South Korea’s phenomenally gifted Bong Joon Ho (or Joon-ho Bong, if you prefer) turns out the best John Carpenter film* in two decades as his English-language debut. A dystopian fable (another!) played on a moving train, it’s well-made, if frankly unnecessary, a good step-and-a-half down from Bong’s more originally conceived Korean pics (MEMORIES OF MURDER/’03; THE HOST/’06), but loaded with energy & promise. Set in the near future, where Global Warming has been ‘cured’ into total Global Freeze, humanity survives on a class divided, self-sufficient Super Train that circles the planet. But revolution is stirring among the proletariat, packed like cattle in the miserable end cars, who rise up to fight their way toward the front, past every violent challenge, thru every compartment on their way to the First Car engine room . . . and Mr. Big. That’s all there is to this, with a story structure that plays out, appropriately enough, as straight-ahead as a railway flat apartment. But Boon teases out clean action & suspense between the class & physical warfare with his solid technique and a host of eccentric opponents. Like many a foreign director before him, Boon’s superb eye is not yet matched by his ear, so some of the dialogue and acting fall short. (Tough-guy lead Chris Evans goes blank at all the wrong times.) But the perfs generally make their mark, including Boon regular Kang-ho Song, and, in a seriously wild turn, Tilda Swinton and her alarming dental work. The plot and some parallel editing get a bit messy toward the end, but the film’s cool look, deftly mixing CGI and scale-model work in a nod toward Fritz Lang/UFA in their slightly unreal manner, carry the day.
DOUBLE-BILL: *While Boon’s earlier work is a must (see above), perhaps something from John Carpenter’s heyday might be best. Try THE THING/’82 or ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK/’81.