Snowpiercer (Review)


aka 설국열차 aka Seolgugyeolcha
Story by Bong Joon-ho
Screenplay by Bong Joon-ho and Kelly Masterson
Based on Le Transperceneige by Jacques Lob, Benjamin Legrand, and Jean-Marc Rochette
Directed by Bong Joon-ho

2013 saw three of the best directors of Korea produce English-language films. First was Kim Ji-woon with The Last Stand, an entertaining but forgettable Schwarzenegger comeback vehicle. Next was Park Chan-wook and Stoker, an amazing coming of age story covered in Hitchcock influences. The finale was Bong Joon-ho’s Snowpiercer, which would have been an amazing capstone. Unfortunately, history repeated itself in the Weinsteins ruining everything, delaying the film and demanding a bunch of cuts and added narration. After a bunch of arguing, Snowpiercer got a limited run uncut in America, but by that time it had already hit BluRay in several foreign markets.

Having now seen the film, I have no idea exactly what would have been cut, as most of it was essential. Almost the entire film is in English, so this isn’t a case of people that would be turned off by subtitles. The only thing I could think of was to alter the film fundamentally to try to remove some of the class warfare aspects, which would only serve to protect the upper class and ruin the film by eliminating most of the motivation to revolt. The delay probably cost Snowpiercer a huge percentage of its audience, which will in turn be used as more evidence that films like this just don’t work as releases and lead to less good films getting releases. I hate to be pessimistic, but this has happened before and will happen again.
Go Ah-sung Snowpiercer
Shelving this film was all bunk because Snowpiercer is damn amazing. It’s better than Stoker, and Stoker was one of my favorite films from 2013. Not only is it a fun science fiction adventure with a unique premise, but it deals with the struggle of class inequality and revolutions against tyrannical governments. As the world lies frozen due to adverse effects from attempts to combat global warming, the only life left is on the unstoppable train known as Snowpiercer, which travels the world on an endless loop journey once every year. It has now been 16 years since the world froze, and things on the train aren’t very well.
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The Good, The Bad, and The Weird (Review)

The Good, The Bad, and The Weird

aka 좋은 놈, 나쁜 놈, 이상한 놈 aka Joheunnom nabbeunnom isanghannom

Directed by Kim Ji-woon
Written by Kim Ji-woon and Kim Min-suk

The Good, the Bad, and the Weird is the best Korean movie I have seen in years. There was a point a few years ago where Korea was the darling of the cult movie lover’s heart. Korea produced more good films a month than certain places (like Hong Kong at the time) made all year. From about 1998 until 2005, South Korea was supreme as far as Asian film was concerned. Then Korea started to falter. Movies became less good, budgets became smaller, the market became flooded with inferior products from the boom years, and the government let more foreign films into theaters. Other Asian film markets started to climb out of their slumps, and now the whole region is more competitive. Only a few great gems come out of Korea each year now, and this is one of the brightest.

From the title alone, you can guess where much of the influence comes from. The Good, the Bad, and the Weird borrows from Sergio Leone westerns in style and basic character archetypes, moving the setting to 1930’s Manchuria and allowing the influences of the Indiana Jones films. The stylization creates a universe of its own, sucking you in and taking you along for the ride. The action is non-stop, the only pauses are just to set up even bigger and more exciting action sequences.

With a budget of 20 billion won (US $15.43 million) it still lost money even with the year best ticket sales of 6.68 million tickets (at 10,000 won ($7.70) each, that should be 66.9 billion won, so something isn’t adding up even if they lose half the money to the theater owners.) Maybe someone with more knowledge of film costs in South Korea can enlighten me, but until then, we’ll just be confused. Just dub this thing and drop it off at Blockbuster, it will make money in a week. Of course, this assumes this ever shows up in America, as the track record for movies like this is that they disappear for years and everyone who wanted to see it gets it by other means… EDIT: I wrote this several months before it appeared on site, and since then a limited theatrical release was announced.
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The Host (Review)

The Host

aka Gwoemul

Song Kang-ho as Park Gang-du
Byeon Hie-bong as Park Hie-bong
Park Hae-il as Park Nam-il
Bae Doo-na as Park Nam-ju
Ko Ah-sung as Park Hyun-seo
Directed by Bong Joon-ho

The Host is one of the best monster films to come out in years. End review.

Okay, I’ll continue. I’ll be doing this two-fold. First, a general review up top, and then a full recap of the film after a break with warning, so if you wish to avoid spoilers, you will know when to stop. As the American release has been pushed back again, and based on many other films might never show up in American theaters outside of film festivals, so TarsTarkas.NET is plowing ahead and taking it on ourselves. Take that, terrible American foreign film distributors!

The delightful opening sequence when the monster runs amok is a nice change from the films that spend forever building up and then end up insulting the audience with disappointing action sequences and a creature with no personality. Godzilla from 1998 is a good example, and why that monster is called GINO (Godzilla In Name Only.) As people run around in panic, the sense of chaos is portrayed by the handheld camera shots and the people running for their lives. The monster is not always in view, at times we don’t know where it is, as the scenario would be like to anyone caught in the middle of the action.

With actors who’ve played characters in great Korean treasures such as Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance and Memories of Murder (the latter was done by the same director), The Host has collectively some of the best actors in South Korea. The characterization and acting in the film are top notch, another thing missing from many monster films (the too numerous to mention Sci-Fi Channel films would be a major contributor.) Song Kang-ho is Park Gang-du (or Kang-doo or Kang-du, depending on which translation scheme you use) who is a single father working in his dad’s food shop by the Han River. Gang-du had a tough life growing up, and now spends lots of his time sleeping. His professional archery competitor sister Nam-ju is played by Bae Doo-na (or Bae Du-na), one of Korea’s best young actresses. Her hesitation costs her at tournaments. The third sibling is Park Hae-il as Nam-il, a burnt out college graduate who has no job besides crawling into a bottle to forget his unemployment, and is a die hard pessimist. The father of the clan is Park Hie-bong, played by Byeon Hie-bong, who is great as well. Relative newcomer Ko Ah-sung plays the young daughter of Gang-du, Park Hyun-seo, who is trapped in the Creature’s lair.

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