Bong Joon-ho might not be the most prolific writer-director working in cinema (he only has a dozen credits over two decades, and almost half are shorts), but whenever he gets behind the camera, the results are undeniably awesome. And by awesome, we mean “holy crap, did you see what just happened?!” awesome. This sentiment basically encapsulates his most recent film, “Snowpiercer,” which blew audiences away this year and was our choice for eighth best film of 2014.
The South Korean director sat down for a Q&A at the Film Society of Lincoln Center earlier this year to discuss the runaway action pic (about a train that never stops barreling across the frozen, post-apocalyptic Earth). You can tell he’s not really comfortable speaking at length in English (which makes the hit English-language flick all the more impressive), and his translator’s often-monotone delivery of Bong’s answers infuse the talkback with an extra touch of magic.
Take, for example, the answer to the first question of the night, about the genesis of the project and how the director stumbled upon the graphic novel, “Le Transperceneige” by Jacques Lob, Benjamin Legrand, and Jean-Marc Rochette, upon which the film is based. (You have to imagine this reply delivered as dryly and almost apathetically as possible for full effect.) “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, the filmmaker devoured the entire graphic novel on the spot. By the time he left the store, he knew he wanted to adapt the work for film, though it took another nine years before he could bring his vision to the screen. Bong—alternating between deliveries in English and relying on his translator—discusses how he had already committed to making the excellent “Mother” with Kim Hye-ja, so he had to prioritize that project before he could devote his focus more fully to “Snowpiercer.”
Interestingly, for those who have not read the comic, Bong says that the film is actually quite different from the source material. Tilda Swinton’s character, Mason, isn’t found in the graphic novel, nor even is Chris Evans‘ Curtis, who is the film’s protagonist.
When asked why he decided to make the film in English, Bong provides what might be one of the best, underhandedly politicized responses of the year. “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.”
Check out the full Q&A below and definitely try to catch the much-discussed “Snowpiercer” if you haven’t yet.