“We move forward” is the tagline on an international poster for Snowpiercer, the dystopian action film from leading Korean director Bong Joon-ho, but it's a different matter when it comes to releasing the acclaimed follow-up to The Host and Mother. Despite a hugely successful August release in Bong's homeland, as well as reaching cinemas in France in September, the picture only has a nebulous 2014 release date for the rest of the world.
The issue is what cut of the film should be released in the United States, which will then flow through to associated territories such as Australia and the United Kingdom. Rights for those international territories are held by The Weinstein Company, and it's not for nothing the mercurial mogul Harvey Weinstein is known to many in the film industry as Harvey Scissorhands.
Set in an icy future where the remnants of humanity live on a train that has evolved into a class-bound dictatorship where the poor reside in squalor amidst the rear carriages, Snowpiercer (pictured) is reportedly a nuanced comic book adaptation. Bong's edit runs for 126 minutes, and a review by Variety's lead film critic, Scott Foundas, praised the “hybrid art-movie/blockbuster” for its “solid narrative craftsmanship” and “carefully drawn characters”.
Weinstein, who along with his brother Bob made his name with Miramax in the 1990s, would prefer a shorter version, possibly with clarifying narration. The company recently succeeded in undertaking a similar process with Wong Kar-wai's martial arts epic The Grandmaster, which debuted and released in most of Asia at 130 minutes, but was 108 minutes long when it reached American cinemas. The trimming was supposedly overseen by Wong, but critics who've seen both versions have been critical of the American edition.
“They think of Snowpiercer as an R-rated movie, so the violence and those kinds of matters are not a big issue,” Bong recently told Twitchfilm.com's James Marsh. “But it's all a matter of duration, speed and tempo.”
Bong is treating the matter with careful neutrality, with possible provocations turning out to be helpful to his cause. An interim shorter American edit was shown to a test audience in New Jersey in July of this year, but the marks on the score cards were supposedly less than a subsequent American test audience gave Bong's original 126 minute edit.
For now the film, which is 80 percent English language and features an international cast that includes Chris Evans, Ed Harris, Octavia Spencer, Song Kang-ho, Tilda Swinton, and John Hurt, is the subject of negotiations. The Weinstein Company don't want to give the (overt) impression of being crude philistines, and Bong is too major a director to be ridden over roughshod.
“I'm not that kind of young, innocent film school student who is saying, 'Nobody can touch my movie!' I'm not like that. I can negotiate, but I really hope to protect and keep my vision,” Bong explained to Marsh. “The unique tone and mood of the movie and I don't want to destroy the details of the characters.”