BONG Joon-ho, Director of SNOWPIERCER

by Jason Bechervaise   04.30.2013
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“I wanted to make a very exciting train and sci-fi movie”
BONG Joon-ho is a well-known figure in the international film community following his critically acclaimed works Memories of Murder (2003), The Host (2006), and Mother (2009). But Snowpiercer marks a new challenge for the distinguished filmmaker owing to its large scale (budgeted at USD 40 milion), and the fact that it was shot entirely in the Czech Republic with a multinational cast.
Based on the French comic Le Transperceneige, which depicts the inhabitants of a train after the world enters a new ice age, the project began when BONG picked up the graphic novel back in 2005. “I was fascinated by the graphic novel, and I wanted to make a very exciting train and science fiction movie. The story focused on the human condition and the social system on the train. It made me crazy, and that’s why I shot this movie,” he laughed.
“When the ice age comes, it doesn’t just come to Korea, it’s a worldwide event. So I thought, having all the passengers as Koreans wouldn’t make sense. I wanted an international cast and as a result it became an international film, but that’s not how I originally intended it,” says BONG.
Given the vastly different circumstances involved with shooting an international production, some observers have expressed concern that in adapting the work for global audiences, something will be lost. BONG says, “The scale is a lot bigger, and it will get a wide release in the U.S, so the characters are slightly different from the original. But I tried to keep my own style – I think that’s the most important thing.”
Working on such a project inevitably raises difficulties, but communication wasn’t one of them. “It wasn’t a big deal because when we selected the film crews, we kept in mind the need for English communication, so there were a lot of people who could speak English,” says BONG.
There were, however, other challenges that he faced, such as the tight schedule and limited time for shooting. “This was difficult to manage because Mother, for example, was shot in 90 days. Snowpiercer was much bigger in scale, but we had to shoot it in just 72 days,” says BONG. Interestingly, this was also an obstacle that PARK Chan-wook encountered with his Hollywood debut Stoker, having to shoot the film in 40 days compared to 100 days for his previous film Thirst.
Furthermore, the director also encountered differences in the system of production. “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. At first it was quite difficult, but we got used to it eventually,” says BONG.

BONG’s Snowpiecer boasts an impressive international cast. Names include Chris EVANS, Jamie BELL, John HURT, Tilda SWINTON, Ed HARRIS, Ewen BREMNER, and Octavia Spencer, as well as familiar Korean faces such as SONG Kang-ho and KO Ah-sung who both worked previously with BONG on The Host.
“Normally I talk to the actors a lot about their dialogue. So given that it was in English, there were some difficulties. But everyone was really kind and went out of their way to assist me. Even the actors and actresses helped me a lot. Tilda SWINTON for example suggested that her character have a different British accent such as a Yorkshire or Welsh accent, but I couldn’t tell the difference. Tilda explained it to me in great detail, and I’m very grateful to her. Other people also did their best to help me,” explains BONG.
“Almost 85% of the film’s dialogue is in English. SONG Kang-ho speaks Korean in the film while Korean actress KO Ah-sung speaks English and Korean. In the movie, there is an interpreting machine so Chris EVANS speaks in English and SONG Kang-ho speaks in Korean but they are able to communicate” BONG explains.
BONG Joon-ho is not the only well-known Korean director working on this film; PARK Chan-wook is one of the film’s producers. “He supported and helped me in so many ways. When I first gave him the script, we talked about it a lot, and he came to the Czech Republic when we were shooting the last part and spent a week on site,” BONG recalls.
He continues, “In many cases, there are tensions between directors and producers, but with PARK I felt he understood where I was coming from. It was good.”
The film has also attracted attention after it was announced that The Weinstein Company purchased rights to distribute the film in English-speaking territories, potentially giving it greater exposure upon its release. BONG says he’s excited and curious to see how they will market and promote the film.
Through its main investor and international sales representative CJ E&M, Snowpiercer has also sold distribution rights for numerous other international territories, allowing it to recoup half its budget and effectively secure a worldwide release. The highly anticipated film is scheduled to open in Korea this summer, and details about its international release plans are to be revealed in the coming weeks.

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