One of Korea's living titans of cinema, filmmaker Bong Joon Ho will be spotlighted on Thursday, June 26 when he will debut his latest feature, Snowpiercer, at the Film Society of Lincoln Center. Co-presented with Subway Cinema, the screening will be followed by an extended Q&A with Bong.
Set in the midst of a second ice age, Snowpiercer centers on the remaining inhabitants of Earth who are packed together aboard the Snowpiercer, a super-train that will continuously circle the globe until the planet is once again habitable. On the train—separated into classes, with the “unwashed masses” relegated to the intolerable caboose while the one-percenters bask in luxury—reluctant hero Curtis (Chris Evans) leads a rebellious charge to the ship’s engine room. Based on the French graphic novel Le Transperceneige, the film stars Chris Evans, Song Kang-ho, John Hurt, Tilda Swinton, Ed Harris, Jamie Bell, and Octavia Spencer.
Bong first read Le Transperceneige in 2005, which began his journey with the sci-fi story. “I was fascinated by the graphic novel, and I wanted to make a very exciting train and science fiction movie,” explained Bong to Korean Cinema Daily. “The story focused on the human condition and the social system on the train. It made me crazy, and that’s why I shot this movie.”
Bong's past work includes Memories of Murder (2003), The Host (2006), and Mother (2009). Snowpiercer is mostly in English, with actresses Song Kang-ho and Ko Ah-sung's characters going between English and Korean. “In the movie, there is an interpreting machine so Chris Evans speaks in English and Song Kang-ho speaks in Korean but they are able to communicate,” Bong told Screen Daily.
In its review of Snowpiercer, The Hollywood Reporter cited a famous Shakespeare quote in its summation of the film: “All the world’s a train, and all the men and women are merely passengers — a twist on one of William Shakespeare’s most oft-recited lines could serve well as a summation of director Bong Joon-ho’s latest film…Snowpiercer is an epic yet nuanced, contemplative yet entertaining vehicle that uses its titular locomotive as an allegory for human existence as we see it in the here and now.”
Variety lauded the film as “enormously ambitious, visually stunning and a richly satisfying futuristic epic. The trade also gave praise Bong's ability to make the $40 million film outside Hollywood, adding: “[Snowpiercer is] a rare high-end sci-fi/fantasy pic made completely outside the studio system, and that even rarer case of an acclaimed foreign helmer working in English with no appreciable loss of his distinctive visual and storytelling style.”
And RogerEbert.com said: “Snowpiercer is something we do not come across often in movie theaters nowadays. This is a smart, compelling science fiction film…which can intrigue us with its futuristic setting at the beginning and then pull our attention into its thrilling journey packed with interesting sights until it arrives at the powerful finale where we come to care about not only what has happened during the characters' journey but also what will happen next at their arrival point.”
“Sci-fi is a genre where you can express the human condition and systems in which we live much more directly and symbolically,” Bong told Screen. “My beliefs are in the story. What does it mean to truly overcome a system or means of oppression? What are the dangers? It’s a film that asks these questions and I don’t leave it to ambiguity at the end.”