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Originally published Thursday, June 26, 2014 at 3:06 PM

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‘Snowpiercer’: Class struggle picks up speed in train thriller

A movie review of “Snowpiercer,” an imaginative though heavy-handed sci-fi epic about the haves and have-nots (99 percent) set aboard a supertrain barreling through a dead, frozen Earth. It received three stars on a scale of four.

Special to The Seattle Times

Movie Review ★★★  

‘Snowpiercer,’ with Chris Evans, Tilda Swinton, Ed Harris, Song Kang-ho, Ko Asung. Directed by Bong Joon-ho, from a screenplay by Bong and Kelly Masterson, based on the graphic novel “Le Transperceneige” by Jacques Lob, Benjamin Legrand and Jean-Marc Rochette. 126 minutes. Rated R for violence, language and drug content. SIFF Cinema at the Uptown.


Earth is dead. Frozen solid, in “Snowpiercer,” owing to a bungled effort by the world’s nations to rein in global warming that went catastrophically awry.

Nice try, guys. Thanks to you, humanity is kaput. Extinct. Defunct.

Except, that is, for a tiny remnant of folks locked up in a very long supertrain barreling through the frosty wasteland, heading toward no destination at all. The trip here is the trip. This train will keep a-rolling all eternity long.

In addition to the people, the train in “Snowpiercer” is carrying a crushing cargo of metaphor. In the cars at the back are humanity’s dregs, gray-faced folks living in gray and grimy conditions.

Toward the front are the rich, the well-fed — there’s even a sushi bar! — the 24-hour party people, living it up in bright surroundings with nary a thought to the miserable masses jammed in the rear.

Yes, it’s the 1 percent versus the 99 percent, with armed thugs interposed between the two to keep the riffraff separate from the heedless rich.

In this imaginative though heavy-handed sci-fi epic from Korean director-writer Bong Joon-ho (Kelly Masterson shares screenplay credit), based on a French graphic novel, the story centers on the struggle of the have-nots to get what the haves have. They intend to crash through to the front of the train or die trying.

Leading the huddled masses yearning for sushi is a gaunt and bearded Chris Evans in a much different role from Captain America. His character here is a very reluctant hero with a very dark secret.

In opposition is Tilda Swinton, having the time of her life hamming it up gloriously as a bucktoothed leader of the enforcement goons, superciliously demanding that the have-nots accept their lot or suffer the deadly consequences.

Bong, who first made his name in the U.S. on the indie circuit with the well-done 2006 monster movie “The Host,” directs with verve. Though the picture is in English and boasts such Hollywood stars as Evans, Swinton, John Hurt and Ed Harris, as the train’s mysterious engineer, it is largely a Korean production. Two stars from “The Host,” Song Kang-ho and Ko Asung, play prominent roles as an electronics genius who knows how to override the train’s electronic locks on the doors, and his warrior daughter.

The train, and the picture, barrel along to an apocalyptic climax that will leave you shaken and chilled.

Soren Andersen:

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