Snowpiercer (설국열차) is a 2013 science fiction thriller film based on the French graphic novel Le Transperceneige by Jacques Lob, Benjamin Legrand and Jean-Marc Rochette. The film is directed by Bong Joon-ho and written by Bong and Kelly Masterson. The film marks Bong's English-language debut; approximately 80% of the film was shot in English.
The film stars Chris Evans, Song Kang-ho, Tilda Swinton, Jamie Bell, Octavia Spencer, Go Ah-sung, John Hurt, and Ed Harris. The movie takes place aboard the globe-spanning Snowpiercer train which holds the last remnants of humanity after an attempt at climate engineering in order to stop global warming has unintentionally created a new ice age. Evans stars as Curtis Everett, a member of the lower-class tail section passengers as they lead a revolution against the elite of the front of the train. Filming was done on train car sets mounted on gimbals at Barrandov Studios in Prague to simulate the motion of the train.
Snowpiercer was well received by critics, and appeared on many film critics' top ten film lists of 2014 following its international release. Praise was primarily directed towards its vision, direction and performances, particularly Evans and Swinton's. Initially planned for a limited-screen showing in the United States, the critical response to the film prompted The Weinstein Company to expand the showing to more theatres and through digital streaming services. Produced at a budget of $40 million, it remains as the most expensive Korean production ever.
In 2014, an attempt to counteract global warming through climate engineering backfires catastrophically, unintentionally causing an ice age that extinguishes all life except the inhabitants of the Snowpiercer, a massive train powered by a perpetual motion engine that travels a circumnavigational track, created by the transportation magnate Wilford. By 2031, elites inhabit the extravagant front cars and the "scum" inhabit the tail in squalid and brutal conditions. Under watch by Wilford's guards, they are brought only gelatinous protein bars to eat and kept in their place in the social order by Minister Mason, while sometimes small children are taken away.
Conspiring with his mentor Gilliam, Curtis Everett leads the tail passengers in a revolt that he plans will take them all the way up to the engine. Overpowering the guards, they release security expert Namgoong Minsu and his clairvoyant daughter Yona from the prison car so as to disable the locks between cars. They take the car where insects are ground up to make their protein bars, and Gilliam suggests that if they take the subsequent water supply car, they will control any negotiation with Wilford. Instead, they are ambushed by a mass of masked men with hatchets led by Franco the Elder under Mason's orders; after a bloody battle Curtis sacrifices his second-in-command Edgar to win the fight. Mason is taken captive and agrees to give free passage to Curtis, Namgoong, Yona, and three other rebels: Gilliam's bodyguard Grey, and Andrew and Tanya who have had their respective children Andy and Timmy taken away.
They travel through several luxurious cars and arrive at a classroom, where the teacher expounds to the children and the rebels on the greatness of Wilford and the "sacred engine". While distracted by the celebration of the New Year marking one circumnavigation of the globe, the teacher ambushes them, killing Andrew before Grey kills her. Further back, Franco and Mason's soldiers use the same distraction to kill the rebel army and many of the tail passengers. Franco executes Gilliam, and Curtis kills Mason in revenge. Curtis' group continues forward, followed by Franco, leading to a violent fight in a sauna car during which Franco kills Grey and Tanya before Curtis and Namgoong seemingly kill him.
At the gate to the engine, Namgoong reveals that he plans to use Kronole, a hallucinogen he has gathered from the elites they passed, as an explosive to blow a hatch to the outside, as he observed signs the world outside is thawing. Curtis confesses to him that shortly after boarding the train, the tail passengers resorted to cannibalism to survive, and he is haunted by his part in it. He was nearly ready to kill infant Edgar when Gilliam offered his own arm instead. After years of disdain for Wilford, Curtis seeks to learn what Wilford's intentions were. Franco is revealed to have survived and makes his way toward the engine.
Wilford's assistant Claude emerges from the engine, shoots Namgoong, and invites Curtis inside where he meets an aging Wilford. Wilford reveals to Curtis that his revolution was actually orchestrated by himself and Gilliam to reduce the population and maintain the balance of the sealed ecosystem, and subsequently orders the elimination of 74% of the remaining tail passengers. He explains the importance of using fear and chaos to maintain a necessary order and leadership on the train. After letting Curtis experience being alone for the first time in seventeen years, Wilford asks Curtis to replace him. Curtis appears ready to accept, when Yona runs in and pulls up a floorboard, showing Curtis that small children from the tail section are being trapped as replacement parts for "extinct" machinery; the tail section only serves to provide this resource to the engine. Curtis subdues Wilford and sacrifices an arm to save Timmy from this work.
Namgoong revives and as he is overrun by Franco and the front sectioners, Yona lights the fuse on the Kronole. Curtis and Namgoong tightly embrace Yona and Timmy, protecting them from the blast. The explosion triggers an avalanche that derails the train. Yona and Timmy, apparently the only survivors, emerge from the wreckage and see a polar bear, proof that life exists outside the train.
Chris Evans as Curtis Everett The leader of the revolution. About the character of Curtis, Evans said, "I mean, for me, the tail section is, I think that's Curtis. I think that's who he is. The tail section is hard; it's grinding; it's tough; it's real. So that's where I had the most fun. Back there."Casting directors suggested Evans to Bong, who initially had misconceptions of Evans before they met due to the "caricature of the American all muscle", but quickly departed from that notion and described Evans as "[...] he's actually very sensitive and has a quiet and introverted side. He's a very, very smart person, and he's a director Bong was introduced to the films Puncture and Sunshine where he described Evans' performances as showing his "sensitive acting abilities". Bong and Evans spent months talking about the dialogue, and Bong received help from the cast and crew including Evans due to it being his first English language film.Bong said that for the role of Curtis, hiding Evans' muscular physique was the most difficult thing about working with the actor. Explaining, "He's supposed to be in the poor tail section for 17 years, eating only protein blocks, and it was tricky to hide all of that muscle mass with costume and make-up." On whether he was surprised by the fan response, Evans said, "I've been surprised about everything about this movie. Every movie you make, you hope people will enjoy it, but this movie has surpassed all of my expectations across the board."
Song Kang-ho as Namgoong Minsu The specialist who designed the security features on the train. On taking the role, Song said, "This was the third time I worked with director Bong, and working with director Bong is a wonderful experience. [...] this time around, working with the wonderful cast members was a tremendous experience." Describing Nam, Bong said, "He sets up the ending, because he has a vision about this world that's different from Curtis'. He has a desire to go outside of the train."On the name of the character, Bong stated, "I was looking for a name that would be most difficult for foreigners to pronounce. Namgoong ... it is difficult. There are some name-related jokes in the film." Kang-ho plays the only Korean speaking character in the film, and although as difficult and uncanny as it was, he expressed, "[...] but at the same time, it was very refreshing and fun to do."
Tilda Swinton as Minister Mason Wilford's right hand, the second in command on the train and has been the spokesperson for Wilford for the past 17 years. About the character, Swinton said, "Mason is a pretty monstrous construct so we felt we were dealing with extremes, but the truth was that we didn't have to go that far. Look at Hitler with his dyed black hair and Gaddafi with handmade medals stuck on his jacket." Swinton prepared for the role by studying clowning politicians throughout history, and Mason is, in Swinton's words, "a complete smash cut of all the monstrous, maniacal, political clowns." Swinton added that the character is a mix of Margaret Thatcher, Colonel Gaddafi, Adolf Hitler and Silvio Berlusconi.The Lancashire accent Swinton uses is based on someone from her early life who had the accent and to her, "was an early example of authority".Tilda and Bong met at the Cannes Film Festival when We Need to Talk About Kevin played and both wanted to work together. In one original scenario, Mason was a middle-aged man and first mentioned as "peaceful", so Bong changed it and offered it to Swinton. Bong added, "I originally talked to John C. Reilly about playing Mason." On Mason's appearance, Bong stated, "Tilda actually wanted to take the look further and I had to pull her back. She at the time really wanted to transform herself and look different than she ever looked before. I was all for it. Obviously there was something that started the whole look." Additionally Swinton stated, "As we were playing we had these ideas, like fantastic pendulous breasts [...] And Jamie Bell loved wearing them of course. We have a picture of him. Our crew picture involves [Bell] wearing Mason's breasts." Bong was inspired by a photo Ondrej Nekvasil found of a lady inside the National Museum of Natural History, and he showed the image to Tilda who "loved it". The appearance of Mason was based on Roxie Collie Laybourne.
Jamie Bell as Edgar Curtis's second-in-command. On taking the role, Bell said, "The reason why I wanted to be a part of the film was because of what Director Bong had to say about it; it was his vision that he brought to the table and I thought what it stood for was important to me." When asked of performances that were interpreted differently onscreen from the screenplay, writer Masterson stated, "[Bell] is very impish and mischievous as Edgar, which I didn't predict from his character. That might just be Jamie."and of his performance, "I think [Bell]'s performance, a lot of it is improvised, and quite brilliantly." On relating to the character, Bell said, "You know, I come from a very working-class background myself. There was the sense that I had to overcome something and really test myself. So in a way Edgar is very similar, he genuinely doesn't have anything and he's the lowest of the low of these people."
Octavia Spencer as Tanya A determined mother who is set on getting her son back. Despite not possessing the qualities of a fighter, she nonetheless takes part in the rebellion and speaks for the people of the tail section. The film marks Spencer's first time working in the science fiction genre. Spencer described Bong as "an auteur" and expressed sadness at the studio's proposal to cut the film. On imagery from the history base of references, Bong said, "When [Spencer]'s character is being beaten by the soldier, it's meant to remind people, somewhat, of the Rodney King incident." On the message of the film, Spencer said, "We are all covered in smoke and dirt from years and years of not washing and particles in the air, and we are all the same color if you look at it."
Ewen Bremner as Andrew A helpless father whose only wish is to protect his son.On taking the role, Bremner said, "I watched director Bong's film Mother which I was really knocked out by. He has a much adventurous sense of a character and he's a rare director in his route to cast actors that he really likes." Despite the weak and frail imagery of the character of Andrew, Bong needed an actor who was able to convey the raw emotion of the character to the audience directly. Bong became a fan of Bremner's after watching his appearance in Naked. On Bremner, Bong said, "He would become an actor like Byun Hee-bong one day."
John Hurt as Gilliam The spiritual leader of the tail section.Director Bong first saw Hurt in The Elephant Man while at middle-school, which made him curious about the actor; for the part of Gilliam he wanted an older actor, though one with the ability to "exude the ambience of spirituality." On the character of Gilliam, Hurt said, "He is certainly shadowy, but he is shadowy for a reason. Even though I still am not entirely certain what the reason is," adding, "[...] as far as Gilliam is concerned, he believes in the status quo, but he also sees himself as a true humanitarian. I mean he has literally given his limbs to these people." Hurt stated that the role of Gilliam was physically challenging one at that, because, "[...] the fact that I had one leg strapped behind me, trying to stagger around on those not very easy-to-use crutches. [...] and having to make it look like as though I'd been doing it for years."He too acknowledged Bong's encouragement of collaboration in allowing the cast and crew to "interpret things as we want, as we see fit" as well as adding pointers to the act. Hurt said of Bong, "I just fell in love with him. He was wonderful. I hadn't seen anything. I hadn't seen Mother or anything, which I immediately did when I got home. I went, 'Wow, that's the chap I was talking to.' Thank God instinct has left me completely. I adored him then, I adored him ever since." as well as previously adding, "He is quite different but technically, he is as clever as Hitchcock. That's saying something. [...] He is one of the best directors I've worked with. I absolutely adore working with him."
Switching gears, we have to talk about how badass you were in Snowpiercer. This was your first action movie, right?
I didn’t know what I was doing! Here’s how delusional I am about the process: I worked with the stunt coordinator for three hours a day for two days. It was like, “Do this, do this, do this,” and I was like, “Okay.” I just learned my two or three little moves, and I thought I was, you know, badass. Until I got to set. Chris Evans walks in to do this long action scene, and it was like a dance. He and Jamie Bell. And I got a little mad! “Well, hold on a minute. Why didn’t I get that much time with the stunt people?” Then I realized, Ooooh, it’s Chris Evans. He’s done so many stunt movies that he doesn’t have to spend that much time. I went up to him and said, “How long did you guys rehearse that?” and he goes, “Just now. That’s when I realized, okay, I’m not really cut out for this. I need a lot more time, and I’m afraid of being hit.
But the point is you didn’t look afraid.
I was paralyzed with fear when the lights go out. Remember that scene? All these guys are running around, hitting each other. I was standing there thinking, Oh, God, somebody’s going to hit me for real. I actually hit one of the stunt guys for real, with one of those rubber things. I smacked him across the face. Honey, I started panicking for real. My crazy brain went, I’m going to be underneath all of these fighting men. They’re going to hit me. I’m going to die. I’m going to die.
I’m telling you, it looked cool.
You have to do what scares you, so I’m sure I’ll do it again. But a lot of it will be with a stunt double, because Snowpiercer was no stunt double. That was Mama! I thought I looked totally badass in a couple of scenes while I was doing them, and then I watched the movie. No. I look like a crazy person! Everybody else is poetic and fluid with their movements, and I just looked like a crazy brute. It was really hilarious. “Mama Bear is coming!”
An enormously ambitious, visually stunning and richly satisfying futuristic epic from the gifted Korean genre director Bong Joon-ho.
Two decades into a second Ice Age, a few thousand human survivors live out their days aboard a state-of-the-art luxury train in “Snowpiercer,” an enormously ambitious, visually stunning and richly satisfying futuristic epic from the gifted Korean genre director Bong Joon-ho (“The Host,” “Memories of Murder”). A rare high-end sci-fi/fantasy pic made completely outside the studio system, and that even rarer case of an acclaimed foreign helmer working in English with no appreciable loss of his distinctive visual and storytelling style, Bong’s adaptation of French graphic novel “Le Transperceneige” reps a pricey investment ($40 million) for majority producer CJ Entertainment, but seems a downright bargain compared with the cost of forging such pics on Hollywood turf. A heavy marketing blitz combined with Bong and co-star Song Kang-ho’s considerable fan bases will drive strong biz at home (where the pic opens Aug. 1), if less than the whopping $64 million earned by “The Host” in 2006 — until recently, Korea’s all-time box office champ.
Offshore, “Snowpiercer” poses a somewhat trickier marketing challenge, given its hybrid art-movie/blockbuster nature, lack of audience familiarity with the source material, and the untested drawing power of top-billed Chris Evans outside his Captain America suit. But clever positioning along the lines of Sony’s campaign for the much less starry “District 9,” plus an assuredly warm fanboy reception, could just do the trick. The Weinstein Co., which controls the film for all English-speaking territories, has yet to announce a U.S. release date or major festival premiere.
Adapted by Bong and Kelly Masterson (“Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead”) from the 1982 graphic novel by authors Jacques Lob, Benjamin Legrand and Jean-Marc Rochette, “Snowpiercer” has been brought to the screen with the kind of solid narrative craftsmanship, carefully drawn characters and — above all — respect for the audience’s intelligence rarely encountered in high-concept genre cinema except when directors like James Cameron, Christopher Nolan and Guillermo del Toro are at the helm. Indeed, Bong’s film owes something to “Titanic” in its vision of a crowded passenger vessel that functions as an elaborate microcosm of society itself, complete with all the same top-down class distinctions, only here rendered tip to tail. Oh, and ice presents no obstacle for the Snowpiercer; it smashes right through great, arctic blocks of the stuff as it circumnavigates our now-frozen planet on a high-altitude railway.
The train and the track are both the inventions of Wilford, a billionaire industrialist dismissed as a crank in his day but now having the last laugh, his unseen, Oz-like presence looming large over the denizens of the Snowpiercer and inspiring a fanatical degree of devotion in his fascistic minions (led by Tilda Swinton’s hilariously grotesque Mason, with pudding-thick Yorkshire accent and upper bridge work that speaks especially ill of British dental care). We begin in the caboose, where the great, soot-faced, Dickensian masses jostle for space and rumors of incipient class revolt stir the air. It isn’t the first time the have-nots have attempted to take control of the train, but previous efforts failed because no one managed to make it all the way to the engine room. This time, things will be different, promises Curtis (Evans), the revolution’s semi-reluctant instigator, though it’s clear to see he has the makings of a sturdy prole hero.
For a while, cryptic messages have been arriving concealed in the gelatinous protein bars that serve as the stomach-churning staple of the “back of the train” diet, convincing Curtis and his wise, disabled mentor, Gilliam (John Hurt), that someone at the front of the train is spurring them on. One such message encourages them to free a Korean security expert, Namgoong Minsu (Song), from custody in the train’s prison car. But Minsu, wonderfully and inventively played by Song as an ornery, bedraggled self-preservationist, drives a hard bargain. He agrees to help only if his imprisoned daughter (Ko Asung, who also played Song’s plucky daughter in “The Host”) can tag along — and if each of them is rewarded with a fix of the hallucinogenic drug kronole for every door they manage to open. (The character, who speaks only in Korean, is able to communicate with the others via a two-way, voice-activated translation machine.)
Thus, armed with a few homemade weapons, Curtis and his band of ragtag revolutionaries (including Jamie Bell as Curtis’ loyal adjutant and Octavia Spencer as a mother searching for her missing child) begin their journey forward. At which point “Snowpiercer” sheds the close-quarters claustrophobia of the first half (which nods to such classic cinematic railway fare as “The Narrow Margin” and “Runaway Train”) in favor of a more expansive vision.
Built on gimbals on a series of interconnected soundstages at Prague’s Barrandov Studios, the train itself is a triumph of visual imagination for Bong and production designer Ondrej Nekvasil (“The Illusionist”), with each successive car revealing a new, surprising facet of this eerie, self-sustaining ecosystem: one a lush greenhouse, another a giant aquarium, yet another a Disney-on-acid classroom presided over by a creepily cheerful schoolmarm (Alison Pill). Gradually, color and light enter the heretofore monochrome frames, along with our first real glimpses of the outside world and its infinite permafrost. The further forward the rebels travel, the more decadent the surroundings get, until we arrive at the very front of the train and its blithe one-percenters, who seem to have been deposited direct from New Year’s Eve at the Overlook Hotel (a connection made explicit by Al Bowlly singing “Midnight the Stars and You” on pic’s soundtrack).
Along the way, various impediments arrive, mostly in the form of Wilford’s sizable personal militia, whose first major standoff with Curtis and company is a brilliantly staged rumble that coincides with the train’s passage through an extended tunnel, shrouding the combatants in near-total darkness. Like most of the key actions scenes, it’s executed in moodier, more impressionistic fashion than the whiplash-inducing likes of “Man of Steel” and “The Avengers.” Making a particularly menacing impression as one of Wilford and Mason’s head henchmen, without ever uttering a single word of dialogue, is Romanian thesp Vlad Ivanov (best known for playing the abortionist Mr. Bebe in “4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days”).
Throughout, Bong gets away with much that he almost surely would have had to curtail if working at an American studio. For starters, the pic’s pacing is more measured than most of its type, but never slack, with lots of time taken out for nuanced, character-building scenes that increase our level of emotional involvement. Important backstories are deployed only gradually, constantly shifting our sense of who the characters are and what motivates them. (As in “The Host,” too, all bets are off on who dies and who gets to live.) By the end, the film reveals itself as a surprisingly thoughtful contemplation of man’s inhumanity to his fellow man, and whether mankind is worth trying to save at all. Somber stuff, to be sure, but not without flashes of hope, and a steady infusion of Bong’s dark, quirky humor.
Among the generally impeccable craft contributions — including composer Marco Beltrami’s excitingly big, brassy original score — only the fully CGI exterior shots of the Snowpiercer itself disappoint, with an overly animated feel that lacks the texture and verisimilitude of the best modern vfx work.
"The movie came to life every time you were on the screen." Stan Lee to Chris Evans.
I literally watched this, for the 3rd time, last night!
This movie is outstanding. I give it an 11 out of 10 Okay, maybe not 11, but still.
It's beautifully shot, well scripted (adapted from the french graphic novel), and there are no bad performances. Every actor in this movie, to me, gave it their all. Gee whizz I even believed that the little kids had somehow been persuaded to continually fix the engine, they became less than human, taking on robotic/autonomous behaviour.
So many amazing moments. Some are gory, but they aren't excessive or vile. Bloody for the sake of being bloody. This film is art, it doesn't pander to some mainstream idea of what a movie about social/political standings within a community (or the remnants of human civilisation) should be or has been done.
The people from the gutter of society believe they're getting a raw deal and rise up to rule the world (what's left of it) They struggle every day witn the scraps left/thrown to them by the "upper classes" (paying passengers) and just want to be equals. Revolution ain't easy.
"Know your place, keep your place" Masons speech (Tilda Swinton) in the first act sets up the entire deal quite eloquently really. You wouldn't put a shoe on your head, a shoe belongs on the foot. A hat belongs on your head. I belong to the front of the train, and you belong to the tail.
How this still has had no UK release/distribution simply baffles me, must be criminal! Lol Seriously just listing some of the well known/recognisable names (us and uk) John hurt, Tilda Swinton, Jamie Bell, Luke Pasqualino, Ewan Bremner, Octavia Spencer, Alison Pill, Ed Harris Even if you don't know the name Song Kang-ho alot of film lovers would certainly recognise him from greats of modern Korean cinema (the Host, the good the bad the wierd, Sympathy for Mr Vengeance, Thirst) ...also if you've seen the host, the little girl? yep, she's in this too.
I lent my bluray of this (Italian import) to my dad to watch on his lunch breaks at work with his colleagues. They didn't get it, especially the bit with the fish and axes. I guess they were paying more attention to thier sandwiches than what was occurring on screen. Bless 'em.
This is not a movie for everyone, granted it is based on a graphic novel but this isn't a kids story, It is character driven hard hitting drama with action and drug addiction on the side. There are a couple of scenes that are entirely comprised of cgi, However it's not a cgi movie. you try building a couple mile long train and driving it through an ice age ravaged world of tomorrow!
When I first heard about this movie I went to youtube and watched one of the little making of clips. I love that they kinda did make the train, or at least bits of it, the detail of the set pieces is just stunning.
Now to the Evans.
Chris is stunning in this film. I don't know if he channeled the calm leadership of Cap here, but his portrayal of reluctant leader Curtis is fantastic The characters restraint and patience when all around him is going to hell is phenomenal We don't discover until much later on the previous life of Curtis (and many of the other passengers in the rear compartments) that moment when he admits to knowing that "...babies taste best..." is heart breaking. If we knew that at the outset I think it would have been a different movie, we certainly would have seen him in a different not so flattering light. You get to know very little about each character, dribs and drabs, but the way they are portrayed makes you feel for them, if we knew what they had been forced to do out of hunger we may have felt differently. Getting to feel for them first makes you almost/in a way understand the extreme circumstances that forced past decisions/mistakes and thier generosity in the face of starvation Is humanity worth saving, can they even save themselves?
As this seems to be classed as an international/foreign film it just hasn't gotten the recognition i feel it deserves from the big awards (oscars, globes, baftas etc...) looking at the huge list of noms on imdb very few are "western" or "mainstream" Shame...
...I've rambled on too long
Short version...It's a great movie, you should see it. You may need to bring your brain