It’s rare treat for filmgoers to experience a film that dodges labels as effectively as Snowpiercer. “Post-apocalyptic” doesn’t capture the tone. “Sci-fi” misplaces your suspension of disbelief. “Claustrophobic” misses the scope. “Exciting” softens its intensity. “Clever” understates its humor. The fact that we are left with no clear genre markers means that director Bong Joon-ho (The Host) and producer Park Chan-wook (director of the original Oldboy) have successfully brought the best of South Korean cinema to the West with a completely unique vision and the first under-the-radar, must-see film of the summer.
In the near future, a radical solution to fix global warming has backfired and causes the entire world to freeze and become inhospitable to human life. The only people left on the planet are the occupants of a single high-speed train that circumnavigates the globe every year, designed and engineered by the mysterious Wilford. We follow the occupants of the oppressed, dispossessed rear car in a revolt led by Chris Evans, Jamie Bell, and John Hurt, as they attempt to reach the front of the train after 17 years of containment.
As they make their way forward, each car contains new surprises and challenges. Sometimes it’s a brutal fight to the death, sometimes it’s an existential obstacle. There seems to be a governing philosophy at work, but who is in command and what greater purpose it all serves remains cloudy. The rebels have never left their own car, making the heightened reality—sometimes, funny, sometimes visceral, always gripping—as new and mysterious to them as it is to us. Its severe tonal shifts make the narrative stronger where other films might have become distracted after three cars.
With its structure of level advancement and discovering of new worlds only a few yards away, Snowpiercer is somewhere between Oldboy, Bruce Lee’s Game of Death, and revolutionary anti-objectivist game BioShock. Free from all genre conventions to follow or break, Snowpiercer is free to carve out a wholly unique place in the world of modern blockbusters. Full of wit, energy, humor, brutality, metaphor, and action that’s simultaneously exciting and intelligent, this is the film that looks poised to bring one of the most overlooked and under-appreciated film industries to international attention in the way that Spike Lee’s wholly unnecessary remake of Oldboy failed.
SNOWPIERCER | RATED R | NOW PLAYING, BRATTLE THEATRE & COOLIDGE CORNER THEATRE