A lot of things need to line-up for a film to succeed. There are the obvious elements - a great script, a talented director, a convincing cast, a savvy marketing strategy, and so on. Toiling in the background, however, is a whole artistic assembly line, which also needs to come through. You know, the technical crew that you're in charge of managing so the production stays on track. See, if they decided to just rebel against the whole industry, the movies as we know it would cease to exist. Middle-men like you would then have to either try to stop then, or join the revolution.
You can see where this is going, right?
Yes, you are the Mason (aka. Tilda Swinton) to Bong Joon-ho's Snowpiercer. But this action-packed locomotive is not her story to tell - or yours, for that matter. It belongs to the labourers and unsung heroes that are told they should be grateful just to be around. People like Chris Evan's character, Curtis, and his clingy best friend Edgar, played by Jamie Bell, or a protective mother like Octavia Spencer's portrayal of Tanya. Covered in soot and clinging to gelatinous protein bars, they're plotting an uprising the moment we meet them. This gives the film a classic prison-break structure, only this prison is a class-divided train filled with the last survivors on earth.
There's a mysterious conductor and de facto God in the front, a meaty middle that represents a cross-section of humanity, and les Miserables in the caboose. Your on-screen counterpart, Mason, likens this arrangement to the way a body depends on the foot knowing its place on the body. Except as we know (and as the film shows in chilling detail), people learn to live without limbs all the time. In fact, some characters in Snowpiercer wear their dismemberments like a badge of honour, for reasons that aren't clear until the end of the film.
Deficiencies and disabilities in the making of a film, however, are less endearing. In the case of Snowpiercer, this responsibility unfortunately falls at your feet. The exterior shots of the frozen-over landscape and train itself are rendered with unconvincing graphics that feels you pushed your computer effects team to work a little too fast, and a little too cheaply. That's a small quibble, however, in what is otherwise a beautifully shot ripping ride.
Casualties come fast and furious in this South Korean co-production, which feels heavily influenced by Asian and South Asian hit films. It's one part The Raid, and a couple parts Oldboy (a comparison the film comes by honestly with director Park Chan-wook as a producer). In fact, just imagine Oldboy's violent hallway sequence stretched over the course of an entire film (and with some equally delicious plot turns). Yet there's also a lot of heart here, to the point where I kept feeling surprised and unprepared for any of the characters to die - the exact opposite feeling I get in franchise-focused Hollywood productions. _Snowpiercer, _by contrast, feels like a singular effort on a one-way track to thriller-ville. It succeeds - but after circling the world for a year now on the international film circuit (ironic, isn't it?), I'm just not sure enough outside factors will align to bring in audiences.
Here's hoping people do line-up to see it,