Much like the title train, which endlessly circles the frozen wasteland that the world has become, the Bong Joon-ho versus Harvey Weinstein saga of Snowpiercer continues. For months now, we’ve heard about The Weinstein Company, who owns the North American rights, demanding deep cuts that will indelibly change the face of the film. It’s been an endless back and forth, and now some additional details, like Harvey’s desire for voiceovers written by Neil Gaiman, have come to light.
BFI has dug into the conflict, unearthing even more information, and giving us even less hope that we will see a resolution any time soon. Many of us expected the film, which finished filming in early 2013, to make the rounds at some of mid to later year festivals. It did play at the Busan International Film Festival, but that’s it. It’s worth mentioning that Bong took the opportunity to inform American viewers that this might be their only chance to see his version of the film. The Korean distributor CJ Entertainment apparently tried to show Bong’s cut to the programmers at the Toronto International Film Festival, but that move was blocked by TWC, who said that their North American approved edit wasn’t ready.
The cuts TWC is after include 25-minutes “and the elimination of most of the character-detail.” That sounds horrendous. Their goal is to turn Snowpiercer into “a more conventional action-thriller,” one that will play better for, in TWC’s words, “audiences in Iowa and Oklahoma.” If you didn’t already suspect that the intent is to dumb the product down, there you have it in rather obvious language.
One other addition Weinstein wants—it should go without saying at this point that Bong doesn’t want any of these things to happen—are voiceovers that bookend the film at the open and close. He even suggested that his “friend” Neil Gaiman be the one to write them. If you absolutely must have unnecessary voiceover, you could do a lot worse than Gaiman, but still, he has enough to worry about with the recent rumors of Joseph Gordon Levitt adapting Sandman.
There have been some indications that TWC’s stance may be softening a bit. Snowpiercer will play the Berlin Film Festival, and reports have the director’s cut testing better with American audiences than the Weinstein version. And more than anything else, Bong seems committed to making sure that what we see in theaters, if it isn’t exactly his vision, at least meets with his approval. There’s still no release date, but I’m vaguely optimistic that we could see the film in 2014.
While all of this extracurricular activity has been going on, all Snowpiercer has done is rack up heaps of critical accolades and earn enough awards to start a trophy shop. Among other honors, the film won the Best Production Design award at the Asia-Pacific Film Festival, and take home Best Film, Director, and Cinematographer from the South Korean Film Critics Circle. We should also mention that it’s been a huge financial success in Korea, where it broke box office records, and has done a brisk business in France, where the graphic novel that serves as the source originated. More than anything, this last point might be the most important. Above everything, TWC wants to make money, and if the director’s cut will be the most profitable, that’s likely the one we’ll see.