Bong Joon Ho’s Snowpiercer is a fascinating watch, both in isolation and when viewed as a precursor to Parasite. His latest masterpiece shook the industry by winning four Academy Awards earlier in the year, including Best Picture. Joon Ho, who has now made history as the first Korean filmmaker to have his name engraved on each of his four Oscars, often uses his films to explore class struggles and shortcomings of the rich. More significantly, how they take advantage of the poor below their feet.
Snowpiercer feels like a precursor to Parasite in this way, more so but not drastically far from Okja – exploring much of the same themes albeit in markedly different circumstances. When people make the argument that comic book films are simply rides devoid of truly discernable themes, they should look no further to Snowpiercer. The film being released in 2013, shortly after both Iron Man 3 and Man of Steel, perhaps muddled its exposure. Smaller IP being drowned in the industry’s sea of commercial releases, from the hands of Joon Ho no less, is always unfortunate. Although the film not only persevered in being arguably the best graphic adaptation of 2013, but of the entire 2010s. Whatever camp you find yourself in, the depth and thought-provoking nature present in Snowpiercer are undeniably artistically rich and engaging from start to finish.
The film is a pure example of the utter depth of quality that can be achieved when you give the best creatives in the world the keys to worlds derived from the graphic page. The film is based on the 1982 French graphic novel Le Transperceneige, though Joon Ho largely changes the plot to more thoroughly explore the concept of train carriages separated by class in a post-apocalyptic world. This is most often the best way to adapt a comic book or graphic novel. When trying to rip a story word for word from a printed source, failure is often met. The important step to take is recognizing what grips readers about that story and be true to this when bringing your vision to life. Joon Ho does this fantastically and thus creates a completely tantalizing film that has you pondering its thematic core from the first 5 minutes to the last.
A huge aspect of this is a gripping performance by Chris Evans. Though the film features a star-studded cast with the likes of Tilda Swinton and Joon Ho staple actor Song Kang Ho, Evans is the undeniable standout as the lead Curtis Everett. Whereas many know Evans for his portrayal as Captain America, Snowpiercer is a true demonstration of his capacity as a dramatic lead. When compared to the slew of his other leading roles in comic book movies, Curtis Everett is incomparable to an admirable degree. His thoughtful and sensitive performance truly holds the film together, and everything stems from this.
Fantastic forays from Swinton, Kang Ho, Ed Harris, Jamie Bell, Octavia Spencer, and the great John Hurt further elevate what already was an incredible viewing experience. The film is absolutely chock-filled with top-class actors and when you dive into any of there reasoning for joining the cast, there is one real connecting factor: Bong Joon Ho. Harris specifically said “When I was sent this script, I was told director Bong is a Korean director, and that he’d made some other films, but I had never seen any of them … I thought they were wonderfully accomplished films, which really made me want to work with the guy. I’m a big fan of his.”
Every actor Joon Ho has ever collaborated with has had nothing but the highest praise for him. His vision and deft touch elevate Snowpiercer far above the hallow stigma of its subgenre. Few people probably recognize the title deriving from a graphic novel in the first place, but even so, the film proved to be a heightened experience like no other. Thus leading to the wide dissociation with more normative comic adaptations. This is once again thanks to Joon Ho’s vigorous efforts
Joon Ho notoriously fought Harvey Weinstein, prior to him being a massively known serial rapist, over allowing his cut of the film to be shown in the U.S. Weinstein initially wanted to heavily sanitize the film and make it far more of a cookiecutter blockbuster – a label that is more commonly attached to comic book films. “It was a doomed encounter,” Joon Ho said on the matter. “I’m someone who until that point had only ever released the ‘director’s cut’ of my films. I’ve never done an edit I didn’t want to do. Weinstein’s nickname is ‘Harvey Scissorhands,’ and he took such pride in his edit of the film”. Eventually, Joon Ho won out. The critical love for his film overrode Weinstein’s attempts to bury it and a widespread U.S. release of the film was won, with none of Weinstein’s cuts.
So if you are asking yourself, is Snowpiercer really one of the best comic book films of the last decade? Especially now of all crazy times, how could a film advocating you to eat the rich, directed by a visionary director who fought Harvey Weinstein over his own creative integrity and won, not be on that list? Joon Ho’s entire filmography carries individual yet significant value that fails to wither over passing time. Before Parasite pierced the heart of capitalism, Snowpiecer was dragging it at the tail of a train. Not just an outlier in comic book films, but a cinematic staple in modern science fiction.