Snowpiercer (2013)

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Food: Recently I went to the Moxy Hotel in East Village, to visit their downstairs bar called Alphabet Bar. The atmosphere is designed to feel comfortable, but also trendy. There are pink lit plants lining an outdoor patio area, swinging benches, and a wall lined with old school VHS tapes. The bar has a concise, but well-designed cocktail and drink menu, but the real kicker is that the bartenders put together a secret menu where they collaborate with all their own best creations. With the friendly staff and good vibes, I am excited to return again soon.

Film: “Snowpiercer” (2013) by Bong Joon-ho (of “Parasite”) is a wild masterpiece, based off the French graphic novel Le Transperceneige by Jacques Lob, Benjamin Legrand and Jean-Marc Rochette. As seems to be an iconic trait of Joon-ho films, this film subverts our expectations and expands our imagination.

To set the scene, it is a not-so-distant future dystopian situation where a failed attempt at protecting the world from an impending global warming crisis results in an unexpected ice age, bound to quickly kill all life forms and create an apocalyptic reality on Earth. However, billionaire scientist who goes by the name Wilford has already created a self-sustaining, circumnavigating train, called the Snowpiercer, which can keep out the heinous weather conditions. Ultimately, what is left of humanity has been subjected to a life on the train, where – not unlike life as we know it – the upper class get to experience a life of luxury at the front of the train, and the lower treated like peasants stuffed in the back, left to live on top of one another and nearly starve.

Seventeen years later, the film picks up with military type of officials relentlessly abusing the people of the back of the train, and even forcibly take their children from them to be used at the front without explanation. It is a horrifying scene that is led by a cleverly disguised Tilda Swinton with bulky teeth, a leisure suit and large fur coat. We are also introduced to a squad of rebels, who seem to have long been hatching a plan to start a coup and take control of the train, starting with Curtis (Chris Evants) and Edgar (Jamie Bell). They meet with the head of the back of the train, and elderly man named Gilliam (John Hurt), and bring along their companion, Tanya, who is searching for her son (Octavia Spencer).

With the help of Namgoong (Kang-ho Song), who is found in what appears to be a mortuary room corpse drawer, but is actually a sort of prison, they know they will be able to get through the gates for each train car. Namgoong was one of the train’s original engineers, and helped to design – therefore can override – the complex system of doors, before he became a junkie. Now, he is addicted to a popular drug on the train called Kronol, which is described as flammable and highly addictive. By offering him a Kronol for every unlocked door, he agrees to help, along with his daughter Yona (An-sung Ko).

It feels rare for a picture that takes place entirely aboard one long train to have the opportunity to not only feel interesting, but also visually stunning. In a display of absolute cinematic creativity, each sector of the train is treated with care to compose the most striking scenes. One innovative action sequence gives a first-person look at a ferocious battle that is happening in complete darkness through night-vision goggles and another through the natural light of fire. In the cars with windows, the characters and their audience get to examine the desolate icy landscape outside, where remnants of old humanity is left frozen in time.

If its unique originality, exhilarating action and the looming existential terror does not entice, it is worth mentioning some of the background of this films release back in 2013. It was distributed by the now infamous rapist Harvey Weinstein, and according to reports, at this time there was a feud between him and Bong Joon-ho. Weinstein apparently disliked the 126-minute cut and demanded the removal of 20 minutes of the film before he would release. In what was supposed to be a smash English-language debut for Joon-ho, and after this dispute, Weinstein agreed to keep the film at the directors desired length, but sabotaged the distribution plan by giving it a mere “limited release” instead. This made it difficult for people to ever see it on the big screen, and made it less likely that viewers would see it at all.

Amazing what a difference seven years makes… This year, Harvey Weinstein was imprisoned and Bong Joon-ho created “Parasite” and it became the first Foreign Language film to win the Academy Award for Best Picture. Now, that “Snowpiercer” is on Netflix, everyone should take the opportunity to watch.

 

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