Like the world-circling train on which its set, Bong Joon-ho’s Snowpiercer has taken a long time to reach its destination, and it’s not there yet. After months of rumors that Harvey Weinstein, the film’s American distributor, was planning to cut 20 minutes from the film and add a new voiceover (presumably to hold the audience’s collective hand, a la Blade Runner), the Weinstein Company announced just prior to its screening in the 2014 Berlinale that they would release Bong’s original version in the U.S., albeit only to art-house theaters. Despite the fact that the movie opened in South Korea last summer and in France in October, much of the English-language press got its first look at the film on Saturday, and it wasn’t easy: Tickets were scarce enough that Indiewire’s Eric Kohn joked the line to get in was longer than the film itself. Nonetheless, it seems to have been worth the effort, although even the most positive reviews seem to agree it’s a movie that would benefit from a slow rollout and accumulating word-of-mouth rather than being pushed into wide release. Here’s what they’re saying.
James Marsh, The Society
There was such a giddy sense of anticipation for Bong Joon-ho’s first English language film that ultimate disappointment seemed almost inevitable. But, where his countrymen Park Chan-wook and Kim Ji-woon failed to transplant their unique cinematic perspective into Stoker and The Last Stand respectively, Snowpiercer is by comparison a monumental triumph of dystopian science fiction.
Pierce Conran, Twitch
Following the disappointment of Kim Jee-woon’s The Last Stand and the lukewarm reception of Park Chan-wook’s meticulous chamber piece Stoker, Bong Joon-ho has created with Snowpiercer the most accomplished overseas work of any Korean filmmaker to date.
Patrick Gamble, CineVue
Seamlessly entwining the dramatic tensions and linear narratives of western cinema with the stylised violence and absurdity of its Asian counterparts, Snowpiercer is a genuinely global film — a rich hybrid of styles that breaks through cultural and political boundaries.
Alex Billington, First Showing
What really makes this film a masterpiece is in the way the story is told, the way the narrative is structured, and the experience as an audience as we follow along. There’s no hanging threads, there’s no fat that can be trimmed, this is nearly perfect as is.
Anne Billson, Telegraph
This is Elysium plus Speed plus The Wizard of Oz plus Bluebeard’s Castle plus pure Bong.
Eric Kohn, Indiewire
It’s easy to root for an artist’s battle to realize his intentions, but Snowpiercer isn’t one of Terrence Malick’s cosmic visions…. Unquestionably cluttered and meandering when viewed as a single chunk of storytelling, Snowpiercer nevertheless has the feel of a complex, inspired work in tune with its innovative milieu.
David Hudson, Keyframe Daily
Even given that it’s an adaptation of a graphic novel (Le Transperceneige), must every character be stock, every line written in a speech balloon, every parallel between each car on the train and its corresponding social level and function be so obvious? That aside, does the project really call for such clunky filmmaking?
Beth Hanna, Thompson on Hollywood
Bong has made this sci-fi action thriller stylishly poetic and badass simultaneously…. Everything happening inside the train is larger than life — and yet all about life — and the outside world is that way too: Horrific, hyperbolic, yet maybe containing the faintest glimmer of hope.
Oliver Lyttleton, The Playlist
We wouldn’t touch a frame, because this might be the best pure science-fiction film since Children of Men.
David Ehrlich, Letterboxd
Overcomes dreadful 1st act to become something darkly absurd and rather special — still Bong’s worst. Tilda Swinton doesn’t just steal Snowpierccer, she buys it, raises the rent, prices it out of the neighborhood, and gentrifies the area.
Scott Foundas, Variety
By the end, the film reveals itself as a surprisingly thoughtful contemplation of man’s inhumanity to his fellow man, and whether mankind is worth trying to save at all. Somber stuff, to be sure, but not without flashes of hope, and a steady infusion of Bong’s dark, quirky humor.
Clarence Tsui, Hollywood Reporter
[A]n epic yet nuanced, contemplative yet entertaining vehicle that uses its titular locomotive as an allegory for human existence as we see it in the here and now.
Seongyoung Cho, RogerEbert.com
You may recognize lots of inherent holes and flaws in its path to that ending, but the movie confidently pushes its premise throughout its running time, and it goes all the way to its inevitable destination as intended from the beginning while deftly dialing our expectation level up and down in each compartment.