Lately, most of the talk surrounding Korean director Bong Joon-ho’s (Mother) upcoming English language debut, Snowpiercer, has had been dominated by one specific topic, the rumors, founded or not, that The Weinstein Company has demanded 20-minutes of story and character development be cut from the film. Reports state that TWC commander in chief Harvey Weinstein doesn’t think American audiences will be able to understand the film. All of this controversy, all of the back and forth—there have been multiple statements on the matter—has come to overshadow the actual movie. And from early reports and reviews, Snowpiercer is one hell of a film.
Bong recently sat down with Twitch to talk about Snowpiercer, and not about the controversy. Set in the near future, attempts to reverse global warming have kicked off a new ice age. The few survivors circle the frozen wastes inside a train powered by a perpetual motion engine. Within these confines, a rigid caste system develops, full of class conflict and resentment that eventually boils over into a full-scale revolution.
This may be Bong’s first picture in English, but this is not an American film by any means. He says, Snowpiercer is “in no way a product of a Hollywood studio. It is a 100% Korean production.” His countryman, director Park Chan-wook (Oldboy, Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance), who also made his English language debut this years with Stoker, produced the film.
It’s true that this budget was significantly higher than that of my other films, and that only ten percent of our crew were Korean. But ultimately, this production wasn’t all that different from my previous. The way that I work remains the same, the way the set is run is the same.
Even his previous films have always had an international flair. He has worked in Japan, with Japanese crews, and his creature feature, The Host, used outside special effects. For that film he teamed with Peter Jackson’s Weta Workshop to create the monster. Snowpiercer follows a similar path. The cast features stars from all over the world, including Chris Evans, Tilda Swinton, John Hurt, Ed Harris, Octavia Spencer, Jamie Bell, Song Kang-ho, and Ko Ah-sung, among others. “Working in a multi-cultural, cosmopolitan environment was nothing new,” he says. “And was something I was very comfortable with.”
Snowpiercer is based on the French graphic novel Le Transperceneige, and Bong discusses the visual influence the source material has on the film, and how it came to him. He says, “[Illustrator] Jean-Marc Rochette’s work is extraordinary. He’s a phenomenal illustrator, and it’s because of his work, his cover art especially, that I ever stumbled upon the series in a Seoul comic shop.” But while the comic remained a source of inspiration, the visuals and the storyboarding remain largely separate. There is a caveat however, and he says:
Still, images from the books are omnipresent throughout the film. I think notably of the scene in the aquarium car. We see it very briefly in a few panels of the second graphic novel, but in the film we stretched it out and made it the site of a very important scene. The biggest visual influence from the books is felt most in décor and costumes. The way people are dressed and the look of the back of the train, these are very much taken from the first volume.
Snowpiercer is in the process of opening around the world. The film debuted in Korea in August, where it promptly broke numerous box office records and gathered glowing reviews from critics worldwide. There is still no U.S. release date scheduled, or concrete news on whether we’ll see Bong’s version or a region specific cut.