“Slow Train Comin”


Bong Joon-ho’s latest movie has been making the rounds in foreign markets, but has yet to pull into the US station, which isn’t exactly what fans are so fussy about. It seems that the Chris Evans and Tilda Swinton starrer Snowpiercer has secured distribution here through Harvey Weinstein, who’s notorious for editing those pesky movies with words on the screen down for us Dumbericans. If I wanted to read, I’d get a book on tape, right?

Well, it’s tricky because this movie isn’t even entirely in a foreign language, unlike The Grandmasters, another foreign film to recently befall the so-called “Harvey Scissorhands.” So to help sort out this mess, I turn this over to Joseph Moser, professor of English here at Fitchburg State.

Moser has met and talked with Bong Joon-ho, and characterizes him consistently with his filmic output. “All his movies are very cinematic, and benefit from a theatre experience,” he says, but notes that in particular, Snowpiercer seems fit for the big screen. “It’s a small consolation at this point if, for instance, the director’s cut will be released on DVD, that will be a loss.”

Fans of Bong’s previous movies, for example we have The Host, a fun and oddball comedy/horror, and Memories of Murder, a thought-provoking drama, share this sentiment. But it’s important to keep in mind the reality of the situation, that this artistic filmmaker did after all, take Hollywood money.

It will be unfortunate to get a reduced version of a potentially very good movie, but more concerning about the affair is the variety of larger ramifications.

Foreign filmmakers who cross over into Hollywood and adapt to the system to compromise and make an American movie but maintain their artistic sensibilities are few (Verhoeven), and Moser cites at least one major example of the opposite: Jim Sheridan. “Sheridan makes five really excellent Irish films with Irish and British funding, and then comes to Hollywood and makes this movie about 50 Cent. It’s critically a disaster, and he does better with his second film … but it certainly has compromised his career, crossing over to Hollywood.”

Speaking to a Bong peer, Chan-wook Park (also a producer on Snowpiercer) has succumbed to a similar fate as Sheridan’s, as Stoker didn’t blow up the planet like Oldboy, the whacked-out thriller seeing a remake later this month.

Moser mentioned Steve McQueen, whose 12 Years a Slave was released very recently. He’s an extremely un-Hollywood director who seems to have garnered a certain prestige, the allowance of final cut. “What could happen,” with 12 Years a Slave being a clear lock for Academy Award nominations, “if it ends up winning Best Picture, and/or Best Director for Steve McQueen, it could really vindicate Hollywood in the short term by making it seem like ‘Oh, Hollywood really does value art.”

But Bong Joon-ho, and other foreign filmmakers without the local recognition, without that same prestige, will see their movies delivered in a less-than-satisfactory form, and the bigwigs at the top will have some plausible deniability.

But it’s not all apocalyptic, and snow-covered. “If this is a movie that brings in people to theatres who would not otherwise be interested in Korean cinema at all, I guess there could be a positive side.” Of course, it is still sad that commercial interests outweigh the art of someone like ol’ Bong-o. “He’s someone people will still be watching … thirty, fifty years down the line. You can’t say that for a lot of people.”

It’ll be interesting to see, not only because the movie is an interesting prospect, but for how it might affect our mystical magic realm of Hollwoodland. It would seem the Korean New Wave is piercing its way into US pop culture, which also means we could see more remakes of all our favorite hits, especially if Oldboy does well. “It could have been way worse,” Moser said about the personnel behind the upcoming flick. “So we’ll see.”


2 thoughts on ““Slow Train Comin”

    • Well thank you, Mr. President and Honorary Mr. President. There’s a set standard of product around here and the sht is not an unacknowledged quantity in that regard

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