I finally saw Bong Joon-Ho’s “Snowpiercer” at the opening night for the 20th Los Angeles Film Festival (June 11-19). I probably sat too close, as the R-rated post-apocalyptic sci-fi adventure pummels you with limb-cracking action. Angry hordes from the back of a long train packed with our future frozen world’s last survivors, led by Chris Evans, surge toward the entitled classes at the front. “If we control the engine,” says the rear train leader John Hurt, “we control the world.”
Tilda Swinton, who plays the train’s buck-toothed prime minister with her usual flair, was on hand for the opening at L.A. Live’s Regal Cinemas, as were Bong, Ed Harris, who plays the train’s bored creator and engineer, “Newsroom” star Allison Pill, and Korean stars Ko Asung and Kang-ho Song. “The train is society,” Bong told the LA Times. “I had to express many different small worlds. Each section of the train is different.”
Adapted by Bong and Kelly Masterson from the 1982 French graphic novel “Le Transperceneige,” the $39 million film’s stunning design and visuals–snowy exteriors and cramped interiors–are great fun to watch. Production designer Ondrej Nekvasil (“The Illusionist”) built the train in sections at Barrandov Studios in Prague. The course of making Bong’s first English-language feature was not without drama, as the Korean director tangled publicly with Harvey Weinstein, who picked up the film before it was completed and then asked for trims.
The solution: Bong’s 125-minute cut is being released —in fewer theaters initially–by the Weinstein’s RADiUS-TWC, whose president Tom Quinn released Bong’s films (“Mother,” “The Host”) at Magnolia Pictures, he told me at the after party. And yes, he admitted that staging a live concert of composer Marco Beltrami’s delicate violin theme before the premiere was worthy of Oscar maestro Harvey Weinstein. Quinn promises a well-hyped “Snowpiercer” when it opens in ten markets (theaters only initially) against Michael Bay’s mighty summer action juggernaut “Transformers: Age of Extinction” on June 27, followed by a rollout on 150 screens. (Here’s TOH’s review; it’s at 83% on Rotten Tomatoes.)
The movie was a blockbuster last year in South Korea ($59 million), not quite beating Bong’s previous record-holder, “The Host ($64 million). It’s already grossed $80 million worldwide.