Imagined Negotiation: Selling SNOWPIERCER to an American audience

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American audiences are still waiting to see SNOWPIERCER, the English language French comic book-inspired hit Korean movie co-written and directed by Bong Joon-ho, whose monster movie THE HOST wowed audiences in the mid ‘Noughties. The problem is that the American and English rights are owned by The Weinstein Company, whose honcho, Harvey Weinstein has a track record in simplifying foreign movies for their US release – adding English inter-titles to THE ARTIST is his mildest form of interference. SNOWPIERCER runs at two hours and five minutes; Harvey reportedly wants to cut twenty minutes out of it, much to the chagrin of Bong. One can only imagine the conversation (by e-mail, lawyer or semaphore signal) that took place between both parties – or at least I do.

TWC: OK, we’ve seen your movie, SNOWPIERCER, and we’re pleased with the Korean gross.

BJ-H: 49 million of your American dollars. Would you like some tea?

TWC: No, but we’re interested in the remake rights. We have some notes.

BJ-H: I’ve heard about your notes. You tried to give them to Martin Scorsese when he made GANGS OF NEW YORK!

TWC: Obviously these are different – you don’t have to tone down Butcher Bill.

BJ-H: Scorsese didn’t budge and he was nominated for an Oscar.

TWC: But he didn’t win.

BJ-H: You don’t have a reputation for nurturing filmmakers for whom you win Oscars. Roberto Benigni didn’t cover himself with glory after LIFE IS BEAUTIFUL.

TWC: No, but they had to re-cover the seats of the Kodak Theatre after he walked all over them.

BJ-H: And Michel Hazanvicius hasn’t made a film since THE ARTIST.

TWC: He made a silent film, now he’s gone quiet. You’d expect that.

BJ-H: You’ll have to forgive me for saying that you might not have my best interests at heart.

TWC: We can get Chris Evans for the publicity tour, no problem, and Octavia Spencer for TBC.

BJ-H: So what are your notes?

TWC: We think the audience would be better served by a shorter movie – and one with a different ending.

BJ-H: I foresaw this.

TWC: Are you a clairvoyant?

BJ-H: No, I can see it on the piece of paper you are holding through Skype.

TWC: Ah, yes. Well, we think the movie lacks a really heroic hero.

BJ-H: You are missing the point.

TWC: I mean - you have a hero who confesses to wanting to eat a child – a baby.

BJ-H: Yes, this is post-Apocalypse. This is what people would do. By the way, you’re supposed to say ‘spoiler alert’.

TWC: Spoiler alert! Well, it’s Captain America.

BJ-H: I hired the actor not the role.

TWC: Americans don’t eat babies. That’s a European thing. Unless they’ve gone full zombie!

BJ-H: There is a tradition of doomsday films where the heroes don’t descend into monsters. I don’t believe this reflects reality.

TWC: Hello, you’re making a movie.

BJ-H: Would you have countenanced LIFE IS BEAUTIFUL without the concentration camps and Benigni’s ending?

TWC: Hello, that’s history.

BJ-H: So fiction is not allowed to be like history – we cannot imagine the worst?

TWC: We can imagine the worst, sure – but we won’t pay $12 to see it. American popular culture is about the veneer of something really nasty tempered by a square-jawed hero and Vera Farmiga.

BJ-H: (sighs)

TWC: Look, we were very happy to financially support a film based on a train even though the last decent locomotive movie was MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS in 1974.


TWC: That’s not on my notes. I’ve got NARROW MARGIN the remake, TRANSSIBERIAN, the remake of THE LADY VANISHES and THOMAS AND THE MAGIC RAILROAD.

BJ-H: I love that movie. Alec Baldwin’s finest comic role: ‘Green – green for glory!’

TWC: That’s Peter Fonda’s line.

BJ-H: I think you also forget UNDER SIEGE 2: DARK TERRITORY.

TWC: Wouldn’t you?

BJ-H: I’m not changing that scene. It justifies why Curtis [Chris Evans] cannot survive.

TWC: Exactly. And what is with making the Korean guy, Namgoong Minsu [Song Kang-ho] the real hero?

BJ-H: I know, right. You don’t expect it. But it works for us Koreans.

TWC: We think he should accidentally blow up his daughter and Curtis saves the boy at the end.

BJ-H: Shouldn’t you be saying spoiler alert – I mean, that would spoil the movie. The point is: America is driving the train. It carries out genocide. We need to crash the train since we can’t imagine anyone else driving it and we need to start again amongst the polar bears.

TWC: Couldn’t we have Curtis hooked on Kronol [an addictive drug that looks the chalk used for snooker cues] to justify why he wanted to eat the child. Wilford was his dealer?

BJ-H: Again, you are missing the point. Don’t you want to explain who Wilford is?

TWC: The great and powerful Wilford. He made the train that picked up the last remnants of humanity and ensured that carriages divided mankind between classes. We appreciate that you didn’t play the race card, though we don’t understand why Wilford could not have been –

BJ-H: That’s quite enough.

TWC: We have some other notes.

BJ-H: Go on.

TWC: Why does Tilda Swinton speak in that awful accent?

BJ-H: It’s Lancastrian. It’s the only accent Meryl Streep hasn’t attempted.

TWC: And we can hear why. Second, why does Jamie Bell speak with an Irish accent? Edgar [Bell’s character] was born on the train. Curtis brought him up. Who would teach him to speak like that?

BJ-H: The Meryl Streep movie, DANCING AT LUGHNASA. It was on continuous play. It is the apocalypse, after all.

TWC: Well we want to hire Kevin Smith to do some new scenes.

BJ-H: Isn’t he doing that weird monster movie thingy with Justin Long? JAY AND SILENT BOB DO BESTIALITY?

TWC: Exactly. We think he’s broadly in line with your sensibility.

BJ-H: What about Quentin Tarantino.

TWC: We save him for really special projects.

BJ-H: I’m not good enough for Tarantino?

TWC: We might get you Robert Rodriguez. MACHETE KILLS sucked.

BJ-H: My film will gain an appreciative audience in France. Americans will order the DVD or stream my version. Your attempts to stifle my creative endeavour are futile.

TWC: Well, you’re not going to the Oscars next year, that’s for sure. We were going to put you on the David O. Russell table.

BJ-H: David O. Russell? Why didn’t you say so? I loved that HAPPINESS THERAPY.


BJ-H: He did that too?

Negotiations break down again when the question of who sits next to Christian Bale comes up. UK and US release dates of SNOWPIERCER are not set. The film is currently on release in France and seen by this viewer at a 9:20am screening on Friday 1 November 2013 at near capacity (Cine Cine Les Halles, Paris). 

About the author


Independent film critic who just wants to witter on about movies every so often. Very old (by Hollywood standards).

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