South-Korean director Bong Joon-ho is known and renowned for effortlessly switching moods and styles within his films. In Snowpiercer, his first English-language piece of work to date, that’s what the whole film is about. Quite literary actually, as each train wagon the protagonists are passing is a some kind of a visual world of its own.
Snowpiercer’s plot is ridiculously simple. In the near future, a new global ice age has wiped away the earth’s entire population, save for a few lucky souls who were able to survive. All these survivors live in an enormous, perpetually driving train. The train is something of a mini society, socially stratified like the world the passengers once knew: in the back end live the poor, the further you get up front, the wealthier the people. Now of course our heroes in the back don’t take this any longer, suppressed as they are by ‘Curtis’, the train’s own dictator. What happens next is a revolt; a journey from the back of the train to the front.
Given the scenario, this could have been a ridiculous, direct-to-video flick if it fell in the wrong hands, but it hasn’t. Joon-ho created a film that is, in many respects, over the top, but he does it with the right sense of irony. Snowpiercer is inhabited by great, hyperbolic characters. Especially Tilda Swinton’s role is notable in this respect, as Curtis’ authoritarian spokeswoman Mason, a character that reminds of one of those mean old ladies from Roald Dahl’s universe. But Snowpiercer is a visual spectacle in the first place. As the group of rebels’ journey continues, each wagon they’re passing is a visually stunning microcosm.
As said, the plotline itself isn’t that noteworthy. When the group finally gets art the front of the train (and at the end of the story), the narrative climax isn’t particularly satisfactory. But as the old cliché goes, it’s the journey that matters, not the destination. Snowpiercer is a great piece of sci-fi kitsch and quatsch, bound to become a cult classic.