Weekly Watch: ‘Snowpiercer’
Jimmy Kemper | Monday, November 10, 2014
“Snowpiercer” is about more than just a really cold winter. It’s about a train filled with the last remnants of humanity circling the globe forever so they do not freeze to death. As initially ridiculous and unwatchable as this may seem, “Snowpiercer” proves itself to be one of the better action films of 2013 and much more than meets the eye, providing engaging, original action sequences for those itching for a big summer blockbuster and a well-crafted narrative littered with social commentaries and political allegories for the more artsy viewers.
The ability to blend radically different concepts together in an action film is what makes “Snowpiercer” such a gripping movie. “Snowpiercer” is South Korean director Joon-ho Bong’s first English language film, and he nails the fusion of Eastern and Western influences.
In this regard, “Snowpiercer” is absolutely one-of-a-kind, syncing together a story based on French comic “Le Transperceneige,” stylized fight scenes inspired heavily from Joon-ho Bong’s previous works and the acting capabilities of Americans such as Chris Evans into something uniquely beautiful.
“Le Transperceneige,” published in 1982, was an excellent source to tap, and provides the foundation for one of the most interesting, novel and relevant sci-fi films in recent history. After an accidental human-engineered apocalypse that leaves Earth frozen solid (a failed attempt to reverse global warming), the last survivors of humanity are trapped on the Rickety Ark, a world-crossing train that runs on perpetual energy. Within this locomotive, people are separated by railway cars into an incredibly rigid and ruthless societal structure that relies on fear, anxiety and the occasional class warfare to survive. Masses are crammed into the back of the train, where they suffer the brutality of the police state and the sole sustenance of insect-based protein bars.
As the group of rebels from the back of the train, led by the grim, reluctant Carter, played by Chris Evans (a.k.a. Captain America), we are exposed railcar by railcar to this fantastical and horrifying world. The closer Carter and his rebels get to the front, the more affluent and sickening the train becomes, unveiling nightclub lounges populated by wealthy drug addicts numb to all but their dependence and classrooms where the children of the wealthy are taught that the train engine is sacred and the conductor a sort of prophet, among other monstrosities. Through scenes like this, “Snowpiercer” creates a narrative that forces viewers to encounter extreme social inequality, the dangers of a police state and a number of other important contemporary issues.
We also see increasingly bloody and intense action sequences as the rebels approach the front of the train. The prime example of Joon-ho Bong’s creativity and ingenuity in these fights was in the bridge railcar on New Years’ Day. Here Mr. Bong excels, staging a dynamic and kinetic fight scene that rivals those of any big-budget film. Staging fights on a train creates a uniquely claustrophobic atmosphere that heightens the anxiety and intensity. In the New Years’ Day Fight, Carter and the other rebels clash against the train’s axe-wielding black-mask-wearing security forces. Since the train compartment is so narrow, the assailants and the rebels can only move forward, into each other’s lovingly violent grasp.
Bong relishes and indulges in this scene, pulling out all the stops and exposing viewers to a visceral amount of gore, violence and dark humor. Blood splatters across the train’s windows, creating a stark contrast to the white terrain of the frozen world outside. And when the train enters a tunnel and the world goes dark, the tension exponentially intensifies since the rebels are defenseless against the security forces’ night vision goggles. Overall, this is probably one of the most memorable action sequences of this year and a contender for my new favorite action scene.
“Snowpiercer” keeps audiences on their feet with the action, but this engaging film does not just pander to adolescents addicted to violence and explosion, thanks to its quality narrative and engaging social commentary. By staying sharp and self-conscious, “Snowpiercer” breaks out of the mold of the standard summer sci-fi blockbuster.