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Bong Joon Ho has a new movie out – that is always an event to look forward to. His previous “Mother” was outstanding, and “The Host” was a very very strange variation on the “monster comes down to haunt a city” topic – strange in a very relaxed way, as if the extra-ordinariness of the event is a mere side note.

And this is what links The Host to “Snowpiercer”. We have an extraordinary situation, outlandish in its eccentricity: the world has frozen over in a freak accident after some well-intended weather manipulation. Now what’s left of civilisation is huddled up in a high-speed train that circles the planet. Nobility and working class, spa cars and slavery work included. There is not too much discussion about the practicality of the arrangements, but the tone is rather one of “let’s assume this could be plausible”. Of course there is dissatisfaction and rebellion in the train’s rear end, of course there is a military-like suppression of all such rebellion with whatever violent means is necessary. It is not really clear what the elite class gains from their survival and segregation of the poor class, but maybe that lack of clarity is always present in segregated societies.

But then they rise, the army of the misfits… under the intellectual leadership of John Hurt, no less, who is one of those actors I am always very very  happy about seeing, and who I am always very very confused about seeing, because I keep thinking he died decades ago. Widely exaggerated, he’s still around and saves half of the film through his presence. Of the other half, a third is saved on the other end of the train by Tilda Swinton, who must have had the time of her life playing the … liaison officer between the train’s front and rear end. This is over the top in all possible manners, think Willy Wonka high in speed, and on a high-speed train, as it is. Lovely teeth, too.  Song Kang-ho gives the cool and wicked Korean nerd criminal, Ed Harris the evil leader coat, but when it comes to fighting the just fight, it is Chris Evans who has to do the heavy lifting. Maybe not the best choice amidst all this acting nobility, he comes across as a bit of a generic action hero figure.

As a romping and stomping action drama, with a bunch of outlaws fighting their way through a very long train, this actually works most of the time. The narrow confines of the train structure allow for a lot of vertical kinetic energy, with very little place to hide (unless you find some fat people in sauna cubicles). The choice of occasionally cutting to an outside perspective on the train is not the best one, as the whole winter landscape and cgi snow effect department was not quite up to the task. It actually conjured some fond memories of much better and dramatic train sequences, such as in particular in the more recent “Transsiberian” and the more mature but insurmountable “Runaway Train”  (ohhhh… have to watch that one again, and soon!)

What happens on the train stays on the train, as they say, and what is on the train makes for some very solid and dense atmospheric action cinema!

http://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/snowpiercer/

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