Much like the train we inhabit for Bong Joon-Ho’s English language directorial debut, the direction in which “Snowpiercer” travels is determined, but at its core, the journey is one that has no control. Nevertheless, this doesn’t mean that the trip isn’t one hell of a ride. Brilliantly choreographed and unrelenting action highlights this resplendent visual feast that has the brains to match, for the most part. With brutal violence and an array of contrasting, stimulating colours, one can’t help but push the chaos and in-your-face obviousness of “Snowpiercer” to the back burner and just enjoy the trek.
Bong Joon-Ho has been and continues to be a filmmaker whom I admire and look to for inspiration. The director of numerous triumphs such as true-crime thriller “Memories of Murder,” modern monster masterpiece “The Host,” and psychological drama “Mother.” Bong Joon-Ho finally makes his much anticipated debut in English language cinema with “Snowpiercer,” much like his South Korean counterpart Chan Wook-Park did in 2013 with “Stoker.” This latest offering from Bong Joon-Ho features an all-star cast comprised of newcomers and veterans to Ho’s brand of film. Chris Evans, Kang-Ho Song, Tilda Swinton, Jamie Bell, Octavia Spencer, Ed Harris, and John Hurt lead the way.
In the not too distant future, humankind unleashes what is believed to be a chemical remedy to global warming into the atmosphere. When this experiment backfires and sends our planet into an unliveable state, the few who remain seek refuge on the ‘Snowpiercer.’ A train powered by a perpetual motion engine that circles the globe once every year. Designed by the prophetic Wilford, this train is the last livable place on Earth, running on the same, worldwide track for eternity.
On board the train, what remains of our population has descended in to madness and chaos. The rich, privileged first class passengers live in luxury and comfort at the front of the train, while the rest find home at the tail where food and space is sparse. In order to obtain better living conditions and equality, the tail section revolts in an attempt to take over the engine and overthrow the current status in which the train functions.
Taking into account that “Snowpiercer” was an adaptation, the original format being a graphic novel. A lot of the film’s blatant depiction of its themes and cartoonish violence and characters is understandable. That being said, at its worst, “Snowpiercer” is a bewildering, over-stuffed allegory that really suffers from pacing problems. Which is kind of intriguing seeing as originally, Bong Joon-Ho was not given control over the final cut of the film. This changed rather quickly though with the outcry of infuriated fans, much like myself and Bong Joon-Ho once again took full control of his film. However, whether or not this is the truth or simply a gambit I find to be in question, seeing as the film itself feels as if there was a lot more character and story development left on the cutting room floor.
On the flip side, for all of its faults, “Snowpiercer” is a visually entertaining and mentally challenging flick. And apart from a rather lacklustre climax, there isn’t a single moment in its just over two-hour run-time in which boredom will overtake you. While extremely violent, “Snowpiercer” is not excessively gory. It tries and at times succeeds in portraying compassion and brotherhood over war and never sells the evilness of humanity as our undoing.
In his transition, Bong Joon-Ho hasn’t lost any part of his infallible repertoire. If anything, “Snowpiercer” is his most ambitious, technically masterful film to date. As we progress through each car, we are treated to a completely different spectrum of colour ranging from achromatic to vibrant and picturesque. The battle sequences are captured with the utmost intensity and emotion and the characters never take a backseat to this visual spectacle. While undoubtedly not Bong Joon-Ho’s strongest outing, “Snowpiercer” will forever remain an achievement on his impressive resume.
While I was, without question, rather anxiously excited awaiting Bong Joon-Ho’s next project, I didn’t become totally smitten until I heard that Kang-Ho Song would be co-starring. Having lead a few of my personal favourites: “Thirst,” “The Good, The Bad, The Weird,” “Memories of Murder,” and “The Host,” you can see why I was so ripe with anticipation. In “Snowpiercer,” Kang-Ho Song is as charismatic, intimidating, and darkly hilarious as ever. While the script didn’t really allow for his character to outstretch his wings, so to speak, there’s no denying that Song did everything he could to bring this mad, drug-addicted genius to life.
Leading alongside Kang-Ho Song is Captain America himself, Chris Evans. Having previously been featured in such personal favourites as “The Iceman” and “Sunshine,” I was sure that alongside Song, Evans wouldn’t disappoint. Evans continues his ascent to stardom with another heartfelt, invested turn, this time as the leader of the tail section revolution with a dreary, ruthless past. One thing that has become very apparent as of late, and that “Snowpiercer” exemplifies, is that Evans has the ability to deal out heroic, blockbuster performances as well as dramatic stunners.
In supporting roles, Swinton is nothing short of impeccable. Decisively devilish and so easy to hate, Swinton does a phenomenal job as an antagonist who’s death the viewer can easily enjoy. Jamie Bell continues to earn my respect and trust. After surprising performances in “Filth” and the recent “Nymphomaniac,” Bell’s performance in “Snowpiercer” is another I can sink my teeth into. Octavia Spencer, John Hurt, and Ed Harris are also worth noting here. While easily lost in the background, their brief moments on screen are strong enough to dazzle and provoke.
While not the game-changer I was anticipating. “Snowpiercer” is still an impressive feat that all involved can be proud of. It’s as entertaining as any big-budgeted Hollywood action flick and much more rewarding. It’ll turn its fair share of casual filmgoers away with its bleak, disturbing, and violent content, but for those who can stand “Snowpiercer” at its most repugnant, this is one train ride they won’t soon forget.
Snowpiercer: 8 out of 10.
An unmatched, disconcertingly poetic, and visually brutal tale of vengeance that never ceases challenging its viewer. Chan-Wook Park’s “Oldboy” manages to find new ways to discombobulate and disturb while remaining mesmerizingly visceral and unbelievably disheartening. You’ll be hard-pressed to find a more taut character study that is truly unbound, cruel, and stretches to the furthest reaches of comprehensiveness. Although it may blur like a dream-sequence, mar any sense of humanity, and plaster your thoughts with violence long after it ends. “Oldboy” is a lyrical, ambient thriller that honestly depicts the power of love and loss. Containing one the most brilliantly choreographed and exhausting fight-sequences in cinematic history, a stomach-churning consumption, and a reveal that is sure to linger. “Oldboy” is a vivid nightmare you’ll be glad to experience again and again.
Oh Dae-su (Min-sik Choi) is a business man and a notorious womanizer. On the night of his young daughter’s birthday, he is kidnapped and placed in a hotel-like prison. Confined to this room with no human contact or explanation for his imprisonment, his only connection the outside world is a television. Soon, he learns that his wife has been murdered and that he is the prime suspect. Oh Dae-su passes the time shadowboxing and planning his revenge. After fifteen years pass, he is released, also with no explanation. Given only several days to find his captor and discover the reason for his confinement, Oh Dae-su is forced to make quick friends and even faster decisions.
Amidst the physical onslaught and weaving its way through a fair amount of sensitive themes. “Oldboy” is somehow able to exude some very dark humour. However, this is not the only surprise director Chan-Wook Park offers in this ferocious, almost Shakespearean neo-noir. While “Oldboy” is exceedingly violent, at times down-right cringe worthy, it is not excessively gory. A true testament to the strength, subtlety, and beauty in Park’s work behind the camera. And even though it may not be Park by the book, it is delectable to witness his work unrestrained and unfinished, as if his imperfect perfection makes the film that much more rough and unsettling. This raspy, unpleasant film may not be for everyone, but to further cement how important and powerful “Oldboy” is, keep in mind it was awarded the Grand Jury Prize at Cannes in 2004. They don’t give out that acknowledgement to just any film…but I digress.
Granted, “Oldboy” isn’t the most rewarding or satisfying flick out there and it doesn’t leave a lot to the imagination. With Park Chan Wook’s “Oldboy” what you see is what you get, not that I’m complaining. It’s like a puzzle that you don’t fully understand until you start taking it apart, piece by piece. It is feverishly appeasing to all the cinematic senses and while it may not necessarily be a story that needs to be told. “Oldboy” is a brilliant take on what it means to be human and how low one has to sink in order to have that privilege revoked. Why the film manages to shock is obviously due to its reveal. However, the reason it’s so effective is because of the viewers inability to foresee the reveal coming. Not because it is sly or intricate, simply put…we don’t want it to be true. It’s a story of morals and righteousness that doesn’t teach a lesson.
“Oldboy” is a phenomenal series of highs and lows, it pulsates like a distant star. There is hope, then despair, a series of positives and negatives. Nothing is ever permanent or stable and this adds a seriously complex layer to the film that its leads are left to master. For example, Min-sik Choi’s protagonist is constantly built up and torn down. Resulting in a varying set of emotional requirements that he is left to try and balance. Nonetheless, Choi’s diverse range is predictably outstanding and he is nothing short of intimidating, spectacular, and relentless throughout. Ji-tae Yu’s antagonist is a repulsive, obsessive, regressive villain that never fails to astound with his deplorable, blood-thirsty tendencies, and of course Yu portrays this disgust immaculately. As for Hye-jeong Kang, she gives an honestly heartfelt and terrified performance, but compared to these heavyweight actors, she gets lost in their brilliance.
Brutal, disturbing, heartfelt, and utterly unnerving. Chan Wook Park’s “Oldboy” might not be for the faint of heart, but if you can take it, it’s one hell of a bumpy ride.
Oldboy: 9.5 out of 10.