Blog Post 4 (Week 13)

Upon seeing the course guide for Asian Cinemas, Snowpiercer was a clear standout as the film I was looking forward to seeing the most. I had been hearing about it ever since its release in 2014, and I was already fascinated by both the premise of the narrative as well as the hodgepodge collaboration of production countries – so needless to say I was excited to finally be able to see it. However, as much as I enjoyed the film and was interested in its unique position in the world of VOD and online media distribution, the one element that stood out to me personally was the race distribution of Snowpiercer’s characters.

At first glance, the diverse origin of the ensemble cast featuring actors from the US, UK and Europe as well as South Korea is commendable; something that is still a rarity in the current mainstream cinematic landscape. However, upon closer inspection there are still some questions that need to be raised. For a South Korean directed and produced piece of cinema, there are still only two main characters of Korean descent whereas the rest of the main cast are all of Caucasian background with the exception of Octavia Spencer. If the train in Snowpiercer is a depiction of the entire world population of which 60% is Asian, then this poses an obviously unrealistic representation. Furthermore, there is something to be considered that the lead character is played by Chris Evans, the quintessential Hollywood “leading man”. As Taylor (2016) points out, “[director] Bong’s signification of a global film entails a white lead actor, English as a primary spoken language, and lavish special effects dotted throughout…” What does it say that a film of South Korean origin feels the need to cast a Caucasian lead to attract Western audiences? If Snowpiercer had cast a well known Asian American actor such as Jon Cho as the lead character, would the film still have performed as well in the Western market?

As a young Asian Australian woman who aspires to one day work in the cinema industry, the racial representation of minority groups, and especially the under-representation of Asian Americans in film and TV is an issue that hits close to heart. Growing up watching popular Hollywood films that feature an abundance of Caucasian lead actors and a distinct lack of strong, three dimensional Asian characters, I have always felt a question of belonging. In the past few years I have also been more exposed to problems regarding the whitewashing of Asian roles, with recent examples such as Emma Stone being chosen to play a character of Asian descent in 2015’s Aloha and the casting of Tilda Swinton as a Tibetan character in Marvel’s 2016 film Doctor Strange. The inequality and unease I felt from these types of unrealistic representations was even more cemented. It is as if the role of Asian American actors when compared to Caucasian actors are parallel to Minister Mason’s analogy in the film about the front-of-train and back-of-train passengers: “I am a hat, you are a show. I belong on a head, you belong on a foot”.

Undoubtedly, films like Snowpiercer who feature a collaboration of film industries and well rounded multi-racial cast are a step in the right direction. However, there is still so much more to be questioned, and more to be fought for to diminish the lack of recognition and belonging of Asian characters in Western cinema. Hopefully one day soon kids like me will be able to feel the same pride and admiration I felt watching Mulan for the first time and seeing a hero that looked like me on screen not just for one rare character, but for these types of characters to be commonplace.


  1. Taylor, B. (2016). The Ideological Train to Globalization: Bong Joon-ho’s The Host and Snowpiercer. Cineaction, pp. 44-49.
  2. Halliwell, K. (2017). Whitewashing of Asian roles is an ongoing Hollywood issue. [online] Indiana Daily Student. Available at: [Accessed 9 Oct. 2017].

My comments:



Hello! I'm Jess and I like pizza and marathoning TV shows.


  1. Great blog post this week Jess! Love to see how you reflect on yourself from the viewing experience of Snowpiercer. I also really enjoyed Snowpiercer but I definitely would never think it is produced by a Korean director and crew if I weren’t in this course. You’ve raised some very interesting themes that concern me as well. I also wonder if the lead character of Curtis is taken on by an actor of Asian origin, would the effect still be the same? I mean I adore Chris Evans (and he defo looks so good in Snowpiercer), but if it’s just for the purpose of appealing to Western audience, the rest Caucasian cast should be enough!
    I won’t pose you any questions in this blog as I know you are questioning yourself ! 🙂 Again, great blog post and let’s hope for a future of Asian cinema where Asian kids like us can be proud of the hero that looks like ourselves (let’s leave the “white” hero like Captain America for Hollywood!).
    Great effort throughout the semester as well! Good luck, Jess!


    • Hey Duong!
      The representation of race in Snowpiercer was definitely really interesting especially in regards to the transnational nature of the film’s production and distribution. I do think the star power of Chris Evans was explicitly used to pull the attention of the mass Western market, especially as he had just become a household name by the time of this film’s release. I look forward to a day when issues like these are much less of an issue, and where Asian Americans can be considered marketable headlining leads that are able of carrying blockbuster box office numbers!

      Thanks for your response as always, and for your interesting reads throughout the semester as well! 🙂

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