Saturday, July 19, 2014

Snowpiercer (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway


One can imagine Korean director Bong Joon-ho (The Host) pulsing with manic manga energy, his head covered with ink-black shooting stars as he traveled to his favorite comic book store absolutely possessed by a graphic novel about an apocalyptic train entitled Le Transperceneige by Jacques Lob, Benjamin Legrande and Jean-Marc Rochette.

"Snowpiercer" is the result, produced by the master of Korean suspense Park Chan-wook.

In a very Orwellian tale reminiscent of  "The Hunger Games,, there is an environmental experiment to combat global warming that goes horribly wrong. Most of humanity perishes frozen to death without food, except those who are sequestered in a huge rattling train. The poor are at the tail end of the perpetual machine while the upper classes reside in their own mobile suites at the front.

We spend our time with the impoverished. All is dark, dirty and smelly, in keeping with so many dystopian stories.

There is a big, strapping idealistic young man named Curtis (Chris Evans) a nervous mom (Octavia Spencer) and Gilliam, an aging man of wisdom who has seen it all (played by John Hurt, of course). All of these people are caterwauling in cacophony. Some hobble and wince,  bleeding badly, screaming, maimed, and barely able to stand. Babies are hidden in big coffee cans and shoved aside. Some seem lucky enough to eat and scarf up an excremental jello made from a mash of roaches. A man's arm is sadistically thrust through a porthole in a brutal yank that wrenches the extremity all but loose from the body.

This is a bit overzealous and  absurd and after thirty five minutes one might want to leap from the movie seat as the eye has little to go on.

But just as squeamishness begins, a shrewish, over the top prime minister enters (Tilda Swinton) to liven things up. This minister is nothing less than a Ralph Steadman illustration in three dimensions, horrible and hissy in her hatred, yet comically apoplectic. Her silver-brown eyes roll and stare in fury. Swinton is a snarling, rabid schoolmarm with steroids.

Curtis decides to lead a revolt. After all, the goon guards have guns with no shells. The train is alternately plunged in darkness and plied with torches, all resulting in a bloodbath that doesn't add much to the story.

The gang moves through different areas of the train with the chattering minister as hostage.

The upper classes are ensconced in a perpetual smorgasbord of variety. There is a glassed in aquarium that functions as a residential sushi bar. Some of the residents laze forever in smoking jackets and leather settees. Others preen before sunlit cosmetic counters while a Winter Death impassively waits outside.

In the film's most eerie chapter, sugary faced children merrily express their disgust for the poor in a few Sesame Street-type sing alongs, while sitting in brightly toned classrooms.

The gang's only hope is a zombie-like locksmith brought back from the dead, Namgoong  (Song Kang-ho). who wants drugs.

Despite "Snowpiercer" being bloody, excessively rich in grunting and far fetched, it is also poetic and decadent. The verdant green groves of the elitists, punch across the blinding whiteness of snow like haiku.

A megalomaniac with no neck who bears a generic resemblance to many politicians, makes an anxious villain. And for good measure there is a stentorian Ed Harris who effects a man  behind a  gate persona, appearing as Hugh Hefner in a smoking jacket.

Director Park Chan-wook (Lady Vengeance) definitely leaves his mark as the producer of this film, especially as it has a crafty, psychic siren, Yona (Go Ah-sung) in its ultimate center.

If you can wait out the squishes, squirms and squirts from an ax battle (that would make Mel Gibson turn red) and a jetting or too of blood in a dark orgy of ultraviolence, the smooth, rhythmic transitions from one scene to the next, combined with the images of a gray purgatory and an opiate heaven make "Snowpiercer" a  matinee that  folds upon the eye like disparate origami, in forms that are sometimes predictable and jarring in tone while still others are scarily festive with a giddy sarcasm.

Write Ian at

No comments: