Tuesday, 25 March 2014


Whatever it is that sustains each of the films of Bong Joon Ho remains a mystery to me after having seen Snowpiercer - in fact, it's more of a mystery than ever. He constructs these cacophonous melees of discordant elements, and somehow a distinctive and highly winning style emerges, one that almost operates as an exclusive element of its own, divorced from said cacophony. In Le Transpierceneige, he has discovered a similar approach to storytelling, only with an even more tenuous thread binding everything together, and with far too many such discordant elements to condense into a two-hour film. Goodness knows he's tried, in what comes across as a bizarre blend of Hollywood-style action movie and something of his own devising. Whether or not his efforts have been in vain shall be left to the individual viewer. What does work tends to do so in the immediate moment, since Bong and co-writer Kelly Masterson are so eager to advance to the next moment, and then the next, but there's certainly a notable degree of enjoyment to be had in this. Bong's curious editing habits precipitate a disjointed tone that does the film no obvious service - the enjoyment here is in beholding the idiosyncrasies of a filmmaker who evidently thrives on them. In dispensing with the bulk of expected narrative exposition, the dialogue is oft rendered crude and heavy-handed - the enjoyment here is in looking beyond that, and appreciating a film in which not the slightest second is wasted. And if the film's general design, in all aspects, is similarly blunt and crude, there's evidence of serious and well-minded consideration throughout, from the vibrant production design to some imaginative and impressive action scenes, and to the transformative achievement of the superlative Tilda Swinton. You must see the entirety of her performance to gather just how little of the characterisation is accomplished via hair, makeup and wardrobe. She's a firecracker as Mason, one of her finest works, and her brilliantly mad, madly brilliant performance is emblematic of Snowpiercer as a whole: it's batshit crazy, and fuck knows how or why it works. But Bong's train reaches its target, in the end, and the journey there is definitely not without incident good, great, and godawful.