Review: Train mutiny in dystopic 'Snowpiercer'

By Fred Hawson

Posted at Feb 04 2014 09:05 PM | Updated as of Feb 06 2014 07:27 PM

It is unfortunate that this film did not receive any big publicity before it got shown in theaters this week. I did not even any plan to watch it myself when I cursorily saw that it was about a train running in the snow. The strange title also did not help. It did not really appeal to me. However, as the week was winding up, I was reading more and more positive reviews about this film. On this the last day, I made sure I went to see it. And am I glad I did.

"Snowpiercer" is set in 2031, 17 years after all life on Earth was decimated by the extreme adverse effects of a chemical supposedly meant to control global warming, but went overboard and buried the whole planet in ice and snow instead. The only people left alive are on board a special train run by Wilford Industries, that had been perpetually going around its own transcontinental tracks all of those years.

We are first introduced to the poor people (in full dystopian look) in what was revealed to be the back of the train. They were fed protein bricks and made to suffer indignities as their guards and superiors desired. Led by the intrepid Curtis and their "patriarch" Gilliam, the poor one day stage a daring mutiny to reverse their fortunes. Will their plan to fight the system prosper? Will they ever reach the very front of the train where Mr. Wilford himself personally runs the sacred locomotive engine?

Chris Evans is completely in his element playing a heroic leader type character. He is no Captain America here, mind you. Tilda Swinton steals her scenes as a cartoonishly evil and underhanded Minister who makes it hard for the poor folk. Ed Harris plays the revered and wonderful technological wizard, Mr. Wilford. Playing smaller but notable parts were John Hurt, Jamie Bell and Octavia Spencer.

There are also a lot of South Korean actors here, headed by Song Kang-ho (who seemed to have lost a lot of weight since I last saw him in "The Host" and "Memories of Murder") and Ko Ah-sung (who made her film debut in "The Host").

The presence of an international cast makes the deep societal message that this film carries all the more substantial. This is biblical "Noah's Ark" meets Orwellian "1984."

It is amazing to see that despite the big name Hollywood stars that headline it, this is actually a South Korean production, and directed by an acclaimed Korean director and writer Bong Joon-ho. I have already seen three of Bong's oeuvre before -- "The Host" (2006), "Memories of Murder" (2003) and even his full-length directorial debut "Barking Dogs Never Bite" (2000) -- and I am a fan. How could I have overlooked that "Snowpiercer" was by him as well? I would not have waited this long to watch it. 8/10

This review was originally published in the author's blog, "Fred Said."