After leaving a distinctive mark on the festival circuit with The Host, Memories of Murder and a contribution to Tokyo!, South Korean filmmaker Bong Joon-ho takes on the world with his first English-language international production featuring A-listers such as Chris Evans (Captain America), Tilda Swinton (We Need to Talk About Kevin, Only Lovers Left Alive), John Hurt (1984, Elephant Man) and Ed Harris (Pollock, Appaloosa).

Based on the French comic book Le Transperceneige, Snowpiercer takes place on a train, which constantly circles the world and is used as a shelter for the last survivors of a climate disaster. As it’s always the case with dystopian movies, this new society is far from being idyllic, the train being divided in two parts: the elite is in the front, enjoying upscale amenities while the poor are relegated to the back, living in poor conditions. That is until Curtis (Evans) tries to set things right, leading a revolt that will take him through all the wagons and bring a few surprises.

Featuring some strong sequences and constantly alternating between action and social commentary, Snowpiercer is a highly enjoyable piece of filmmaking but it’s far from being the groundbreaking work it’s supposed to be – at least it’s the way, the film is being sold to spectators here.

What differentiates this film from other similar pictures is its setting, the train, which offers some appealing moments – mostly the way wagons have been organized to reflect everyday life, from the class room to the aquarium and the nightclub (my favorite here). As for the action scenes, they are quite fun but fail to fully convince. You get the feeling that the director wants to show some brutality without making it too violent for mainstream audiences. As a result, you get a big brawl involving hatchets (which as a side note is reminiscent of OldBoy) that turns out to be surprisingly bloodless. I also found Snowpiercer to be too talkative for its own good, which slows down the pace and makes it feel way too long (it clocks in at more than 2 hours).

What however bothered me the most is how derivative this work is, despite some fair attempts at reinventing the genre. The script seems to be recycling elements from science-fiction classics such as Logan’s Run, Soylent Green, 1984 and Blade Runner, to name a few. While I’m fully aware that Sci-Fi is a genre feeding on itself with a few pioneering works being used as a foundation for every other entry, it makes you wonder how many times do we need to see the same thing over and over again – kind of like the Alien premise, which has been transposed in every environment possible, from space to earth, underwater and underground.

When it comes to performances though, Snowpiercer doesn’t disappoint, which places it higher than your average B-movie. I particularly enjoyed Ms. Swinton in some Margaret Thatcher-type role while Mr. Evans finds here the opportunity to play a broodier character.

Just like it was the case with The Host, Snowpiercer is finely manufactured and entertaining but it is also an overhyped work that fails at being as original as it wants to be.

Director: Joon-Ho Bong – Actors: Chris Evans, Tilda Swinton – Running Time: 2:06 – Year: 2013 – Country: South Korea

Click the link below to watch the trailer:

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Fred Thom

Fred Thom

Editor-in-Chief/Founder/Film Critic at Plume Noire
The founder and editor-in-chief of Plume Noire, Fred Thom covers film festivals and writes movie reviews. He was born in Marseilles, France and is now living in Los Angeles, California.