Cultural crossing in Snowpiercer

Promotional poster for Snowpiercer, with Chris Evans

One day, I decided to watch the movie called Snowpiercer after seeing good reviews about it. Unaware that it had significant international involvement (Korean), I watched it for the plot premise. The movie is about people in the ‘tail’ section of the train, which houses the last remnants of humanity, as they fight their way up to the rich forward carriages. The film was applauded by critics for its plot and themes. Done by Korean Director Bong-Joon Ho, the main character is an American, Curtis (Played by Chris Evans),  but two other essential characters, Namgoong and Yona (Song Kang Ho and Go-Ahsung respectively), are Korean.

“More than 90% of the crew were either British or American, so everything went according to the American system. As a result, there were a lot of unfamiliar regulations and union rules to follow.”

This movie is a definite international mix, with this movie being based off a French graphic novel, Le Transperceneige. Snowpiercer is a South Korean-Czech Production, and 80% of the movie is in English. The other 20% is in Korean. Most of the staff and cast in this movie is a mix of white and Korean people, with cinematography by a Korean, and being edited by a white and Korean person. Bong Joon Ho also said ‘More than 90% of the crew were either British or American, so everything went according to the American system. As a result, there were a lot of unfamiliar regulations and union rules to follow.’

Namgoong, from the movie

Snowpiercer is a post-apocalyptic drama and an allusion to society. It is aimed at the English speaking audience and there is little knowledge needed for other cultures, as it is mostly English speaking. It is also aimed at Koreans too, with a Korean director and several Korean cast members in the movie. There is not really any cultural proximity needed, excepting Masons character (explained below), as it isn’t set in the current day, and only on a train.

There is some cultural knowledge needed for the film, as it caters to a Western audience already, and is set in a post-apocalyptic setting, where cultures are very much mixed together. One of the characters, Mason (played by Tilda Swinton) is very much a caricature of western political figures such as Margaret Thatcher and Hitler. Swinton also uses a Yorkshire Accent for the character, which English speakers would recognise as being distinctive and different from the rest of the cast while Koreans would not. Tilda Swinton suggested that her character have a British accent such as a Yorkshire accent, but Bong Joon Ho couldn’t tell the difference so they had to communicate this in a roundabout way.

Snowpiercer character Mason (Tilda Swinton), know for her distinctive style

There is alot of cultural diversity in this movie, and races and cultures are blended together, as these inhabitants are all stuck on a train. In Western cinema, it would be a foreign experience to see other languages spoken on screen, as well as a Korean director for a seemingly western movie. The movie and casting are different from how a usual western film would go, and is distinctive in this way. It is a hybrid production between two cultures. This is a production geared towards a Global North, as America (The West) and South Korea are in the Global North.

The global north (blue) and global south (red)

This movie does an excellent job at overcrossing the cultural divide, and having two different cultures and languages make one movie aimed for an audience. While Bong can understand some English, he is more comfortable with Korean, while the lead actor of Snowpiercer, Chris Evans, can only speak English, so that alone makes for an impressive cultural mix, as Bong Joon Ho would have needed to direct all of the actors. But in the end, the film came together, and received critical acclaim by critics, so I would say that despite all the differences, it was worth it to make this movie. This movie could also be considered as part of the Hallyu, the South Korean Governments push to export Korean entertainment to the world, as it has a Korean Director and actors.

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