Despite a ridiculous premise, I was more than willing to give Snowpiercer the benefit of the doubt. I loved director Bong Joon-ho’s giant fish-monster movie The Host, as well as his atmospheric and absorbing psychological thriller Mother. But as so often happens to Korean directors when they get to Hollywood, the resulting film doesn’t live up to prior Korea-based endeavors. Snowpiercer is a case in point.
The premise: Earth is a frozen white wasteland due to climate change and man’s fatally flawed efforts to avert it. Now what’s left of mankind is living in a super train that continually circles the globe. A rigid class system is brutally enforced on the train, and, understandably, the folks back in third class are mad as hell and aren’t going to take it anymore. Revolution ensues and the long trek to the front of the train makes up the rest of the film. Don’t worry, I’m not spoiling anything for you because, frankly, there’s nothing to spoil. That’s the problem. There’s one or two minor plot twists, but nothing to write home about and certainly nothing rewarding enough for the slog.
I got the feeling that this started off as a much more interesting film, but fell victim to the inevitable production notes process, all the truly compelling bits gradually broken off, piece by piece. I’ve seen what Bong can do, I know what he’s capable of, and this truncated actioner falls somewhat short of the mark.
On the bright side, there is Song Kang-ho, and a decent conceit that allows us to understand him even though he delivers all his lines in Korean. Also on hand are John Hurt and Ed Harris, old school quality to balance the more light-weight leads Chris Evans and Jamie Bell.
If you’re looking for a decent Hollywood action film made by a Korean director, I’d recommend Kim Ji-woon’s The Last Stand (mit Ahnuld). And if you haven’t seen any of Bong Joon-ho’s Korean films, by all means, do.