Bong Joon-ho is a damn hit machine, just a very deliberate, slow working hit machine (not all machines are fast). In 20 years, he only has a handful of feature films on his resume, but they include the likes of Mother, The Host, Memories of Murder, and of course 2014’s Snowpiercer. We waited a long time to see this last one, largely due to the extended back and forth between Bong and The Weinstein Company, who demanded significant cuts that would have hamstrung the film, but it was worth every second. The South Korean director recently did an extended Q&A session at the Film Society at Lincoln Center in New York to discuss the movie, and you can watch the whole event right here. It’s definitely worth the hour or so investment.
For the uninitiated, Snowpiercer tells the story of a world engulfed in a new global ice age. The last remnants of society cling to life in the cramped confines of a train that endlessly circles the frozen wastes, powered by a perpetual motion engine. Within these confines, a rigid, vicious class divide forms. The poor live in squalor at the rear, while the wealthy exist in opulence near the front. After 18 years, and numerous failed attempts, the oppressed rise up and fight their way towards the engine. It’s harrowing, well acted—especially by Chris Evans and Tilda Swinton, both doing career best work—violent, strange, and emotional.
During the talk, Bong alternates between speaking in English, which he’s obviously not 100% comfortable with, and using a hilariously monotone translator. Take for example, the first question. Snowpiercer is based on a fairly obscure French graphic novel called La Transperceneige, which only this year was ever translated into English. When asked about how he came across the title—Bong also adapted the screenplay—the director answered, and in the flattest, least enthusiastic voice you’ve ever heard, the translator relayed the response: “So he went to a comic book shop that he frequents in Seoul, Korea, and he walked in to buy a bunch of comics. It was right there in front of him, so he started reading it.”
Apparently Bong read the entire thing on the spot and immediately decided he needed to make it into a movie. With previous commitments to Mother, however, it took him almost a decade to finally deliver. But again, it was worth it. If you’ve read the comics, you’ll know that aside from the world and the general set up, the two are very, very different. The script borrows elements like the caste system, and the general aesthetic, but the characters and plot, even Evans’ Curtis and Swinton’s Mason, are new inventions, or at least amalgams of various people from the source.
Snowpiercer is Bong’s first English-language, and when asked why he chose to work with an international cast, and a fantastic one at that, he simply replies, “Since it’s the last survivors on the train, of humanity, it would have been slightly awkward to have just South and North Korean people on the train.” Which is damn near perfect.
Snowpiercer is available to stream on Netflix and on Blu-ray if you haven’t seen it already. Just throwing that out there.