BD. Region B. Lionsgate. 15.
Now here’s a queer thing… I’m posting a preview of a film that makes its UK disc debut tomorrow but right around the time I post it, you’ll be able to watch Bong Joon Ho’s Snowpiercer on Film4. Released to wide indifference in 2013, this one has, of course, been given a new lease of life by the phenomenal international success, in 2019, of Bong’s Parasite, just as artist Jean-Marc Rohette and writers Jacques Lob and Benjamin Legrand’s graphic novel saga Le Transperceneige was rescued from obscurity after the director discovered bootleg Korean editions and brought it to the silver screen as Snowpiercer. The film has been shunted into the sidings for so long that its re-emergence coincides with a new Netflix serialisation starring Jennifer Connelly, bumped up in their schedule due to the spike in demand for new TV product amid Covid confinement, which itself adds another layer of topicality to its oppressively trainbound narrative.
The remarkable thing is that Snowpiercer needed any such helping hand. This is a truly monumental slab of epic Cinema which addresses the same themes as Parasite with a similarly acute satirical eye but over a significantly larger and more expensive canvas. Nobody involved in the production puts a noticeable foot wrong but special mentions must go to DP Hong Kyung Pyo, the production design of Ondrej Nekvasil, Stefan Kovacik’s art direction, set decorator Beata Brendtnerovà and Catherine George’s costume designs. His imagination unfettered by budgets, it’s easier (and a whole lot cheaper) for a comic book artist to create such an impressive alternative reality but under Bong’s assured hand, his team match anything that Rohette has come up with. I keep thinking of Brazil (1985), no doubt nudge-nudged in that direction by the naming of John Hurt’s “revolutionary philosopher” character as “Gilliam”.
At some point in our not too distant future, world governments finally agree on a serious stab at sorting out global warming but bungle it so badly that the Earth is plunged into an Ice Age that no living being can survive. “Luckily”, the Elon Muskesque Wilford (Ed Harris), foreseeing exactly such an outcome (or was he in some way implicated in it?) has devised a futuristic train that circles the frozen globe perpetually, sustained by the water converted from the snow it ploughs through but also by the ruthless exploitation of the plebs confined to its rear carriages, while the elite live out their first class lives in luxury and dissolution, protected from the great unwashed by elaborate security systems and battalions of thuggish guards. Mind the gap…
Inspired by Gilliam and attempting to exorcise his own personal demons, Curtis (Chris Evans) leads his pissed off people on an epic battle through the train, traversing a succession of carriages with their own distinct social stratification and associated Hogarthian vignettes, gradually accepting the mantel of leadership as the bodies pile up all around him… and finally the much anticipated meeting with the superficially charming but self-evidently amoral and monstrous Wilford. Think Willard and Kurtz in Apocalypse Now… Tyrell and Batty in Blade Runner. When Curtis is offered control of the engine room, will he succumb to temptation or stay true to his revolutionary principles?
Like Boon’s crew, his multi-racial cast are uniformly excellent. By this point Hurt just had to stagger on to a screen looking ruffled and he had your undivided attention, but special mention must be made of Tilda Swinson’s astonishing turn as the loathsome Mason. Swinson’s is a personality I’ve never particularly, er, warmed to (and her participation in that bloody Suspiria remake did nothing to break the ice with me) but credit where it’s due, this is a remarkable performance.
A double bill of Snowpiercer and Sang-ho Yeon’s Train to Busan (2016) would go a long way towards alleviating the ennui of your next Lockdown evening. Described as a “visionary director” in the film’s publicity blurb, Bong is the biggest Far Eastern talent to cross over since John Woo and I’m genuinely excited to ponder what might be in the pipeline from him. Let’s hope he can thrive without recourse to some of the artistic compromises that were forced upon his illustrious predecessor.
Extras comprise a handful of short teasers and the hour long Transperceniege: From The Blank Page To The Blank Screen, following creators Rohette et Legrande as they witness their neglected baby’s cinematic baptism / transformation.