Park Chan-wook explains ‘Stoker’

The 2013 thriller “Stoker”combines the powerful imagery of Korean director Park Chan-wook with a Southern Gothic tale of murder.

After her father dies India Stoker (Mia Wasikowska) becomes even more taciturn and gloomy much to the dismay of her mother (Nicole Kidman). The arrival of her Uncle Charlie (Matthew Goode) opens previously repressed feelings and desires in the entire family.

Charlie certainly has a secret but he may not even be the most twisted character we encounter. Dermot Mulroney, Jacki Weaver, Alden Ehrenreich, and Harmony Korine co-star. “Stoker” was shot on location in Nashville and represents Park’s first film made in English.

Fans of Park’s groundbreaking films like “Sympathy For Mr. Vengeance” or “Oldboy” will not be disappointed. Park’s penchant for crawling insects, for exploring the space where his characters live and his sense of composition are apparent throughout “Stoker.”

One particularly beautiful transition occurs during a scene of India combing her hair. The camera slowly moves down her long locks as the film expertly dissolves into a flowing field with windblown grass.

Park spoke in an exclusive interview via telephone and explained his philosophy of “setting a story in a small world while capturing the essence of bigger universality.” The conversation was translated by a gentleman named Won-Jo who took my questions and translated them to Park and then repeated his reply back in English.

“I’m drawn to confined spaces. Some directors don’t like claustrophobia, but not me,” says Park. “Stoker” was shot on film with Park teaming up with cinematographer Chung Chung-hoon, who also shot “Oldboy.”

“I’m interested in the technology of filmmaking,” states Park who in 2011 directed a short movie with his brother using an iPhone. “I don’t see myself as an innovator like Cameron or Zemeckis, and I’m not a purist but each film has a best medium. I was the first director in Korea to shoot a film in HD and the first director in Korea to use the digital intermediate process in filmmaking,” adds Park.

Some reviews of “Stoker” have commented on the story’s similarity to classic Hitchcock, and in fact the original script was an updated version of Hitch’s 1943 “Shadow of a Doubt.”

“I don’t like comparisons per se but that cannot be helped,” explains Park. “There are elements in the script that are inherent to that type of suspense even though I deleted some of the more obvious parts of the script. There are so many films that have been made so to make a film unlike anything before isn’t easy.”

I ask Park how he shot the hallway fight sequence in “Oldboy,” one of the best-choreographed screen fights in cinema. Oldboy’s star Choi Min-sik takes on over a dozen thugs in a narrow hallway only armed with a hammer, and the entire sequence is shot in one take.

“The scene is about the essence of a protagonist’s journey all alone,” notes Park. “Originally it was storyboarded with many cuts and shots. During the rehearsal we went through the entire staging and I noticed how tired Choi was afterwards. It became a metaphor for his character’s exhaustion.” Earlier I had inquired how many takes the hallway scene was shot and Park says he needs to text his cinematographer. A few minutes later he gets a reply text. “We shot 18 takes.”

Park will appear at the upcoming Fantastic Fest next month in Austin with his latest film “Decision to Leave.”

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