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Film: Snowpiercer
"Know your place, keep your place!"
"This time, we take the engine."

Snowpiercer is a post-apocalyptic Science Fiction film directed by South Korean director Bong Joon-Ho, director of Mother, The Host, and Memories Of Murder, and is based on the French comic of the same name. It stars Chris Evans, Song Kang-Ho, Ko Ah-Sung, Tilda Swinton, John Hurt, Ed Harris, and Jamie Bell, among others.

In the near future, a attempt to combat global warming fails on a massive scale and kills nearly everyone on earth. 17 years later, in 2031, the only place where humanity survives is on the Snowpiercer, a massive train which circles around the globe, running on perpetual motion.

It was scheduled to be released in Korea on August 1st 2013, but was released a day earlier thanks to the great amount of interest in the film. About $40,000,000 was placed into the production of the film, making it the most expensive Korean film to date.

This film provides examples of:

  • Adaptation Distillation: Based on the French graphic novel "Le Transperceneige".
  • Adaptation Expansion:
  • Affably Evil: Wilford is an entrepreneur and gentleman, driven by a Totalitarian Utilitarian vision of society.
  • After the End: The story picks up 17 years after the CW-7 chemical compound turned Earth into an ice globe.
  • All for Nothing: By the end of the film, everyone in the train is dead and Yona and Timmy - a seventeen-year-old drug addict and a five-year-old child - are the only survivors, left alone with no supplies and no survival skills for dealing with the deep cold, the rugged mountians or the apex predators.
  • An Arm and a Leg: The most respected people in the tail section are missing limbs.
    • In an example of an obviously well-rehearsed punishment, Andrew's arm is frozen and then smashed off after he throws a shoe at the woman in yellow.
    • The maimed elders come forward to take charge of Andrew after his punishment. The elders are not necessarily victims of brutal front-end justice - many of them cut off their own arms and legs to feed the starving people during the early desperate days of the train.
  • An Axe to Grind: Since the guards at the tail don't have any more bullets, the men who await the rebels before the water supply car are armed with axes and spears.
  • Anyone Can Die: Characters are "spent" continuously in this film.
  • Apocalypse How: Planetary/Species Extinction. Global warming was involved.
  • Assimilation Academy: The school section brainwashes the young children within to worship Wilford and to never get out of the train, or else they'd freeze and die.
  • Badass Gay: According to Word of God, Grey was Gilliam's lover (see May-December Romance below) and is by far the best fighter the tail-enders have.
  • Bald of Evil: The man handing out the eggs played by Tómas Lemarquis (who's even credited as Egg-head).
  • The Baroness: Mason is fervently devoted to the totalitarian ideals of Wilford and enforces them with an iron fist, although she is of the particularly un-sexy kind.
  • Bittersweet Ending: The train derails, killing nearly everyone, including the main characters. The only hope is embodied by Yona and Timmy, as well as the proved existence of life outside the train.
  • Brainwashed: This seems to be the fate of anyone who was taken from the tail section to be employed in the front sections. Later implied to be caused by the engine itself, with Curtis almost falling victim of it.
  • Broken Pedestal: Gilliam is this to Curtis, when the latter learns the truth.
  • Chekhov's Gun: The matches, at two points in the story:
    • A little boy snatches a book of matches from Namgoong. Later he uses one of the matches to light a torch that helped the group to fight off the baddies.
    • In the final moments, Yona uses the last match to ignite the bomb that would derail the train.
  • Chewing the Scenery: Tilda Swinton as Mason is stealing every minute of her screen time.
  • City On A Train: All that's left of humanity lives on a mile-long train that never stops.
  • Closed Circle: Due to the outside world being completely frozen over, the entire premise is completely contained within the eponymous train. This is actually what Namgoong Minsoo wants to break free from.
  • Cool Train: The eponymous mile-long train definitely qualifies, if only for the feat of running for 18 years literally nonstop through a frozen wasteland, swallowing the snow on the track and processing it into fresh water for its passengers as it goes, without anything worse than a few breakdowns from the onboard equipment during this whole time. Among its sixty cars are included (all in the front section) a greenhouse car, an aquarium car (complete with a sushi bar), a zoo car (not showed in the film), an abattoir car, a classroom car, a lounge/beauty salon car, a swimming pool car, a sauna car, a disco club car and an opium den car, all drawn by a perpetual motion engine ( or so we think). Say what you want about the amorality of Wilford's utopia, you can't deny that he was one hell of an engineer.
  • The Corrupter / Manipulative Bastard: Wilford, and he almost had Curtis with his smooth talk.
  • Crapsack World: The train's tail section.
  • Creator Cameo: Benjamin Legrand and Jean-Marc Rochette, the authors of the original comics, appear briefly as two tail-enders. Rochette's hands are also shown drawing the group shot of Curtis' party.
  • Crowd Song: The Wilford song is such a tonic.
  • Diesel Punk: There are shades of this. Beyond the thematic elements (a conflict against the unbeatable, protagonist with low social status, etc...), the front-enders style themselves very 1920s-ish. The tail-enders fill in for the grimy side of this trope.
  • Disproportionate Retribution: One member of the tail section gets his arm frozen to ice and then smashed off for throwing his shoe at (and hitting) a high ranking member.
  • The Dragon: Several front-sectioners fulfill this role for Wilford- Mason as an administrator, Claude as his assistant, and the grey-suited man and The egg-man as muscle and enforcers.
  • Dwindling Party: The hero's fellowship is killed off one by one.
  • Establishing Character Moment: Curtis refusing to sit down during head count at the beginning of the movie introduces us to his rebellious attitude.
    • actually, his more prominent one is leaving Edgar to die so that he can capture Mason
  • Everybody's Dead, Dave: The only two survivors we see in the end , after the Snowpiercer's derailment, are Yona and Timmy. the rest of humanity's fate after the massive crash is left unclear.
  • Face Death with Dignity: When the bomb is about to explode, Wilford sits drinking his wine, sees Minsoo and Curtis's prepared sacrifice, and simply says "Nice."
  • Faceless Goons: The gang of thugs with their ski masks and axes. Emphasized by the fact that their masks don't have eyeholes.
    • The cloth is thinner around the eyes, explaining how they can see, but the effect is still the same.
  • Fan Disservice: Tilda Swinton as a domineering Baroness... with inch thick glasses, fake teeth, pale skin, and a corrosively horrific personality.
  • Fantastic Drug: Kronol, the stuff that two of the protagonists as well as some of the upper class rave about in a world where even cigarettes are extinct. It's also highly flammable industrial waste, which was why Minsoo wanted to collect the stuff to make a makeshift bomb.
  • Fingore: Grey is figuratively Taking the Bullet when he gets his hand pierced by a knife that was meant for Curtis.
  • Foreshadowing: The scene with the aquarium is later echoed in the scene in Wilford's compartment
    • so many foreshadowing moments! there's the matches, the measuring of the children, the missing limbs, Paul in the kitchen talking about how he manually has to pull certain parts that have died — and Curtis asking Edgar about how much he remembers and then Edgar talking about his mom and on and on...
  • Friend or Idol Decision: In the battle between the rebels and the soldiers, Curtis either has to save his second-in-command, Edgar, or get his hands on the minister, Mason. He chooses to capture Mason at the expense of Edgar.
  • Gone Horribly Right: The CW-7 chemical designed to end global warming did its job... but also started an Ice Age in the process.
    • Gilliam and Wilford's staged rebellion ends up succeeding far more than they expected. Curtis and his crew made it further into the train than they actually anticipated.
  • Guns Are Worthless: It's initially believed by Curtis and others, thinking that Wilford's forces expended all their bullets. As it turns out, there's more ammo where those came from.
  • Heroic BSOD: Curtis has one when Gilliam is executed, and another when he realizes that his revolution was all for naught.
  • Heroic Sacrifice: Most of the major characters die while trying to save one of the others. Curtis and Minsoo sacrifice themselves protecting Timmy and Yona during the crash.
  • Hook Hand: Gilliam.
  • Human Notepad: Grey has all sorts of words written all over his body, including "Surrender" and "Die!".
  • The Idealist: Minsoo, surprisingly, as he was planning on escaping from the train altogether.
  • I Ate What?: Curtis has one of these moments when he sees what they put into the protein bars.
  • Ice Queen: Mason, played by Tilda Swinton nonetheless.
  • I Let Gwen Stacy Die: Curtis abandons Edgar to capture Mason, leaving him to be killed at the hands of Franco the Younger.
  • I'm a Humanitarian: Averted with the protein block's content. But played very straight in Curtis' backstory about his first months on the train.
  • Impaled with Extreme Prejudice: Several tail-enders suffer from this fate at the hands of the spear-wielding thugs. During the crossing of the Yekaterina tunnel, two of them end up skewered on the same spear.
  • Improbable Aiming Skills: Both, Curtis and the die-hard henchman in his gray suit when shooting at each other through window glass from hundreds of feet apart inside the moving train.
  • Inertial Impalement: Franco the Younger is dramatically pierced by a spear that Yona puts in his way when he attempts to make a break for Curtis after the guards surrender.
  • Kill 'em All: As Curtis progresses through the train, more and more characters get brutally killed. By the end of the movie, the train derails off the mountain, leaving Yona and Timmy as the sole survivors.
  • Last Request: Tanya, for Curtis to find her Timmy. He succeeds.
  • Leitmotif: The axe gang have a sinister and clanging, off-kilter background music. The music, the fact that their masks don't have eyeholes, and what they do to a fish, is meant to underscore that these guys aren't just dangerous, they're insane.
  • Locomotive Level: The movie plot is basically a non-videogame version of the trope, with a dystopia set inside a train with the poorest inhabitants (living in the tail) trying to reach the locomotive.
  • Mama Bear: Tanya insists on joining the rebellion's push to the engine because she wants to take her son Timmy back from the front-enders.
  • May-December Romance: Not onscreen, but according to director Bong, Gilliam and Grey. HD stills show Gilliam's name tattooed over Grey's heart.
  • Meaningful Echo: Curtis mentioned in his backstory that he could not bring himself to cut off his arm and give it to the hungry. In the film's final moments he makes that sacrifice to free Timmy.
  • Mega Corp.: Wilford Industries - the one corporation that will rule your life.
  • Mid-Battle Tea Break: The battle between the tail-enders and the hooded mooks is interrupted by the announcement of the crossing of the Yekaterina Bridge, which prompts a countdown complete with "Happy New Year" wishes. Then, while the Snowpiercer lives up to his name and breaks through several snowdrifts on the track, everybody, friends and foes side by side, get down and brace for impact (Curtis even gets a wry grin from the mook next to him). When the crossing is over, the fight resumes as if nothing happened.
  • The Mole: Wilford paints Gilliam as this, as the inside man who incites periodic violent revolts in order to cull the train's population. Curtis finds it hard to believe, but evidence begins to pile up that Wilford may be telling the truth. In fact, Gilliam's conversation with Mason could've been an attempt to warn Wilford that Curtis' revolt may not have the desired effect.
  • Mood Whiplash: Takes a turn to the light-hearted once the main characters begin to explore the front sections, and turns back to serious when the bald man and the pregnant teacher start to shoot everyone with a gun.
    • A minor one with Curtis slipping on the fish in the middle of his dramatic slow-motion charge during the battle with the ax-wielding mooks.
    • The movie does this constantly as they move forward through the non-industrial sections of the train.
  • Necessarily Evil: Wilford is aware of the suffering in the end section of the train, but he believes it is the only way for the society to function as a whole.
  • The Needs of the Many: During the Yekaterina bridge fight, Curtis is in a moral dilemma whether to save Edgar or capture Mason instead. He goes for Mason and makes her end the fighting. This saved the lives of many, but Edgar dies in the process.
  • Nice Job Breaking It, Hero: The bomb used by Minsoo to open the exit door kills nearly everyone inside the engine, then the deflagration triggers an avalanche which sweeps off the track the rest of the train (and of humanity, Timmy and Yona being the only two people left then).
  • No, Mr. Bond, I Expect You to Dine: Wilford invites Curtis to have steak with him (while having him held at gunpoint by his assistant Claude to ensure he doesn't do anything stupid) and proceeds to explain to him how his rebellion was staged from the beginning out of necessity.
  • No Name Given: One of the rebellion's more prominent members is a large, imposing fighter in old military gear. Despite being one of the 'point men' along with Curtis and Edgar, he remains nameless.
  • No OSHA Compliance: Minsoo throws a raver off the catwalk where he is eaten up by the irresponsibly uncovered cog machinery.
  • Not Quite Dead: Franco the Elder is a real die-hard baddie.
  • Oh Crap:
    • The Asian General has such a moment when he realizes that Mason won't save his life by ordering the Faceless Goons to back off.
    • Curtis' realization that Wilford's forces do have ammo to spare.
    • Yona when she demonstrates her psychic powers to Curtis and realizes that the next car over is full of axe-wielding soldiers. The instant she feels them, she freaks out and screams at Minsoo not to open the gate. Minsoo then gets one, as she yelled at him right at the exact moment he managed to do just that.
  • Pay Evil unto Evil: Curtis killing Mason in retaliation of Gilliam's execution.
  • Precision F-Strike: Minsoo uses this in the trailer.
  • Pregnant Badass: The teacher is full-term at the time she's introduced, and uses a submachine gun to mow down several of the tail-enders in the school car.
  • Refuge in Audacity: When the rebellion's pipe contraption is about to be exposed, Edgar starts a riot to distract the guards.
  • The Reveal: Several.
    • The protein blocks that the tail section passengers fed on were made of cockroaches.
    • Gilliam was actually cooperating with Wilford all along, and made sure that a rebellion would take place every once in a while so that the population within the tail section wouldn't go out of control. Curtis' revolution was actually a calculated population cull that would have given those in the tail section more space and free access to water. Wilford wasn't happy that Gilliam couldn't keep Curtis under control.
    • The two kids who were taken in the beginning of the film were taken because of their use as living parts of the engine. The engine is perpetual, but some of its parts aren't.
    • What Minsoo saw outside from the greenhouse and didn't tell Curtis when he explained him about the ice and snow starting to melt is revealed at the very end: the polar bear is the proof that all life on Earth hasn't gone extinct.
  • The Revolution Will Not Be Civilized: Oh God no.
  • Psychic Powers: Yona's abilities in clairvoyance, which let her predict events beyond the doors, and which culminates in finding Timmy below the engine room.
  • Senseless Violins: Not a violin case but a trolley full of boiled eggs (and firearms).
    • Coincidentally, a violinist appears in the same scene and the shooting begins after one of his strings snaps.
  • Sole Survivor: Yona and Timmy, for all we know.
  • Taking A Third Option: Minsoo's ultimate plan. Rather than continue the struggle between the front and the tail, he want to get off the train.
  • Token Minority: Namgoong Minsoo and Yona are the token Koreans, Tanya and Timmy are the token African-Americans.
  • Totalitarian Utilitarian: Wilford runs his train on the idea of an eternal order where people in the lowest ranks have to suffer for the society to function as a whole.
  • Tuck and Cover: When the Kronol bomb is about to detonate and the door of Wilford's lair refuses to close, Curtis and Minsoo do this together for Timmy and Yona, allowing them to survive the blast and the subsequent train wreck.
  • Unwitting Pawn: Curtis is the latest one, as it appears that there have been several revolts, engineered by Gilliam and Wilford. That is, until things get out of hand.
    • One could argue that Wilford's order to kill Gilliam is what takes Curtis off this path. (And off the [ahem] rails, as it were.)
  • The Voiceless: Grey. While it's never specifically explained what keeps him from communicating beyond being a Human Notepad, he doesn't seem to be The Speechless because he does have a couple moments where he cries out in pain, meaning he's theoretically able to speak. Perhaps he's missing his tongue, for similar reasons the other passengers are missing limbs...
    • Franco the Younger is never heard speaking (although we see him screaming something inaudible at Curtis when he holds Edgar hostage) and Franco the Elder's only line is: "No more bullets?".
  • We Can Rule Together / Passing the Torch: Wilford's offer to Curtis at the end of the film. At first, Curtis seems to accept... until he sees Tanya's son, Timmy, being used as a living part of the engine, at which point he beats the crap out of Wilford.
  • Wham Line: "After the first month, we ate the weak."
  • World of Ham: Everyone on the train is a bit... unhinged after spending 17 years trapped in a metal box rocketing through the icy remains of Earth. Even the first-class passengers, who live in total luxury, seem to act perpetually insane (partially thanks to Fantastic Drug Kronol).
  • You Need to Get Laid: Wilford suggests this to Curtis to help lay off his tightness.

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