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As director Bong Joon-ho’s English-language debut, the post-apocalyptic Snowpiercer, barrels into theaters worldwide, we in North America still haven’t heard a firm release date. Those of us who counted the film amongst our most anticipated of 2013 have had to accept the fact that we’re not going to see it anytime soon. One of the chief reasons for the delay is that The Weinstein Company, which owns the rights in our neck of the woods, has demanded 20 minutes be cut from the 120-minute film. And for the first time in this process, Bong has expressed his displeasure at the forced edits. Sources close to the filmmaker have even said that he’s furious.
Variety reports that, speaking before a recent screening in Bussan, the Mother director made sure to inform Americans, Brits, and Australians in the audience that this was going to be their only opportunity to see his film the way he intended it to be seen. He said, “We are still in discussions about the cut, but it is clear that this is the only director’s cut you will be able to see.”
This is a marked departure to Bong’s reaction up to this point. Before now he has been exceedingly diplomatic when discussing the changes. The article continues:
Bong did not provide details of his differences with TWC and understatedly said from the stage that the version for English-language release would be “a little bit different,” but sources close to the director say that privately he is furious.
We’ve been hearing that TWC head Harvey Weinstein’s proposed cuts come out things that some film fans actually enjoy, like story and character. His reasoning is that he doesn’t think audiences in middle America will be able to understand the film, which is both insulting, and pandering to the lowest common denominator. That’s enough to drive any filmmaker to the brink, especially when terms like masterpiece have been widely bandied about by those who have actually seen Snowpiercer.
So what changed? Publicly Bong has been cool and calm, even implying that the edits are no big deal and that he’s on totally on board. I have two theories. First is that he’s always felt like this, but has been able to keep his feelings under wraps until now. That seems logical. After all, it sucks to have something you’ve poured your heart into only to for some dick to come along and tell you all the ways you need to change it. And he probably signed a contract that gives TWC the right to do whatever the hell they want with his film, and has little realistic say in the matter.
Option B is that he’s been playing along, hoping that with input he’ll be able to produce the movie he wants, just in a slightly different form. From everything he’s said, this is very possible. At every turn he’s downplayed the impact the edits will have, even saying that the film released in English speaking territories will basically be the same film he made.
If you’ve been following this story as it has developed, you might also get the impression that Bong was playing a waiting game. At times it has felt like he’s been going along with the edits, biding his time while the film opens to fantastic reviews and big box office takes—it broke records when it opened in Korea in early August. Perhaps I’m projecting, but it was almost like he was hoping that if Snowpiercer collected enough acclaim, TWC would realize what they truly have, and leave the film alone. That may be naïve, but you can’t blame a guy for hoping.
Regardless, this ship has apparently sailed, and we’re going to get a slimmed down version of the film. Snowpiercer opens soon in France, and hits Taiwan, Japan, and Sweden early in 2014. Hopefully we’ll hear a US release date soon, because even a watered down Bong Joon-ho movie is still better than almost anything else.