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Is Snowpiercer Really as Good as Everyone says?

Updated on November 6, 2014

Snowpiercer (2013)

Starring: Chris Evans, Kang-ho Song, Jamie Bell, Ah-sung Ko, Tilda Swinton, Octavia Spencer, Ed Harris, and John Hurt

Directed by: Joon-ho Bong

Snowpiercer is a South Korean film based on the 1982 French graphic novel, “Le Transperceneige” by Jacques Lob, Benjamin Legrand and Jean-Marc Rochette.

I first heard about this film back in 2013 when it premiered in Korea on August 1st. What drew my attention to it was that it was a Korean film that featured a cast of well known American and British actors, as well as a couple of Korea’s native actors. Never before had I seen a Korean film with this big of a cast.

Unfortunately, I had to wait for over a year to finally see it. It premiered in the United States on June 27th, 2014 in select theaters. Sadly none of the theaters were near my area, so I had to wait for it to come out on video. Some of my friends saw it before me and they told me to “stay away!” But my curiosity got the best of me and I finally saw it recently. With that, I must say that I was extremely disappointed.

The story goes that in 2014, an experiment to prevent global warming ends up bringing a second ice age upon the earth and humanity is now on the verge of extinction. In 2031, the last of the human population now inhabits a massive train, called the Snowpiercer, which travels all over the world on a globe spanning track. Each car of the train contains a different class of civilization, with the rich and powerful occupying the front of the train while the poor occupy the tail end.

The plot centers on Curtis Everett (Evans) as he leads a group of rebels from their home in the tail section of the train all the way to the engine to confront the train’s maker, Wilford (Harris). He is joined by Edgar (Bell) who idolizes him, Tanya (Spencer) whose main focus is getting her son back after he is taken, and Gilliam (Hurt) who Curtis often goes to for advice. Along the way, they meet Namgoong Minsu (Kang-ho Song [The Good, The Bad, The Weird]) and his daughter Yona (Ah-sung Ko) who agree to help them through the gates of each car in exchange for a drug, called Kronole, that they are both addicted to.

(From left) Gilliam, Curtis, and Edgar prepare to put their plan into action.
(From left) Gilliam, Curtis, and Edgar prepare to put their plan into action.

The acting was one of this movie’s main problems. None of the actors are at their best in this movie and I don't think some of them really put in an effort. They just didn’t seem to meet the right tones at times and some didn’t seem to be really into their characters. Not even acting veterans, John Hurt and Ed Harris are memorable.

Kang-ho Song is the only actor in the film that speaks Korean all the way through. To communicate with him, the English use a futuristic device that translates exactly what his character is saying into English, as well as English translated to Korean. Most of his lines are subtitled, but the very few times they use the translation device, the translations are very faint and hard to hear. Why not just have his lines subtitled all the way through? The English characters seem to understand him pretty well without that device!

The most annoying character is Mason (Swinton), who is second in command on the train. Actress Tilda Swinton overacts so much in the film that you are just begging for someone to put a bullet in her to shut her up. From her very first scene, I knew that this character was going to be my least favorite. A funny rumor I found out about Mason was that originally she was supposed to be a man, and director Joon-ho Bong (The Host [2006]) wanted John C. Riley to play him. But he was such a fan of Tilda Swinton that he decided to make Mason into a woman in order for her to be in the film.

The most interesting character, to me, was Yona, who is revealed to possess clairvoyant abilities. Born on the train, she has never experienced the outside world, so everything is new to her. There is a mystical presence around her and she is the one that I often focused on the most in every scene that she was in. Not to mention her English is pretty good, too.

Curtis and Yona prepare for what awaits them in the next car.
Curtis and Yona prepare for what awaits them in the next car.

The fighting scenes were another problem for this film. Sometimes there was so much close combat and quick editing cuts that you couldn’t tell what was going on. Also, there were a lot of slow motion shots that I thought were completely unnecessary.

Some parts seemed pointless to me. Like at the very beginning, Curtis and Edgar try to negotiate with Tanya’s son, Timmy, to give them his protein block, which has a hidden message for them in it. Timmy says he will give it to them in exchange for a ball. That seems to be a pretty simple trade, except Curtis is reluctant to give him the ball, at first. What is so important about that ball that they have to negotiate over it? We never find out.

What's with the enemy soldiers stopping a fight just to celebrate New Years for a few seconds? The rebels are desperate to get to the front of the train and will stop at nothing! Were the enemy soldiers really that confident that they had the upper hand and that the rebels would wait for their celebration to end?

The worst part, for me, was the elementary school car. I have never seen a classroom that flashy. The acting in that scene is way over the top and cheesy. I was waiting impatiently for the scene to end, but it just seem to keep going and going and going! Did the scene really need to be established that much?

The ending was disappointing. The entire film felt like it was building towards a climax that would top the rest of the film. But instead, it was boring, bland, and seemed to drag far too long. Often times I was impatiently waiting for something exciting to happen besides watching Evans and Harris sitting at a table, talking. A lot of twists were revealed as well, which at this point I didn’t care for.

Why did Wilford want Curtis to take over the train? Why did he make Curtis have to fight his way up to the front in order to tell him that? How did Wilford know that the messages that he put in the protein bars would reach Curtis? The protein bars were being made from insects. Where did all the insects come from in the first place? There is just a lot of unanswered questions in this movie.

Ed Harris as the Snowpiercer's creator, Wilford.
Ed Harris as the Snowpiercer's creator, Wilford.

So, is Snowpiercer as good as everyone says? I don't think so. Visually, it looks promising, but the overall story falls short. I do congratulate director Joon-ho Bong for getting the chance to work with some of the actors that he has idolized over the years, like Tilda Swinton and John Hurt, though.

Korea usually comes out with some interesting movies: Oldboy (2003), The Good, The Bad, Weird (2008), and The Man From Nowhere (2010). But, even though this film has the most well known actors I've seen in a Korean film, it isn't a good example of what Korea has to offer. I admit, I didn't expect much from it in the first place, but this film ended up being below my expectations.

Overall, the movie wasn’t what I hoped it would be and I don’t think it deserves all of the critical praise that it’s getting. It's the kind of film that, maybe, deserves to be seen just once, but not again. Some parts were okay, but for the most part, it just felt like a waste of time.

Overall Rating: 1/5

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