Review: SNOWPIERCER (2014) South Korean director Joon-ho Bong's first English language film is a wild ride you should take

July 8, 2014

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SNOWPIERCER (2014) Chris Evans, Song Kang-ho, Jamie Bell, John Hurt, Tilda Swinton, Octavia Spencer, Ewen Bremner, Ed Harris. Directed by Joon-ho Bong

The future doesn't look too hot in South Korean director Joon-ho Bong's first English language film, in fact it's freezing cold.

The year is 2031 and the Earth lies in a frozen state. Seventeen years earlier there was an attempt to stop global warming by shooting a compound called CX7 into the atmosphere. The plan backfired, creating an instant Ice Age and extinguishing almost all life on the planet.

The last remnants of mankind are on board a long train called the "rattling ark" which constantly circles the globe at a high rate of speed crashing through any accumulated ice and snow. Civilization as we know it is now divided by different cars with the lower class at the back of the train living in cramped, prison-like conditions that are barely tolerable. They survive on protein blocks, a disgusting gelatin substance that is manufactured on the train, there are no windows, and armed guards occasionally snatch young children and take them away. It's quite a different scenario at the front of the train where the affluent passengers enjoy sushi, raving, and a spa. There doesn't seem to be a middle class just the wealthy and the poor.

The scene resembles an Orwellian society as humankind is instructed to praise Wilford (Ed Harris), an eccentric billionaire who created the self sustaining train. Leading the destitute in an occasional Wilford rally is the ambiguous prime minister Mason played by Tilda Swinton who resembles an oppressive Jane Hathaway from the Beverly Hillbillies, a colorful character brought to life by Swinton's animated performance.

As with most films that involve a dystopian future, an uprising is in the works with Curtis (Chris Evans) and Edgar (Jamie Bell) on the front lines to lead the revolt following the advice of their mentor played by John Hurt. Their plan is to free a prisoner on the train, played by Bong veteran Song Kang-ho (who I really liked in the South Korean horror film "Thirst"), who can help break into the other cars on the train.

I really like this diverse cast and watching them together was like eating chocolate with sea salt for the first time, they don't seem to go together but after a taste it turns out to be a nice surprise, even Oscar winning actress Octavia Spencer is on board this crazy train.

Snowpiercer is adapted from the French graphic novel 'Le Transperceneige' and I found the film to be refreshing because of it's unorthodox attitude, seasoned with a touch of Terry Gilliam's visual style. The action scenes are reminiscent of Gareth Evans' "The Raid:Redemption" as they move from one compartment to another, not fully aware of what's behind each door. It's undeniably original and highly recommended.

(4 Stars)

*Now playing in Houston at the Alamo Drafthouse Mason Park, AMC Studio 30, and AMC Gulf Pointe 30. In Austin at the Alamo Drafthouse Lakeline and in San Antonio at the Santikos Bijou Cinema Bistro.