A massive hit in South Korea, a big success in France, winner of Best Film, Best Director and Best Cinematographer from the South Korean Film Critics Circle and a winner of Best Production Design from the 56th Asia-Pacific Film Festival, the accolades keep rolling in for Bong Joon-ho‘s “Snowpiercer” (read our review of the director’s cut too). And yet, looming over the movie are the Weinsteins, who have nabbed the rights to the film for North America and a handful of other key territories around the world, but more crucially, have a say in the final cut. For months now, press has been swarming about their demands for a shorter version, with added voiceovers, so the post-apocalyptic thriller will play in the flyover states. But Bong Joon-ho has resisted, and the story is classic one of a studio versus a filmmaker that is playing out publicly before even a U.S. date has been announced.
Over at BFI, Tony Rayns has gone deep into the behind-the-scenes battle and uncovered even more about the struggle to get Bong Joon-ho’s preferred version into release and the schemes that the Weinsteins employed to keep control over the movie. So with that in mind, if you’ve been wondering why “Snowpiercer” hasn’t been seen on the festival circuit (other than a screening at Busan), the simple answer is Harvey. According to Rayns, programmers at Toronto and Locarno were “forbidden” from watching the director’s cut of the movie provided for consideration by South Korean distributor/production company CJ Entertainment, after the Weinsteins asserted their approved cut for North America wasn’t yet ready. (This is roughly around the same time both the Weinsteins and Bong Joon-ho were running separate test screenings for the movie, with the latter’s original version reportedly scoring higher.)
So, what were the changes that ruffled the features of the director? According to Rayns, they wanted 25 minutes cut out that would result in “the elimination of most of the character-detail,” ultimately turning the movie into “a more conventional action-thriller.” Moreover, Harvey and co. wanted the addition of voiceovers, with Neil Gaiman suggested as a potential writer for that new material.
Unfortunately, the matter doesn’t seem like it will be resolved soon. Lawyers on both sides are currently trying to hash things out, and though Bong Joon-ho recently told a festival audience to “keep faith” that his director’s cut is coming, nothing is certain. That being said, it seems the Weinstein grip is loosening slightly, as “Snowpiercer” will be playing the upcoming Berlin Film Festival and with the director and some cast members in attendance. Perhaps it’s a sign that the Weinsteins are noticing that, in the wake of strong critical notices and big box office, “Snowpiercer” doesn’t need even a single frame changed. But then again, you never know.