Snowpiercer: A Speculative Story of Class Struggle

Daniel Malice reviews Snowpiercer a little-seen, must-see sci-fi classic of world cinema.

John Hurt, Tilda Swinton, Chris Evans, and Jamie Bell are among the last people left alive on Earth, which has become a frozen wasteland as a result of a botched experiment to reverse global warming. They’re all on a train which is the only thing that didn’t freeze.

And John Hurt has an umbrella for a hand.

I know what you’re thinking. What a film that would make.

Fantasize no more, because Korean director Bong Joon-ho has given us that film and it’s called Snowpiercer.

‘Surely not?’ you exclaim in horror, ecstasy and disbelief.

Yes. It’s true and it is as good as it sounds.

So why haven’t you heard of it?

Snowpiercer premiered in Seoul in July 2013 but didn’t see US screens until June 2014 due to US producer Harvey Weinstein’s demands that cuts be made and some opening and closing monologue added. Director Bong refused to make changes so sadly the US release was spitefully restricted to art-house venues. Luckily, this reviewer managed to find one such venue during the summer of 2014. UK release was even smaller.

Succinctly, Snowpiercer is about a group of people who, at the end of the world, have had their social class designated by whether or not they bought a first class train ticket before Earth froze. Led by Chris Evans, the underclass of the train fight their way to the front to confront the train’s inventor, Wilford, played by Ed Harris.

It’s about social class, inequality and institutional corruption; themes which to a British audience are timely in the extreme. There’s no Europe-hating human spliced with frog DNA but other than that it’s bang on thematically.

Connoisseurs of Korean cinema will recognise Song Kang-ho (Thirst and The Good, The Bad, The Weird) as the Korean security expert/drug addict. Park Chan-Wook’s name may also ring a bell as producer (Oldboy, Lady Vengeance).

And if you haven’t seen all those films already, you definitely should.

Snowpiercer is Typically Korean. Meaning, it’s a predominantly serious movie that every now and then gets really bloody weird. It starts out simply enough with the grubby, rag-clad folk from the rear of the train murmuring to each other about how unfair life is, but half an hour later there is a Baltic man with alopecia handing out eggs from a big trolley.

That said, the odd moments in Snowpiercer go largely unchallenged by the characters. Chris Evans doesn’t start shouting ‘What is this?’ every time it gets a bit wacky, it’s just accepted. For example the environment of the train gets steadily more colourful and luxurious as the film progresses. (SPOILER ALERT – There’s even a sauna and a nightclub).

Snowpiercer is a fantastic story of underclass struggle and societal revolution and it’s hard to praise it highly enough without giving the whole plot away. Even if you think you don’t like world cinema or sci-fi, I guarantee you will enjoy it.

If you’re travelling to the States in the near future, Snowpiercer has just hit US Netflix, but it’s irritatingly difficult to acquire cheaply or legally online in the UK.

Don’t shy away from making the effort to see this film though – I promise you it’s worth it. Skip straight to a purchase and buy it on DVD (it’s been available in the UK since October 2014).

Trust me on this. It’s in your interest to seek it out.