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Los Angeles Film Festival Opens with Bong Joon-Ho's Driving, Unrelenting, Gorgeous 'Snowpiercer'

Photo of Anne Thompson By Anne Thompson | Thompson on Hollywood June 12, 2014 at 7:59PM

I finally saw Bong Joon-Ho's "Snowpiercer" at the opening night for the 20th Los Angeles Film Festival (June 11-19). I probably sat too close, as the R-rated post-apocalyptic sci-fi adventure pummels you with action. Angry hordes from the back of a long train packed with our future frozen world's last survivors, led by Chris Evans, surge toward the entitled classes at the front. "If we control the engine," says rear train leader John Hurt, "we control the world."
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Tilda Swinton and Bong Joon Ho of 'Snowpiercer'
Tilda Swinton and Bong Joon Ho of 'Snowpiercer'
'Snowpiercer'
'Snowpiercer'

I finally saw Bong Joon-Ho's "Snowpiercer" at the opening night for the 20th Los Angeles Film Festival (June 11-19). I probably sat too close, as the R-rated post-apocalyptic sci-fi adventure pummels you with limb-cracking action. Angry hordes from the back of a long train packed with our future frozen world's last survivors, led by Chris Evans, surge toward the entitled classes at the front. "If we control the engine," says the rear train leader John Hurt, "we control the world." 

Tilda Swinton, who plays the train's buck-toothed prime minister with her usual flair, was on hand for the opening at L.A. Live's Regal Cinemas, as were Bong, Ed Harris, who plays the train's bored creator and engineer, "Newsroom" star Allison Pill, and Korean stars Ko Asung and Kang-ho Song. “The train is society," Bong told the LA Times. "I had to express many different small worlds. Each section of the train is different.” 

Adapted by Bong and Kelly Masterson from the 1982 French graphic novel "Le Transperceneige," the $39 million film's stunning design and visuals--snowy exteriors and cramped interiors--are great fun to watch. Production designer Ondrej Nekvasil ("The Illusionist") built the train in sections at Barrandov Studios in Prague. The course of making Bong's first English-language feature was not without drama, as the Korean director tangled publicly with Harvey Weinstein, who picked up the film before it was completed and then asked for trims. 

The solution: Bong's 125-minute cut is being released --in fewer theaters initially--by the Weinstein's RADiUS-TWC, whose president Tom Quinn released Bong's films ("Mother," "The Host") at Magnolia Pictures, he told me at the after party. And yes, he admitted that staging a live concert of composer Marco Beltrami's delicate violin theme before the premiere was worthy of Oscar maestro Harvey Weinstein. Quinn promises a well-hyped "Snowpiercer" when it opens in ten markets (theaters only initially) against Michael Bay's mighty summer action juggernaut “Transformers: Age of Extinction” on June 27, followed by a rollout on 150 screens. (Here's TOH's review; it's at 83% on Rotten Tomatoes.)

The movie was a blockbuster last year in South Korea ($59 million), not quite beating Bong's previous record-holder, "The Host ($64 million). It's already grossed $80 million worldwide. 


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Thompson on Hollywood

Born and raised in Manhattan, Anne Thompson grew up going to the Thalia and The New Yorker and wound up at grad Cinema Studies at NYU. She worked at United Artists and Film Comment before heading west as that magazine's west coast editor. She wrote for the LA Weekly, Sight and Sound, Empire, The New York Times and Entertainment Weekly before serving as West Coast Editor of Premiere. She wrote for The Washington Post, The London Observer, Wired, More, and Vanity Fair, and did staff stints at The Hollywood Reporter and Variety. She eventually took her blog Thompson on Hollywood to Indiewire. She taught film criticism at USC Critical Studies, and continues to host the fall semester of “Sneak Previews” for UCLA Extension.