The journey to Korean director Bong Joon-ho’s powerhouse thriller “Snowpiercer” began nine years ago, when Bong picked up the original graphic novel — a French tale called “Le Transperceneige” by Jacques Lob, Benjamin Legrand and Jean-Marc Rochette — in a store.
“I read the whole thing standing there, and then I closed the book, paid for it, and as I was walking out I decided to make it into a film,” says Bong, who recently visited San Francisco to discuss his movie.
“Snowpiercer,” which opens today, is a tense post-apocalyptic sci-fi tale that takes place after the world has frozen over, when survivors live aboard a massive, self-sustaining train that continually circles the globe.
The denizens of the back cars, tired of being treated poorly, decide to revolt, make their way to the engine, and take over.
With producing help from his friend, the director Park Chan-wook (“Oldboy”) “Snowpiercer” began in earnest in 2009, after the release of Bong’s acclaimed drama “Mother.”
Bong began casting while having dinner with his favorite actor Song Kang-ho and young actress Ko Ah-sung, who played father and daughter in his great 2006 monster movie “The Host.”
“I said, ‘I’m making this strange sci-fi movie, a train movie. Do you want to get on the train?’ And they said yes. That was it,” says Bong. “No contract! Cheers!”
From there, Bong was able to attract a huge international cast from Korea, Romania, England (Tilda Swinton and John Hurt) and America (Octavia Spencer and Ed Harris).
Captain America himself, Chris Evans, leads the revolt. Bong suggests, though, that Evans and Song are more like co-leads.
“Chris is struggling to go forward to the front, but it’s still within the train. Song’s character has a vision to go outside … outside the system.”
Bong says the idea of shooting on a long, narrow train was daunting. Both he and his director of photography grew scared that they were going to make a “hallway movie.”
“But a train is always moving,” he realized. “We built the sets on top of a moving gimbal. Whether it’s the camera or the actors or the train itself, there’s always movement. That was the discipline.”
Of course, one of Bong’s favorite themes — food — comes into play. The rear passengers eat goopy black protein bars, while the elite passengers dine on gorgeous sushi.
Bong himself added the protein bar, which was not in the comic. “Eating is three times daily,” he says. “And you can always get a sense of how people live.”
IF YOU GO
Starring Chris Evans, Song Kang-ho, Tilda Swinton, John Hurt
Written by Bong Joon-ho, Kelly Masterson
Directed by Bong Joon-ho
Running time 2 hours 6 minutes