Jun 2016 VOL.62


  • The Big 4 Goes Global - BONG JOON-HO
  • 05.14.2012
    Snow Piercer: Korea’s Biggest Transnational Co-production Yet
    Korean films have taken a new leap forward with BONG Joon-ho’s <Snow Piercer>. The film stands out beginning with the way it was produced -- as a transnational project. Local production companies did the legwork with support from investors in countries including France, Japan, and the United States. It is a different situation from that of PARK Chan-wook’s <Stoker> and KIM Jee-woon’s <The Last Stand>, which were made squarely within the borders of Hollywood.
    An Award-winning French Comic Is Coming to the Big Screen
    The film’s subject matter is quite unique for a Korean film. <Snow Piercer> is based on a French graphic novel, <Le Transperceneige>, which took top prize at the French Angoulême International Comic Festival in 1985. It is set in the post-apocalyptic future, after a devastating cold spell engulfs the Earth due to abnormal climate changes, killing many. The last survivors now travel on a train with food, water and other supplies. The film depicts the ensuing chaos on board. BONG fell in love with the original graphic novel in 2005 after accidentally encountering it in a bookstore where he was browsing through new comics. He bought the publication rights immediately. After his third feature, <The Host>, became Korea’s biggest box-office hit in 2006, BONG declared <Snow Piercer> his next project.
    But the unexpected happened. KIM Haeja, an acclaimed veteran actress in Korea with whom BONG had always wanted to work, suddenly told him that she wished to star in one of his films. To work with her, BONG shifted his attention to filming <Mother> (2009) instead. Only after he completed <Mother>, which debuted in the 2009 Cannes Film Festival’s Un Certain Regard section, did the Korean director re-focus on <Snow Piercer>.
    Korea’s Biggest Transnational Co-production Project
    <Snow Piercer> began filming in April and its budget is said to be near USD $42 million, the largest budget ever for any film with Korean investors. About 90% of the entire film will be shot on set. The scenes have to be filmed inside a 90-meter-long train, so the use of a very large set is unavoidable. The director’s original wish was to shoot the film in Korea, but a studio large enough to accommodate a set of such scale was difficult to find. Thus it was Barrandov Studio in Prague, Czech Republic, that became the place of shooting instead.
    The cast are from diverse origins: to name a few, Octavia Spencer, Oscar winner for Best Supporting Actress in <The Help> (2011), Korea’s own SONG Kang-ho, who starred in <Secret Sunshine> (2007) and <Thirst> (2009), as well as British stars John Hurt and Tilda Swinton. More than 80% of the cast consider English their mother tongue, and most of the dialogue is in English. The staff consists of professionals from a variety of countries as well. Alex HONG, one of Korea’s top cinematographers, is in charge of cinematography, working shoulder-to-shoulder with an American computer graphic supervisor and a Czech production designer.
    PARK Chan-wook, director of <Oldboy> (2003) and <Thirst>, also came on board as a producer. PARK had already helped BONG produce <Mother>. BONG said, “I like to concentrate purely on directing, and I feel comfortable working with PARK because we understand each other.” Moho Film, the domestic production company of the film, was founded by PARK. And the co-production company, OPUS Pictures, is owned by PARK’s brother-in-law, LEE Tae-hun.
    A Variety of Factors Inspiring Promising Results
    Not many multinational projects have succeeded in Korea. Most of these have been co-productions between Korea and other Asian countries, mainly China, Japan and Hong Kong. Cultural differences between the countries are often blamed for poor box office results. Lack of unity among the staff also blocks a productive synergy from happening. But with <Snow Piercer>, expectations are high within the Korean film industry. The participation of countries that are believed to have more structured collaboration systems, the US and France among them, is inspiring higher expectations for the film. Belief in BONG’s directorial skills is also enlivening public anticipation. BONG is one of the few directors in Korea respected for making films that are both popular and artistically revered.
    Overseas responses to BONG’s films thus far have been great. According to Box Office Mojo, <The Host> grossed USD $87.22 million overseas. <Mother> also earned USD $16.56 in foreign markets. International stars have shown a favorable interest in BONG’s work. Hollywood actress Sigourney Weaver, who visited Korea in 2010, is a perfect example. She praised BONG’s work when she said, “<The Host> is an amazing film that stimulates one’s imagination. It’s scary and intriguing all at once.”
    About the Wonders and Brutality of Modern Technology
    <Snow Piercer> will not stay entirely true to the original graphic novel. Only the basic setting remains the same -- the story of humankind continuing its survival by depending on a fast-moving train after the Earth is hit by a sudden ice-age. Apparently, PARK and BONG also worked on conceptualizing a very special part of the film. But the film’s progress and its contents are being shrouded in secrecy. In January BONG said, “the Korean production company requested us not to say anything about the film.”
    We can expect <Snow Piercer> to juxtapose the wonders and brutality of modern technology by using the symbolism of the train. In an interview, BONG said, “the fact that all is gone but ‘mankind’s natural assets’ is what excited me.” He dropped a hint by saying, “a train is a monstrous lump of metal and a symbol of industrialization. But the outside world you see through the train window can feel romantic.” Based on a western original, the film is expected to arouse universal sentiments of savageness and lyricism. <Snow Piercer> is due to be released in the summer of 2013 and CJ E&M will be in charge of its domestic distribution.
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