Film fans who reside in the United Kingdom are still yet to be allowed watch Bong Joon-ho’s English-language directorial debut – the dirty, violent dystopian sci-fi parable SNOWPIERCER – without dealing with the frustration of DVD imports lacking English subtitles or resorting to illegal downloads. No viewer, especially viewers from a country where Bong’s previous work has become increasingly popular on home media, should be put through this.
The issue, as far as I can tell, stems from Harvey Weinstein’s push for a dumbed-down shorter cut for the film’s US release. The Weinstein Company acquired the distribution rights for the key English-speaking territories, and after locking horns with director Bong over which version of his film should be shown (Bong understandably wanted his own cut, his own vision, Weinstein favoured a less ambiguous and more marketable film) it seems like the damage has been done and there are, as yet, no further plans for any kind of release in the UK.
Aside from the obvious issues of art vs. entertainment, integrity vs. blatant profiteering, I’m astounded that the Weinstein Company essentially seem to have now ditched the project by the wayside. Snowpiercer was enthusiastically received by audiences and critics alike, both in Europe and in the USA when the director’s cut eventually got a release following strong petition support. Plus, if it’s a question of whether it will sell or not, it’s got Captain America in it!
Bong Joon-ho is one of my favourite directors. I wrote my BA dissertation on the representation of Korean society in his films three years ago. I was overjoyed when I heard he’d taken on such an interesting project, his first venture into big(ish) international spectacle filmmaking. I was then devastated when the film hit hurdle after hurdle to get a wide release, then apoplectic when it emerged that we likely won’t see Snowpiercer hit British shores in any form any time soon. I don’t want to sound whiney, but it’s just not fair. Fans of Bong Joon-ho, Korean cinema, international co-productions or just interesting creative projects shouldn’t have such an obstacle as geography get in the way, especially in a world where viewing film and television is increasingly being liberated.
With the situation as it stands, I grew tired of waiting. I didn’t resort to an illegal download or torrent, because I refuse to support such practices on a moral level. I ordered a Spanish import DVD so I could finally have some experience of the film. I loved what I saw – it’s gritty, violent, whip-smart and still with Bong’s unique, slightly depraved brand of black humour. I’m pleased I’ve seen it, though I still feel I’ve missed out on some nuances of Song Kang-ho’s character since his dialogue is entirely in Korean (only the absolute essentials are translated by a sci-fi plot device) and the Spanish DVD didn’t have an English subtitle option (and why should it?).
Here’s hoping UK audiences might at least be allowed to legally download the film at some point. We’re owed that. I suppose we should really be grateful we’ve been forgotten entirely rather than having our intelligence patronised by Harvey Weinstein. Rant over. SSP