Tuesday, 3 February 2015


I've seen some strange films in my time, but when it comes to Joon-ho Bong's 2013 action thriller I am almost lost for words. Not that the movie is especially bonkers, you understand. It's just that I was expecting something completely different. In truth, I don't know what I was expecting, because for once I went into a new movie cold. Which, looking back now, is kind of appropriate really. I had no idea what to expect from Joon-ho Bong's runaway train, but Memories of Murder, The Host and Mother are three of my favourite films, so I was convinced I would be in safe hands.

However, doubts had already started to creep in. The film still doesn't have an official release date in the UK (rarely a good omen) and copies of the film are hard to come by. What's more, Korean directors have already started dipping their toes in Hollywood waters with mixed success. Kim Jee-woon (The Last Stand) stumbled out of the blocks with his Arnie comeback vehicle and Chan-wook Park failed to set the world alight with Stoker. Not the disasters they could have been, don't get me wrong, but both directors are capable of so much more. 

Snowpiercer stars Chris Evans (Captain America), John Hurt (Hellboy), Tilda Swinton (Vanilla Sky) and Jamie Bell (Billy Elliot), with Korean presence provided by Kang-ho Song (The Host) and Ah-sung Ko (The Host). Set in the future, we soon learn that a failed climate-change experiment has killed all life on the planet, except for a 'lucky few' on board the Snowpiercer; a train that travels around the icy globe encasing man's last hope. A class structure has emerged on the train and Curtis (Chris Evans) has had just about enough of the protein bars he's been dining on for the past 17 years. So he joins forces with the other passengers at the back of the train and together they aim to turn their fortunes around. One carriage at a time. 

The opening act is a little messy, tonally awkward and hard to connect with. It doesn't really find its feet until Curtis and his motley crew start making their way up the train. It's a striking production and the snowy exterior provides the effects team with a few meaty challenges. Inside however, is where the film really comes to life. The dark greys of the lower classes are soon replaced by, amongst other things, an aquarium, sushi bar, mirrorball nightclub and perhaps best of all, a colourful classroom where the privileged children learn and sing. That was the moment my mood turned for the better. It's a wonderful sequence; zany, cool and very amusing. Tilda Swinton is unrecognisable as a vocalist for the elite, resembling a cross between Bugs Bunny and Deirdre Barlow. It's a quirky performance that feels out of place at first but things get loopy very quickly and before long she is getting cosy with a memorable cast of oddballs and eccentrics.

From that moment forward the action comes thick and fast, with the South Korean helmer really finding his feet in the home straight. The final act had me hook, line and sinker, serving up a heady dose of action, drama and visual panache. After a shaky start I had been swept along for the ride. Not a subtle ride by any stretch of the imagination, but with Joon-ho Bong in the drivers seat, Snowpiercer feels as fresh as the morning snow. 

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