As deliciously evil and thrilling as it is visually-rich and haunting, Park Chan-wook’s fantastical gothic thriller Stoker plays out like an erotic waltz with sinister intentions. As his first English-language film, the acclaimed Korean director has crafted a quiet kind of suspense that shows the graceful unraveling of an isolated American family.
Stoker tells the tale of a highly intelligent girl, India (played by Mia Wasikowska), after her father dies in an auto accident on her 18th birthday. Following his death, her mysterious yet absolutely charming Uncle Charlie (Matthew Goode) comes to stay with her and her unstable mother (Nicole Kidman). India’s questions arise as to the nature of Charlie’s appearance in their lives and although sensing his dark ulterior motives, she becomes infatuated with him, inexplicably drawn to this dark figure who has crept his way into her world.
It’s a story about he inherent nature of evil, as well as the sexual awakening of a young girl when first tempted by the desirable. India’s coming-of-age is the undercurrent for this bone-chilling and stunning feature from Chan-wook and writer-actor Wentworth Miller. Staying true to Park’s strong affinity for character-driven tales and his arresting visual style, Stoker is also enhanced by its biting and beautiful soundtrack from Clint Mansell that acts as its own character in the film.
Yesterday, I got the chance to sit down with Director Park (with the help of his gracious translator) to talk about his attraction to the script, telling a coming of age tale, and gorgeous physicality of his characters.
Director Park, how you first became connected to the film and what drew you to it?
The make-up of this family that is comprised of mother, father, and the only daughter is exactly the same condition as my own family, and that was something that sparked my interest at first. And I liked the quietness of it all, it wasn’t a script where all the characters get all too excited and jump around everywhere; I loved how it was all composed and very quiet.
And did you work with Wentworth on the script to change things and further develop them?
No, there was one big long meeting where a lot of discussion was taking place and it was an opportunity where I could listen to his intentions behind everything that we found on the page and allowed me to retain all the good things about the script without taking away the integrity of the script. I was able to expand those ideas and develop those ideas and delve deeper.
There are so many different layers and genres composed together in the film, but I was drawn very much to India’s sexual awakening throughout the film. Is that something you really wanted to explore, a young girl’s coming of age?
Yes, absolutely. The fact that Stoker is a coming of age story about a young girl, it’s actually an extrapolation or a continuation of the themes I explored in I’m a Cyborg But That’s OK. Also, the fact that I have a daughter that’s exactly the same age as the protagonist, and as a father, that has to be a subject matter that sparked my interest in the first place. And because of this, I actually focused more on this aspect of coming of age and expanded it from what he had found originally in the script. But rather than to say that I was interested in sexual awakening itself, in this film India’s sexual awakening is very much linked to her violent urges and what this has to do with, you know this cathartic feeling of allowing yourself to be drawn to something that’s evil? That’s acutely true of those young girls and boys who are going through their teenage years and he wanted to depict and describe the kind of chaotic state that you go through.
The visual style of the film was so wonderful and added so much to the story. How did you want to create their world through set design and colors and even the way the camera moved that echoed the psychology of the characters.
It’s not easy to explain but when people talk about all this Hitchcockian reference in this film, I am rather bewildered. Whatever influence or reference to Hitchcock Stoker has—the obvious one is Shadow of a Doubt—it was Wenthworth that was really being influenced by that. Although I knew the film had obvious influences from Shadow of a Doubt, the actual film is something I had seen such a long time ago, so exact details of it I have trouble remembering even and that goes the same for all of these other great works by Hitchcock. And if people will say this film feels like it has been influenced by Hitchcock, it’s probably something more fundamental I guess, in that everything you see and hear in a film, it needs to be intended, it needs to be planned, it needs to have significance and this attitude to filmmaking is something I learned from Hitchcock. And because of this, I would go and make a meticulous storyboard for every singe shot in the entire film in the order I would imagine the film to be cut later. So everything is pre-planned this way and how I would use color and how I would visualize this world to speak to the psychological state of each character, it’s part of the process.
Speaking to that meticulous style, there was a great physicality between everyone, it seemed very choreographed—the three of them doing this waltz around each other throughout the house. Was that something that was in the script or more of a directorial decision?
To a certain degree the script described such physicality or choreography, but as I am the one who is going to be directing this film in the end, I had to do my own pass of course. And while doing my own revision of the script to tailor it to become my film, it is something that I was thinking, what could I do with the script and how I could visualize it? And that’s all reflected into what you see now. And I really was thinking of the structure and the design of the house, the space where the dynamic between these three characters would take place. And it’s an interesting dynamic too, it seems to start one way, to be a certain dynamic between two characters and then it switches to being focused on another set of characters between this triangular relationship. So in order to express that, it naturally led to directorial decisions about the physicality or the choreography, which I had to think about even during the stage of revisions.
Image via Fox Searchlight