With the earth's temperature rising to uninhabitable degrees, scientists deploy the chemical CW-7 into the atmosphere to cool it, but instead the climate is reversed into an ice age which kills all life - except for those who boarded a train whose creator foresaw the catastrophe, designing a self sustaining environment within. But there is a class structure, and those in the tail section live with little light, questionable food and no freedom, much like Jews being transported to Nazi camps. Inspired by his mentor, Gilliam (John Hurt, "Only Lovers Left Alive"), after 17 years aboard, Curtis (Chris Evans, "Captain America: The Winter Soldier") plans a revolt to force their way up to the engine of "Snowpiercer."
Laura's Review: A
Having found himself enthralled by the French graphic novel 'Transperceneige,' cowriter (with Kelly Masterson, "Before the Devil Knows You're Dead")/director Bong Joon-ho ("The Host," "Mother"), in his English language debut, has created a masterpiece of action adventure science fiction fueled by a terrific international cast. The film is clearly a metaphor for today's political climate, where the rich rule by keeping the less fortunate down, a 'self sustaining' economic model. Its visually inventive production design/art direction (Ondrej Nekvasil and Stefan Kovacik) may recall "Brazil," its story - to a point - "Saw II," a haunted house carnage where each train car reveals something worse than the one before, but Joon-ho has more on his mind than startling imagery and violence and his climax is both breathtaking and an emotional gut punch. The wretched masses in the train's rear are routinely cherry picked for needs up front. When a violinist is wanted, the guards refuse to take a married couple, hustling the man out, rifle butting his wife in the face. Just as they've expressed that to control the engine is to control the world, in strides Mason (Tilda Swinton, "The Grand Budapest Hotel," ), a Yorkshire-accented, WWII era stiff upper lipped, gold toothed functionary spreading the gospel of Wilfred, the 'divine' creator of the 'sacred' engine of their world, where everyone must know their place. She times her speech to how long it will take for Andrew's (Ewen Bremner, "Trainspotting") arm, forcibly extruded outside of the train, to freeze (the aftermath ain't pretty). It's something to think about when we note that Gilliam is missing an arm and a leg (although other explanations are in store). Later, the extravagantly outfitted (costume design by Catherine George) Claude (Emma Levie) will arrive with a measuring tape, taking away two children including Timmy (Marcanthonee Jon Reis). His distraught mother Tanya (Octavia Spencer, "The Help") is now ready to join Curtis's cause, even if Curtis himself is reluctant to take the leadership mantle from Gilliam. Curtis has been finding capsule notes within various protein slabs and he and Gilliam surmise they have an 'insider' who's informed them of the presence of security expert Minsoo Namgoong (Song Kang-ho, "The Host") being held in the train's prison. A battering ram is formed and they make their way into the morgue-like jail area, freeing Namgoong in hopes of using his knowledge to push further. A 65 car train was created on a gimbal which moved it realistically for shooting, and as Curtis's group ventures forward, we view such spectacles as a greenhouse car, school room (run by bright-eyed propaganda spouter Alison Pill, HBO's 'The Newsroom'), an aquarium complete with sushi bar, sauna car, old world luxury lounges and a hedonistic disco whose revelers drink and rave on Kronol, a drug formulated from industrial waste which also drives Namgoong and his daughter Yona (Ko Ah-sung, "The Host"). Now we can view frozen exteriors (visual effects by Eric Durst), including the precipitous Yekatrina trestle bridge where passage marks a new year. But just because the tail enders have moved passed night-vision goggled ninjas in the dark doesn't mean more dangers don't lie ahead. The film is stuffed with such concepts as the last Marlboro Light, one of many items referred to as 'extinctions,' like the bullets Curtis gambles the guards no longer have,' and the 'Revolt of Seven,' a group of former passengers frozen on a hillside used as a cautionary tale for the children as 'the rattling ark' passes by. To say any more would spoil this brilliant film's magic. Harvey Weinstein received much criticism for wishing to release a cut version of the film in the U.S., and although he relented, he ghettoized it in his Radius label, limiting theatrical release in favor of VOD (by all means, see it on the big screen if you can). Hopefully he'll realize what he's let get away from him and give the film its due in year end award campaigning. Tilda Swinton, above all, gives one of her most inspired performances (the role was originally written for a man) - she's absolutely giddy making. Also outstanding is Song as the more calculating than he appears Namgoong. Vlad Ivanov ("4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days") is a psycho assassin, Jamie Bell ("Nymphomaniac, Vol. II") Curtis's protege, Ed Harris the go-to for God-like figures ("The Truman Show") as the self-possessed Wilfred. The film had me recalling the late great Klaus Kinski screaming 'I am the only free man on this train!' in "Dr. Zhivago's" Russian Revolution. "Snowpiercer's" frozen world uses history to contemplate a chilling future while still offering a glimpse of hope.
Robin's Review: C
Laotong, or Old-Sames, is a contract of choice between two girls, declaring eternal fidelity and sistership in pre-modern China. This “choice” was significant in a culture where female children are forced to undergo the brutal ritual of foot-binding to make their feet more petit to attract a husband in an arrange marriage. (I am pretty hardcore when it comes to watching some disturbing things as a film critic but I could not watch the foot-binding ritual depicted in “Snow Flower and the Secret Fan”). That said, I am surprised that “Snow Flower and the Secret Fan” is from the internationally acclaimed filmmaker Wayne Wang. It wants to be an epic but is more a soap opera, especially with its modern story about Nina and Sophia. Wang uses the too-often-done flash back and forward technique to tell his two tales (adapted from the Lisa See novel). This flashing to and from each story also takes place within old tale and new, making things very confused because of its non-linear style. “Snow Flower and the Secret Fan” works best with its elegant period story between Lily and Snow Flower. This portion is rich in set, costume and is sumptuously photographed by Richard Wong. The period detail and look into a culture that I was surprised to know so little about makes this aspect of the film intriguing. (After seeing “Snow Flower and the Secret Fan,” I immediately started searching the Internet to learn more about the culture and customs of China in the 19th Century, so the film did have an impact on me.) Unfortunately, the soap opera that is the modern day story about the bond between Nina and Sophia is muddled with its combination of their laotong bonding and the new millennium life choices they must make. The problem is, I cared far more about Lily and Snow Flower than I did for their 21st Century counterparts and this makes for mixed feelings. It is tough to balance two stories set so far apart in time but I expected more from a veteran director like Wayne Wang. Another problem is that the actresses, Li and Jun, did not evoke my empathy, particularly for Nina and Sophia. “Snow Flower and the Secret Fan” works on some levels – production values are high, especially in the flashback story – but fails on others, making me disappointed and, too frequently, bored. This is not a good thing.