearly two decades with no chance to escape, it’s no wonder the lower class is hellbent on revolt. It’s futuristic Les Misérables set on a train. It’s an intriguing concept surely, but that alone doesn’t always translate to an intriguing film (Ted’s mentioned Elysium and I’d also add In Time  which are more action/adventure than a true sci-fi). Snowpiercer on the other hand, has a nice balance of action and character-driven sequences, and it’s not reliant on special effects to thrill the audience.

I have to admit it’s not the most entertaining film I’ve seen, and at times it’s too violent for my taste. It’s not as graphic as I feared it would be but I still think it’s not for the faint of heart. But I appreciate Bong’s bold vision and the way that Snowpiercer doesn’t glamorize the post-apocalyptic world, which enhances its sense of realism. Despite the fantastical concept, at times it made me think how this bleak reality might not be so far-fetched after all. The geopolitical and socio-economic allegory can be in-your-face at times so I could see why some critics have called it heavy-handed. But overall the pace of the film is good and the slow moments are a welcome relief from all the brutality. I especially like Chris Evans‘ emotionally-charged monologue towards the end which gives us a glimpse into what’s really at stake for the rebels. The confined space of a train gives a heightened sense of claustrophobia that makes everything even more suspenseful. The more we learn about the world within Snowpiercer, the more we realize that nothing is what it seems. There are genuine surprises as well that keeps you on your toes. Just when you think things are calming down, Bong would suddenly pulls the rug from under us! Unlike lot of action films that are loud, bombastic but lacking genuine tension (basically what Bayhem is all about), this one gives me a real adrenaline rush.

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The international cast is full of inspired casting. Interesting to see Chris Evans in the role of the protagonist. He’s a flawed, reluctant hero, the polar opposite of Captain America, though Evans retains that sympathetic guy-next-door persona even bloody and covered in dirt the entire film. Having seen him in Puncture, I knew he’s got dramatic chops, so I hope he makes wiser role choices from now on so we can see more of what he can deliver. Tilda Swinton once again delivers her chameleonic turn as Minister Mason, a role that’s originally written as a mild-mannered man. The most memorable characters to me are the South Korean father/daughter duo played by Kang-ho Song and Ah-sung Ko, both have worked with Bong before in The Host. It’s nice to see Ed Harris in a key role, he definitely makes an impact despite his brief appearance. Jamie Bell, John Hurt, and Octavia Spencer round up the solid supporting cast.

So overall Snowpiercer is definitely worth the wait, though I wouldn’t call it flawless. There’s a certain chaotic madness in Bong’s direction that’s discombobulating, and the emotional involvement with the characters just isn’t as strong as it could be. In the end they’re all still a mystery to me that keep them at a distance from the audience. But what the film does well is that it really makes us ponder on the fascinating, though-provoking ideas whilst we marvel in the visually-arresting cinematography. The contrast between the vast and bright frozen landscape outside the train window and the cramped, crowded and dark interior is striking. The music by Marco Beltrami is also pleasing to the ear and enhances the mood.

The finale is truly something to behold, and the CGI is actually used to a tremendous effect because we’re not so worn-out by it. The lack of a glorified happy-ending is also refreshing, something that would linger long after the end credits roll and inspire countless conversations afterward. If you’re a big sci-fi fan, this one is not to be missed. It’s truly a visceral experience that manages to feel original despite the tried-and-true premise we’ve seen time and again. I’m curious to see what Bong does next, hopefully this won’t be his last collaboration with Hollywood.

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What do you think of Snowpiercer? 

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59 thoughts on “FlixChatter Double Review: Snowpiercer (2014)

  1. Good reviews. The thing about this movie is that it’s quite crazy, but it doesn’t back away from being so. Not only did that have me respect it, but also enjoy it a lot more as well.

    1. Ted S.

      I think for people who have never seen Bong’s previous films, that will feel the same as you. I’m surprised I enjoyed it as much as I did, it’s always a good thing going into a movie without much expectations, lol.

    2. Hi Dan! Yeah it gets quite crazy at times which makes it hard to discern just what the heck is going on. But still overall it’s well worth a look, too bad it’s not distributed widely nationwide.

    1. Hi Joseph! ‘Unstructured’ – yeah hat’s a good way of describing it. I think under a lesser director this movie might’ve been a mess but somehow Bong made it work!

  2. Well my long comment wouldn’t post so I lost it forever so here’s the cliff notes…

    Agree with Ruth that characters not as emotional engaging as I would have liked.
    Great story, direction and production design.
    Just the right use of CGI and violence (reminiscent of Park Chan Wook’s Oldboy who was a co-producer on the film).
    Swinton was having fun doing her best post-apocalyptic Thatcher.
    I thought Kang-ho Song, a Bong regular, really stole the scenes.
    John Hurt’s character name, an homage to Terry Gilliam, whose film Brazil which also famously had studio interference.
    Read this: Jack Matthews – The Battle of Brazil: Terry Gilliam v. Universal Pictures in the Fight to the Final Cut

    and see this:

    I’m out.

    1. Ted S.

      Hey Dave, did you Memories of Murder? I thought that’s probably Bong’s best film. I really liked Mother, although it has some flaws that could’ve been fixed. I know most American audiences only known him because of The Host, which I thought was okay but kind of overrated. That’s probably the reason why I was hesitant to see this film, I thought it might be more like The Host, but I’m glad it felt more like his earlier work.

      1. You know Ted I actually had a comment about how I was a fan of his since seeing Memories of Murder.. which didn’t post of course.

        I really liked The Host. Scott Wilson (The Walking Dead) popping up in a cameo was a pleasant surprise. I thought the FX were pretty good and it had the heart and humor that a lot of US films like that lack. See Cloverfield for an example.

        I remember some other reviewer/blogger commenting on Mother saying “It’s another Bong hit!” (rim shot please). I really liked the actress who played the central character of that film. Bong has poised himself to become the next Park Chan-wook. Some other Korean films besides The Vengeance Trilogy that I really liked were A Tale of Two Sisters, The Man from Nowhere and The Chaser. When it comes to stylish, violent thrillers South Korea’s pretty much got that genre locked up.

        1. Ted S.

          Ha ha okay, I would assume you’d seen that one. I’m so glad that Hollywood never try to remake Memories of Murder, maybe they did but Bong probably wouldn’t sell the rights to them. Oh right Scott Wilson appeared in The Host, that was a surprise. I enjoyed the flick, just didn’t think it’s that great. I hated Cloverfield! And it hurts to me to say that because I think Matt Reeves is one of the best young directors working in Hollywood today. His remake of of Let The Right One In was brilliant and pretty sure his take on Planet of the Apes will deliver.

          Yeah I totally agree that the lead actress in Mother was excellent and I was on the edge of my seat throughout. I just felt a few things needed to get fixed and it would’ve been a brilliant film. True that Bong’s is very similar to Chan-wook, they’re probably the most well known South Korean filmmakers all over the world.

          1. I don’t put Cloverfield so much on Reeves as I do on JJ Abrams. The more I see of JJ the less I like him. While Lost was kind of brilliant it kind of “lost” its way there for a while creating more questions than they answered. But then again even David Lynch admittedly completely lost his way in season 2 of Twin Peaks and I revere Season 1. I think Twin Peaks single-handedly influenced the remarkable things that are being done on TV today.

            Looking forward to Reeves’s Planet of the Apes.

            1. Ted S.

              Yeah that’s true and I’m getting annoyed with Abrams too, which is why I’m not that interested in the new Star Wars flick. Abrams is becoming the ultimate YES MAN for big studios now, he delivers what they ask of him and all he wants to do is please his bosses. I was going to start watching LOST but then I already knew what happened in the last episode so I just didn’t want to invest my time watching it.

    2. Hi Dave! Oh I didn’t realize John Hurt’s name was an homage to Terry Gilliam, interesting! Swinton looks like she’s enjoying herself, though her buck teeth gets a bit distracting at times as I was staring at it and didn’t pay attention to what she’s saying, ha..ha..

  3. Great reviews, both of you. I agree this movie is quite excellent, often surprisingly so.

    And I too love that Bong didn’t cheapen the flick with a happy Hollywood ending. We don’t know what is going to or already has happened to many of these characters, and I think that works exceptionally well.

    1. Ted S.

      Thanks Josh! Good to hear you enjoyed it too. It definitely surprised me since I didn’t really want to see it in the first place.

  4. Interesting reviews! I was really glad I got to see this film; I was worried I wasn’t going to be able to but I managed to make it to a theater that was showing it! I thought it was really good as well; it was a bit messy and required a huge suspension of disbelief but at least it gave one something to think about. The characters may not have been hugely involving, but I think the social system and environment on the train managed to compensate for it. Overall the film was pretty engrossing so I could forgive it all the unbelievable stuff. I ended up liking this one quite a bit!

    1. Hi Melissa! Glad you’ve seen this and loved it too. I’m thrilled that my local theater near my house played this one. I actually didn’t have trouble w/ the ‘suspension of disbelief’ part but at times the movie was so chaotic and quite violent. But overall it still works for me, so definitely not disappointed!

  5. I finally saw this film last Saturday Night and man…. it was exactly what a summer blockbuster should be. I loved the visual scope of it as well as its setting. I love the offbeat humor and the stakes of the film. The cast is just fucking great as I think Chris Evans does his best work in that film. Especially with that monologue near the end of the film. So far with Bong Joon-Ho, I’ve seen this, The Host, and his “Shaking Tokyo” segment from Tokyo! as I love what I’ve seen from him so far. I have Memories of Murder in my DVR as I’ll watch it next month.

    1. Ted S.

      Glad you enjoyed it too. Be sure to see MOTHER after MEMORIES OF MURDER. I think both of those films are some of the best suspense thrillers I’ve ever seen and maybe Bong’s two best films. I have to see Snowpiercer again before I include it on his best list.

    2. Glad to hear Steven! I love that monologue at the end, Evans pulls it off very well. He has a very likable presence which works here as Curtis has done some despicable stuff but you still sympathize w/ him.

  6. Nice reviews here, guys. Just saw this myself, and I was pretty impressed for the most part. It’s certainly not flawless, but it’s nice to see something a little different for a change, and this one delivered for the most part. Good stuff. 🙂

    1. Ted S.

      Thanks Chris. Yeah the movie has flaws but it’s still better than many of the movies I’ve seen so far this year.

  7. Very excited about seeing this film. I’ve tried to avoid as many of the “spoilers” as possible, so know very little about it, other than the massive amount of hugely positive buzz it’s been creating. Can’t wait to catch it.

    1. There are no spoilers in our reviews, Jaina, but yeah, the less you know about it the better. I’m even glad I didn’t know who all the actors are in this film before I saw it, so it was nice when they popped up 🙂

  8. Unfortunately, it’s looking like I’m not going to be able to catch this here during its very brief theatrical stay. At least it’s hitting VOD on Friday. Can’t wait to see it, and glad to hear you both enjoyed it so much!

    1. That’s a bummer how little cinemas carry this one. But hey, that’s cool that it’s out on VOD soon. I can’t imagine you not liking this one.

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    1. I’ve been a fan of his since Billy Elliot but here he’s just ok actually. Chris Evans is very good however, I hope he chooses his roles wisely from now on.

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  12. Great reviews, both of you! I was a huge fan of this. While not without issues, everything comes together extremely well. I loved the story, I loved the score, I loved the way it was shot… the cast was fantastic, too. I thought it was really good. Chris Evans at the end? WOW. I have always thoroughly enjoyed him but wow, that was just something else.

    1. Glad to hear you’ve seen this and loved it too Zoë! You might’ve seen this a while ago haven’t you, as the US got this VERY late compared to other countries. I love Evans’ emotional monologue at the end, he nailed it! I think he’s admitted he hasn’t been wise in choosing his movies but I hope that changes now!

      1. Yeah I was reading about all the drama there was about getting it released there and what not and thought it to be ridiculous! Sheesh that end bit gave me such goosebumps! WOW!!! I’ve always enjoyed him, so here’s hoping he isn’t REALLY retiring when his Captain America contract it done!

        1. I think Evans was going into directing after his Cap role is done. I say good for him, I respect that when actors try out something different. Now I wish I had said something when I met him at Comic-con 3+ yrs ago. Seriously I was such a dork that I didn’t say a word when I came up for autograph, he’s friendly enough to ask how I was doing and all I said back was, ‘good, how’re you?’ [face palm] 😛

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  16. Brilliant write up, it was a very unusual film, but I had such a blast watching it. I loved the inner themes and that the main female protagonist was Octavia Spencer.
    My favourite scene was the bit with Alison Pill haha.

  17. I just caught up with Snowpiercer this week, and I loved the “chaotic madness” that Ruth describes. It’s dreary at times and shows a world that doesn’t look like a fun place, but I was thrilled by the entire experience. Ted mentioned that he’d love to see Bong Joon-Ho get a huge budget. I think he benefits by not having a big budget here. It reminds me of Looper from last year where a budget around $30 million injected more creativity into the mix. This is my favorite of 2014 so far.

  18. Brazil, The Fifth Element, 12 Monkeys Blade Runner and now this. Truly one of the great sci-fi films of all time. I can’t understand why it grossed less than $4 million in the U.S. but oh well. Destined to be a cult classic at least.

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