Last Friday, my partner Dustin and I decided to get out of our apartment and go to a film in an actual theater. I chose Snowpiercer because we both love Bong Joon Ho’s other films, and so I guessed we might love this one. We went to the theater at Lincoln Center, and before the film began Dustin said to me, “I’m really glad I didn’t know anything about this film before seeing it.”
As a result, I tried to think of what I knew going in as the credits started.
I knew a few things. As I texted to a friend before I went in, “It’s the new Bong Joon Ho, but with him directing white people”. I also knew it was about a train that circles the world, after an apocalypse, and that it houses the last remnant of humanity. Also, that it stars Chris Evans, Tilda Swinton, and the amazing Kang-ho Song. But that was really it.
The film begins with the story of the apocalypse: an attempt to stave off global warming with a chemical shield seeded into the atmosphere accidentally supercools the Earth, and creates an apocalyptic ice age. We are brought into the aforementioned train, circling the frozen landscape of the planet forever, through the story of a heroically built young white man, Curtis, played by Chris Evans, obviously, who is stoically leading a revolution of some kind from within the ranks of the lowest classes of the train. Tilda Swinton is Mason, the villain, a wild-eyed martinet with false teeth and thick glasses, deputy to the train’s inventor, Wilfred. Kang-ho Song, a truly remarkable actor, and a favorite of mine from such films as Thirst and The Host, plays Namgoong Minsoo, a Korean engineer who designed the doors to the train, and the security, and thus is, quite literally, the key to Curtis’s plot to get the front of the train to deal with the rear. The revolutionaries just have to find him.
When they do, Minsoo turns out to have a price for his participation in the revolt: they must also free Yona, a young girl in the drawer next his,played by Ah-sung Ko, and he wants, for each gate he opens, a chunk of a toxic drug that is a byproduct of the engine powering the train, which seems to function like a cross between meth and opium. A chunk for him and a chunk for her. The revolutionaries are bewildered that this is what it takes–isn’t freedom enough?–but he insists, and they oblige.