[Update: The Weinstein Company has since agreed to release the director's cut of Snowpiercer in the U.S., with the trade-off being that the movie will no longer receive a wide release.]
Bong Joon-ho's new dystopian sci-fi Snowpiercer is currently breaking records at the South Korean box office, selling 4 million tickets in just over a week and outstripping both Iron Man 3 and Transformers: Dark of the Moon. Ticket sales are apparently increasing over time, whether due to word of mouth or to people seeing the film more than once, and early reviews praised this grim tale of the last dregs of humanity surviving on a massive train kept constantly moving through an apocalyptic ice age, describing it as a refreshing change from the average Hollywood action formula.
Just because Snowpiercer was produced a long way away from Hollywood, however, that doesn't mean it won't be run through the Hollywood filter before American audiences get to see it. The Weinstein Company, which owns the distribution rights for North America, has been holding off on the announcement of a US release date, and now it seems there might be an explanation as to the delay.
IF reports that Weinstein has demanded that 20 minutes of footage be cut from the US releaseo of Snowpiercer. The information comes from writer and festival programmer Tony Rayns, who spoke with Bong at the premiere of Snowpiercer in Seoul and learned about the impending cuts. Apparently the scenes that are to be removed are primarily ones that flesh out the characters' backgrounds and development, and by getting rid of them, Snowpiercer will come across more as a pure action movie than a drama. The goal, said TWC when explaining the request to Bong, is to make sure his film "will be understood by audiences in Iowa... and Oklahoma." Weinstein also asked for introductory and closing voice-overs to be added in.
Without having seen Snowpiercer, it's hard to imagine what kind of content is in those twenty minutes that South Korean audiences can comprehend easily, but the average Iowa resident cannot. After all, the film features primarily American or British actors, including Captain America star Chris Evans in the lead role, and its central focus on class warfare and rebellion resonate deeply with hot-button US political topics like the Occupy movement. It's hard to imagine that any elements of Snowpiercer would be completely alien to American audiences; even the main spoken language is English.
Weinstein's habit of demanding cuts, particularly to foreign films imported by TWC to US theaters, has already earned him the unfortunate moniker 'Harvey Scissorhands'. Similar cuts were made to the Studio Ghibli anime Princess Mononoke and to Yimou Zhang's historical action film Hero. This kind of distributor interference is insulting on two levels: firstly, because it's an unabashed insult to US audiences to trim foreign movies in order to dumb them down, like a pandering parent cutting the crusts off their child's sandwich; secondly, because films are an art form, and to cut a significant chunk out of Snowpiercer and insist upon explanatory voice-overs amounts to a dramatic infringement upon Bong's original vision.
If the cuts go ahead then it might be worth seeing Weinstein's "action cut" of Snowpiercer when it eventually arrives in theaters, but fans of Bong's previous movies like The Host are more likely to hold out for a director's cut on Blu-ray and DVD.
No US release date has yet been announced for Snowpiercer, but we'll keep you updated on both the cut and uncut versions.