Bong Joon-Ho’s Snowpiercer, starring Chris Evans, Tilda Swinton, and Octavia Spencer, is a hit in South Korea and France, where it’s already been released, and it’s getting beyond-rave reviews. So why does Harvey Weinstein want to release a different version in the U.S. and beyond? (The Weinstein Company has distribution rights in North America, U.K., South Africa, Australia, and New Zealand.) Good question. Ever since word got out that Weinstein wasn’t supporting the director’s cut — and had tested a version with twenty minutes chopped out — fans as well as the filmmakers have expressed dismay. As one reviewer noted, “To alter [the film] would be something close to vandalism.”
Since both Bong and Harvey were out celebrating Tilda Swinton at the Museum of Modern Art’s Film Benefit Tuesday night — her 53rd birthday, coincidentally — we thought it high time to find out what was going on. As Bong Joon-Ho walked by, we grabbed the director for an update. What does Harvey want cut out of the film? What does he want added? And why?
“It’s a matter of tempo,” Bong told Vulture. “They think of the movie as a R-rated movie, so it’s not a matter of violence, some carnage or something. It’s just a matter of duration and tempo and speed. There’s no set number of required minutes to be cut, or anything like that. We’re just playing with it, and they let us choose.”
In addition to cutting some scenes, Weinstein wants the film to have a voice-over at the end of the film. In the original script, voice-over narration from one child character kicks off the film, and a voice-over narration from a separate child provides the ending. “Originally, in the very first script, an Asian girl was the beginning part,” Bong said. “And the very last part of the movie was a black boy. But during the production, I deleted it, because I didn’t think it was necessary. That was before Harvey saw the movie. That was before Harvey picked up this movie.”
Bong still feels that the narration is unnecessary, and says that the “very good reaction” to his cut helps bolster this. Also, he noted, when Weinstein tested a cut-down rough version in July in New Jersey, they did another test screening, with the director’s cut, and the score for his own cut “was much higher.” “I understand their situation, their point of view,” Bong said. “They want to make it easier for the audience to understand the ending. But at the same time, I love a little bit more ambiguity.”
Negotiations are continuing, Bong said, and he’s confident that with the reviews, the box office support, and the test screening results, “the U.S. [release] is going to play out smoothly.” “Many things happen in six months, and maybe ten years from now, I will write a book about this situation, this very funny situation,” Bong said. “But for now, I feel safe. Quite safe.”
What sayeth the villain in the movie, Tilda Swinton? “They know, they know, that America and everywhere in the world deserves that director’s cut,” she told us. For now, no U.S. release date has been set, although sometime in 2014 is “a safe bet,” according to a Weinstein rep.