Saturday, 2 August 2014

NZIFF Film Review: "Snowpiercer" (2013).

For my tenth entry for the NZIFF, I have watched what might possibly be one of the most original Science-Fiction films in cinema history, Snowpiercer (설국열차; Seolgungnyeolcha). “Order is the barrier that holds back the flood of death. We must all of us on this train of life remain in our allotted station. We must each of us occupy our preordained particular position… In the beginning, order was proscribed by your ticket: First Class, Economy, and freeloaders like you. Eternal order is prescribed by the sacred engine: all things flow from the sacred engine, all things in their place, all passengers in their section, all water flowing. all heat rising, pays homage to the sacred engine, in its own particular preordained position. So it is. Now, as in the beginning, I belong to the front. You belong to the tail… Know your place. Keep your place…” This line describes the whole entire premise and theme of this science fiction action film based on the French graphic novel Le Transperceneige by Jacques Lob, Benjamin Legrand and Jean-Marc Rochette. The film is directed by Bong Joon-ho, his English-language debut, and was adapted by Bong and Kelly Masterson. The film is Set in a future where a failed climate-change experiment kills all life on the planet except for a lucky few who boarded the Snowpiercer, a train that travels around the globe, where a class system emerges.

In 2005, Bong visited his regular comic book shop in Hongdae area, Seoul during pre-production of The Host (2006). He found Jean-Marc Rochette's French graphic novel series Le Transperceneige and finished reading the entire series while standing in front of the bookshelf where he found it. He was fascinated by ideas of people struggling on the train for survival, and every section is classified in social stratification. Bong showed the series to his friend, fellow director Park Chan-wook, who loved it as well. In the following year, Park's production company Moho Films secured the screen rights to the series for Bong. During the pre-production in South Korea, Bong wanted a film studio with a 75–100 meters long space to fill four train cars connected together. Therefore, Bong and his production team travelled to Europe for a studio scouting and ended up with two studio choices: Barrandov Studios in Czech Republic and Korda Studios in Hungary. In September 2011, A Czech producer hired by the production team began negotiations with two film studios for availability, Barrandov Studios was chosen eventually for the film studio and production service provider of "Snowpiercer". In mid-March 2012, the film crew travelled to Tyrol, Austria to shoot some snowy scenery on the Hintertux Glacier in one day. Principal photography officially began on April 16, 2012 and wrapped on July 14 in Barrandov Studios. The post-production was carried out in South Korea.

The film was released on August 1, 2013, in South Korea where it went on to break box office records. On September 7, 2013, the film was screened as the closing film of the Deauville American Film Festival, and was released in France on October 30. Before the official German release on 3 April, 2014, the film was selected to screen at the 64th Berlin International Film Festival as the part of Berlin Forum. The film's UK premiere took place at the Edinburgh International Film Festival on 22 June 2014, but an official release date has not yet been announced.

The North American rights were acquired by The Weinstein Company in 2012, based on the script and some completed footage, with a plan for wide release in the United States and Canada. However it was only released in the US on June 27, 2014 in just eight theaters in selected cities. This delay was caused by Harvey Weinstein, an owner of The Weinstein Company, requesting 20 minutes of footage be cut and opening and closing monologues be added. Bong refused to cut it. American fans anticipating the film were outraged, spawning the Free Snowpiercer petition campaign (founded by cinematic activist Denise Heard-Bashur) demanding the director's cut of the film to be released in the US. Eventually Bong succeeded in getting the film released in an uncut form, however Weinstein retaliated by relegating the film to Radius-TWC, which meant the film only received a limited release in art house cinemas. On July 2, it was announced that thanks to the positive reviews and buzz the film would get a wider US release and play in over 150 theaters.

The film stars Chris Evans, Song Kang-ho, Go Ah-sung, Jamie Bell, John Hurt, Tilda Swinton, Octavia Spencer, and Ed Harris. The performances in this film were all superbly portrayed and are some of the best performances of their careers. Evans' performance more intense and emotional than his performances in the "Captain America" films. Song Kang-ho and G Ah-sung's third and second collaboration with Bong Joon-ho has their finest performances as father and daughter (just like in The Host). Full of Korean wit and humor that made this picture unique. They are also key elements that make this film a Bong Joon-ho film. Bell gave a great performance and pulled off a great Irish accent. Hurt gave his performance in years! Swinton gave us the best villain role of 2014, if not in the Science Fiction genre. She finds nice new ways to convey crazy menace with each new role. Certainly he's the most colorful figure in a film that wastes no time on character development or personality. As well as Harris, who gave a unique perspective as a villain. Both Swinton and Harris are known to have portrayed villains in the past and this is their best! Finally Spencer has given a great action movie performance.

A terrific blockbuster thriller, Snowpiercer is taut, tense, and energetic, with outstanding performances from Chris Evans and Song Kang-ho. Films like this one belong to the genre I call Sitting-on-the-Edge-of-Your-Seat Movies, because you're always sitting on the edge of your seat as you’re watching it. Action flicks are usually written off as a simple genre and films that go in the other direction, of course, rarely work. But the film works like a charm. It's a reminder of how much movie escapism can still stir us when it's dished out its sociological and multilayered themes and story. It's a pleasure to be in the hands of a filmmaker who respects the audience. Bong Joon-Ho’s craftsmanship is so supple that even the sociological messages seem justified.

Simon says Snowpeircer receives:

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