My nerd cred evolves as I depart from my usual stomping grounds in Japanese media to explore South Korea’s outlet!
Snowpiercer is the kind of movie cinemaphiles like myself like to watch before congratulating ourselves, breaking our arms patting ourselves on the back. It’s the kind of movie you watch and immediately think “Wow, I am so much better than everyone else for having seen this.” It’s obscure and foreign and, yes, it also happens to be good.
It’s based on the French graphical novel (fancy word for comic) “Le Transperceneige” so it also has that going for it. We love anything that’s even remotely related to something French, even porn. Add to that that it was made in South Korea and you have the equivalent of cocaine to a film critic. In the grand scheme of things, it wouldn’t have mattered if it was good or not, we’d be raving about it anyway.
In the near future, attempts to stop global warming result in a much greater catastrophe when it instead results in the global temperature dropping drastically across the board, causing a new ice age. The last remaining humans are gathered on a train that travels the world on a looping track. But while the people in the front live a life of luxury, the people in the back live anything but. Stacked on top of each other and under the mercy of the elite, they eke out a living just barely. But now they’ve had enough and the revolt is about to begin. Under the leadership of Curtis Everett and helped by the mysterious clues hidden in their daily rations, they begin to push forward, one car at a time.
Just in case you missed it from that little synopsis, this move is all about the class wars, man, the divide between the Haves and the Have Nots. Or is it? Well, the jury is still out on that but while that is the most obvious thing to take away from this, given how clearly they portray the differences between the tail and the head (it’s a movie thing… you’ll understand when you watch it), there are also another message hidden underneath: that it doesn’t matter whether we’re rich or poor, in general we’re pretty shitty people either way.
Despite being a Korean production, it sports a primarily English cast with Chris Evans as the centerfold star. Backing him up is John Hurt, Jamie Bell and Korean star Song Kang-ho. It’s not the biggest A-listers out there but it’s definitely a powerhouse of actors putting their best foot forward. Tilda Swinton turns in a monster of a performance as the elitist Mason. If nothing else in the movie, her Mason is an absolutely terrifying and breathtaking character that you both love and hate that is worth watching.
Rounding out the case is Ed Harris, Go Ah-sung, Octavia Spencer, Ewan Bremner, Alison Pill and the impressive Luke Pasqualino who is a new talent for me but has made me want to watch “The Musketeers”. They may only be supporting cast but they’re a memorable bunch that all turn in ridiculously strong performance no matter how brief some of their parts are.
Each character is very well written with depths and layers to them, especially the ones who have a leading role such as Curtis and Mason though Song Kang-ho’s Namgoong leaves a little to be desired, his deadpan acting a bit too powerful for the character’s intentions.
So the director managed to pull great performances from relative nobodies (with exceptions) but what about the directing itself… well, it’s really good. I’ve only ever seen one of his previous movies, The Host, and I can’t really say I was as thoroughly impressed with it then as I am with Snowpiercer now. But one should not always rely on ones memory, I wrote off Kairo when I first watched it and today it’s one of my favorite movies of all times. Things change or perhaps you weren’t in the best of moods when you saw it.
Either way, Snowpiercer is an expertly shot and directed movie that manages to catch the correct mood in every scene. While it starts off hauntingly enough as it is, once it really gets going the mood manages to intensify and a sense of surrealism starts to permeate the movie. One can truly feel a threatening presence in the atmosphere and the further along the train they get, the stronger the feeling of woe.
Reaching the engine sets off one of the most haunting performances in cinema, I truly had goosebumps at that point.
It’s not just the setting that’s bleak either, the lighting and cinematography depicts the feeling of despair the people in the back of the train feel expertly which slowly gives way to a more contrasting way when they get further ahead in the train where there’s color and even live animals yet somehow one still doesn’t feel hopeful. It’s a scarring way of looking at something that is already reality in some parts of the world.
The world outside the train that we get the pleasure of viewing every now and then is as captivating as anything, huge relics of our past frozen in a never ending landscape. Year after year they travel the globe, marking specific stretches with holiday and cheer and despite the fact that the train has only been running for 17 years, it’s already all that they know. It’s strange to me how South Korea can manage such a high quality of special effects but they really can squeeze their budgets for all their worth. Despite “only” having a budget of $40 million the movie looks like any grand, AAA movie from Hollywood with a budget four times that.
That’s not to say the movie is without its problems. At the end of the day, there’s a severe restriction on what they can do with the sets. And many viewers will definitely balk at the impracticality and ridiculousness of the train in the first place which will only become that much more in your face the closer they get to the engine itself. And the movie never feels like it has to explain itself either, more than once those I watched it with asked questions that seemed logical enough but that the movie never really answered.
And unless you can let go of these questions and accept the meta narrative for what it is, an examination of human nature and our society, and enjoy the dark atmosphere then chances are you won’t like this movie. While it does sell itself as an action/sci-fi romp, I’d be more inclined to call it a drama or psychological thriller.
The movie plays expertly with our expectations throughout and despite an action scene here and there, overall it’s a slow and plodding narrative that isn’t ashamed to take its time and it’s better for it. Characters are evolved and no-one is quite as simple as they first appear. There’s great darkness hidden in Evans’ Curtis and Swinton’s Mason becomes one of the most interesting characters the closer they get to the engine with her character peaking in the school, at which point you understand just how sick the front of the train truly is.
To say that there’s one or two jabs at religion is putting it mildly.
I’m a big fan of Korean movies in general, having seen my fair share of them and always on the lookout for more and this movie is one that confirms my conviction. Yes, your average Marvel movies like “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” is great for the moment but it’s movies like this that stick with you and drives home the point of just how powerful movies can be.
Snowpiercer, like I said earlier, is the kind of movie we critics love to hold over the dirty masses because for once in our horrible careers we KNOW we know better. Snowpiercer IS a good movie and anyone who says differently is wrong. Not everyone will understand how great it is and while it is flawed, it’s a movie that is ultimately confident in the story it wants to tell and how to tell it and the actors are in on it, giving their absolute best to make the movie as good as it could be.
If you ever have the opportunity to see this movie then do so.
There aren’t enough words to explain everything that’s going on in this picture and how much it all matters. So just go see it. It’s a shame those of you reading this in America might not get the full experience as it was intended Bong Joon-ho but it is slated for a release very soon so hopefully you won’t have to bend over backwards to get it… even if it is edited.
Well… I can’t really come up with anything witty here. It’s Dolph Lundgren fighting zombies with a bunch of robots at his back. What do you want me to say?
Ah yes, Dolph Lundgren. If you’re unaware of my admiration for this Swedish actor, let me put it in simple terms: when I grew up I wanted to be Dolph Lundgren. I abandoned that dream when I realized I was a decent actor- oh, there I go again, being snarky! But seriously, when everyone else saw Dolph Lundgren and laughed, I couldn’t help but to think: “Oh yeah? So what did you do with your life that was so f—ing amazing?” That may not be entirely fair, we all go through life wanting different things but you can’t say Dolph Lundgren didn’t make something of himself. Regardless of what you call it, say the name Dolph Lundgren and people know who he is.
Some may say he doesn’t deserve all that fame but then there’s tons of actors I say the same thing about. If anything, Dolph Lundgren deserves it more than most since he held on through rough and tumble, through ridicule and mockery. While it could’ve been easy for him to just go away from Rocky 4 as a one-hit wonder, he instead chose this life and held on. I think that’s admirable.
And in recent years, he’s done somewhat of a comeback. Perhaps not so much in cinema with the exception of The Expendables and its sequel but on DVD. Not all of his work is great but if you want immediate examples worth checking out, in my humble opinion, take a gander at The Mechanik, Command Performance or Missionary Man. Or, you can just check out some of his most recent work: Battle of the Damned.
The year… is now. The place… is somewhere in Asia. The problem? Max Gatling is an idiot. Tasked with finding a rich man’s daughter from a quarantine zone, retired Major Max Gatling and his team waltz straight into what can only be described as hell on Earth. Told there was nothing but their target left alive in the zone, the team walk straight into a wall of zombies. When none but himself are left standing, he’s forced to undertake the mission on his own. But he soon finds that all is not as it seems in the abandoned city. Caught between a despot and flesh eating zombies (technically they’re not zombies), Max would need an army to get out of the city alive. But where can he find one that won’t become slim pickings for a horde of ravenous zombies?
What many don’t know about Battle of the Damned is that it’s actually a sequel to the director’s previous film Robotropolis. Okay, sequel is tenuous at best, it might be more accurate to say that they take place in the same world. Is there a term for that? “Related” seems a bit vague. It’s mostly the robots themselves that are a dead give away to this, sporting not only the same design but also mentioning the events in Robotropolis as do some of the characters. But from what little research I’ve done, none of the characters from the first movie return though that will have to wait until I’ve actually seen Robotropolis.
Oh yeah, I should probably mention that I haven’t seen Robotropolis. Get over it! I’ll watch it as soon as I can! In the meantime, here’s Dolph Lundgren walking away from a bunch of zombies (technically they’re not zombies).
Might I just say that I think Dolph Lundgren looks especially badass in this movie? ‘Cause he totally does. If you don’t agree, that would be because you’re lying to yourself.
So if there was ever one actor I never thought I’d see in a zombie movie (not counting Expendables) it was Dolph Lundgren. But honestly, I think he not just does a very good job but also fits in rather worryingly well, like this was what he was born to do. He plays Max Gatling, in case that wasn’t obvious and may I say that’s a fine name, and is one of two leading roles in the movie.
I like the fact that they’ve for once incorporated the fact that Dolph Lundgren is old and no longer in his prime. He’s retired and to accentuate the fact that he’s getting on in the years, he even has to use reading glasses, making him look oh so adorable… no, seriously, he looks like someone’s kind uncle or even grandpa, it’s amazing what a difference it makes.
Max Gatling never really reveals much about himself except that he’s in it for the money. We’re lead to believe he has a family or at least had at some point but nothing much is ever said about him. Instead we’re allowed to make up our own minds about him based on what he does. In my opinion he’s neither a bad guy nor a good a guy. Like he himself says at one point in the movie, he has no regrets about taking the mission except that he should’ve asked for more money.
Also something worth noting is the beginning of the movie where they show the band of highly trained mercenaries tearing through the city looking for Jude, their target. It’s not so much the scenes themselves but the ease with which they dispatch the zombies (technically they’re not zombies). I’ve always felt it strange that the military has never been very effective when it comes to zombies. From a purely logical standpoint, they shouldn’t be of any concern and the only reason the mercenaries suffer a major defeat is because they themselves trip up and eventually run out of ammo, leaving them to tangle with the zombies (technically they’re not zombies) in close combat which, for obvious reasons, is a bad idea.
All throughout this movie is a sense of realism with a few glaring exceptions. For one, as you might have noticed I keep hinting in a very subtle manner that they’re not zombies. And that’s because they’re not, coming closer to 28 Days Later than Return of the Living Dead. They’re not dead and are as human as you or I except for their insatiable hunger. And like you and I they’re dispatched just as easily. So there will be no Fulci-like rising from the grave here and if you die, you stay dead.
It was a surprisingly realistic twist on what I expected to be a very formulaic movie.
So all of you saying they’re not very good zombies or their make-up doesn’t make them look very zombish, there might actually be a point to that. Personally I really liked the look but I can understand why people would be disappointed.
On the other end of the spectrum from Max Gatling stands Jude, the young woman Max has been sent to find. She’s young but easily stands as Max’ equal and has a lot of spunk which I like. And I can’t deny that Melanie Zanetti, the actress portraying Jude, looks good but what really lends itself to the movie is her difference in height compared to Lundgren, adding a more dynamic and interesting feel to their relationship. Seeing her stand up to the giant that is Lundgren and actually make him back off is fantastic. A lot of this is of course owed to the fact that Zanetti simply gives it her all, acting as hard and well as she can and really pulls off what otherwise could’ve been a generic role.
Rounding out the rest of the cast is a merry band of survivors that Jude has attached herself to. The two with most importance is Duke, the self-appointed leader of the survivors, and Reese, Jude’s boyfriend. They’re both played well by David Field and Matt Doran respectively but only Field is given something really juicy to work with, Lord of the Flies style. The rest of the gang is made up of varying personalities and purposes but overall I think the gang comes together well.
What really surprised me was how human many of the characters were. Not all of them get anything resembling characterizations but the ones that do are done very well. At the end of the movie you came away with some idea of who these people were and whether or not you liked them. Most of them come with both negative and positive traits like any old humanbeing would. And unlike many zombie movies, the cast is not entirely made up of assholes that you want to see die. Instead some actual weight is given to their fates and I can honestly say that I got a bit invested in the cast as we got along.
The action is well choreographed though there is some obnoxious shaky cam and fast cuts used to hide the fact that the effects for the robots aren’t as good as one might want. And perhaps to hide that Lundgren isn’t as spry as once but again, it fits with the character so it bugged me that they tried to hide the fact that the retired Major pushing sixty was a retired Major pushing sixty. But even admitting to the fact that the effects weren’t as good as they could be, they weren’t as awful as I was readily expecting either.
And talking about the robots… well, it is a bit of an unfair description to say that this movie features full on zombies vs robots. The robots do make an appearance early on but only become active players towards the end of the movie, after Gatling gets his hands on them. And the trailer might make it look like he had some hand in making them but even the writers knew that would be stretching any sort of credibility they may have.
But in my honest opinion, the robots don’t disappoint. Once they start brawling with the zombies and fuck them up, you can’t help but to get a bit upbeat. There’s a very tense scene where Gatling and Reese first come across the white robots where I wasn’t entirely sure where they were going with it which I thought was expertly done. And yeah, if I were a better person I’d point out how the white robots can really be seen as white knights or something but hey, I’m a simple dude. They’re white robots. Get over it.
I really dig the overall design, there’s something deliciously retro and practical about them, how they can alternate between bipedalism and quadrupedalism (that means walking on four legs, I’m smart) and the fact that even a lug like Gatling can make modifications to them.
So ultimately, is the movie worth checking out? Well, if you love B-movies and only want to be entertained for an hour and a half then this just might be worth your time. It actually surprised me with its quality as I had gotten so used to stuff like The Asylum’s stable. But the use of “zombies” was very effective and the robots, despite not really being the headliners the trailer might promise, didn’t end up disappointing. But the hat comes off in honor of the actors who made something out of this fairly standard zombie romp with robots. While Lundgren won’t be winning any awards any time soon, when he does get a role he fits in he shines. And where he doesn’t quite measure up, Melanie Zanetti and her merry band of actors more than make up for it.
The easiest way to figure out whether you’d like this movie or not is whether you still think of the eighties as a treasure trove of action and horror movies because that is exactly what this movie harkens back to. If it isn’t your thing then by all means, stay away, but if it does sound appealing… have at it. And we’ll be bros.