Why we're looking forward to Bong Joon-Ho's Snowpiercer

Feature Ryan Lambie
4 Jan 2013 - 07:13

In the making for some time, the covers are coming off Snowpiercer - a potentially brilliant sci-fi movie from the director of The Host...

There are plenty of science fiction movies we're looking forward to over the next year or so - Alfonso Cuaron's Gravity, Neill Blomkamp's Elysium, and Guillermo del Toro's Pacific Rim are but a few. And if the long-in-the-making Snowpiercer manages to make into UK cinemas in 2013, we could easily add it to our list, too.

If you've yet to hear of it, here's a brief outline of the plot. In the year 2031, a new ice age has wiped out much of humanity - the few remaining survivors trundle through the frozen landscape on a train called the Snow Piercer, an extraordinary contraption powered by "a sacred perpetual-motion engine". As is commonly the case on trains, the Snow Piercer's carriages are divided by class - and as the added tension of the apocalypse builds, this miniature society begins to fall apart.

As if that extraordinary concept wasn't enticing enough on its own - a mash-up of BioShock and Andrei Konchalovsky's Runaway Train, perhaps - look at the film's pedigree: it's the English-language debut of Bong Joon-Ho, the acclaimed South Korean filmmaker behind such films as Memories Of Murder, Mother, and most famously in the west, The Host -an expert fusion of political commentary and rollicking monster movie. 

Snowpiercer is based on the French graphic novel Le Transperceneige, which Joon-Ho discovered while visiting a bookshop during the production of The Host. He immediately fell in love with it - understandable, given its mix of sci-fi and social observation - and set about securing the rights. "The train is a microcosm of human society with its different classes of passenger mirroring different political and social strata," was how Joon-Ho described it.

"It is kind of like an allegory for social classes and class warfare," Chris Evans told Collider last September. "The poorest people are in the back of the train and as you move forward in the train the classes rise.  And there is a revolt, a revolution from the people in the back to the front of the train…"

News of the project first came to popular attention in 2006, and Joon-Ho began working on its pre-production shortly after he completed the drama Mother in 2009. The director's international success with his previous movies has given him some hefty creative clout with this one; with an estimated budget of around $39 million, it's by far the most expensive film in Korea's history (to put that figure into perspective, The Host, with its numerous CG monster effects shots, cost a relatively small $11 million). 

With that expanded budget, Joon-Ho has assembled an exceptional cast of actors and other creative talent. In front of the camera, there's Chris Evans, Jamie Bell, John Hurt, Tilda Swinton, Octavia Spencer, Ed Harris and Ewen Bremner. The script has been co-written by Joon-Ho and Kelly Masterson, an American writer who's best known for the acclaimed Before The Devil Knows Your Dead, directed by Sidney Lumet in 2007. Marcus Beltrami, the composer on such movies as Scream, Mimic, The Faculty and The Hurt Locker, has written the music.

For the past few years, Joon-Ho has been filming Snowpiercer on location in Prague, and while updates on its progress were few and far between for a while, it was announced last July that filming had wrapped, and that post-production was set to begin back in Korea. Shortly after, The Weinstein Company picked the movie up for western distribution, attracted no doubt by both the popularity of The Host and Snowpiercer's sterling cast.

Over the past couple of days, a teaser poster, a sample of Marco Beltrami's score and a couple of pieces of concept art have appeared online - we've dotted these around this very page. The material only gives a few scant hints of the film's inevitably chilly tone, but it's exciting stuff, nevertheless. 

The next few months will see two of Joon-Ho's fellow Korean directors also make their English-language debuts. Kim Jee-Woon, well-known for his uncompromisingly dark thrillers and horror pictures, such as A Tale Of Two Sisters and I Saw The Devil, will bring us The Last Stand, an action thrillride that marks Arnold Schwarzenegger's return as a leading actor.

Then there's Stoker, the strange yet alluring mash-up of horror, drama and thriller directed by Vengeance trilogy auteur Park Chan-Wook. It stars Mia Wasikowska and Nicole Kidman, and was written by Wentworth Miller. Joon-Ho's Snowpiercer inarguably stands alongside such esteemed, anticipated company.

It's thought that Snowpiercer will appear in South Korean cinemas this summer. Let's hope the western debut of this potentially spectacular film isn't too far behind.


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