If there is one movie that has caused unending debate around The Playlist water-cooler, it’s Park Chan-wook‘s English-language debut “Stoker.” First screened at Sundance and making its slow creep across the country now, it’s a twisty, unerringly perverse riff on Alfred Hitchcock‘s “Shadow of a Doubt,” wherein a mysterious Uncle Charlie (Matthew Goode) comes to visit his long lost family following his brother’s equally mysterious demise. Mia Wasikowska plays the young daughter of the deceased, and an admirably batty Nicole Kidman is the new widow. We got to sit down with director Park and discuss what made “Stoker” so appealing as his first English language movie, how he decided on the composers for the film, and where the film fits in with his filmography.
Those who have already seen “Stoker” know that it is baroquely stylized, a main point of contention for those who form the “con” side of the “Stoker” debate, the aesthetic in keeping with Park’s previous films, the so-called “Vengeance Trilogy” (“Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance,” “Oldboy,” and “Lady Vengeance“) and his vampire epic “Thirst.” Even if you dislike it, you can’t keep yourself from talking about it. (This writer is very much in the pro camp.) In person, it’s nice that Park owns the visual opulence and obvious influences of the film, while maintaining that it is still very much a part of his already established filmography. Oh, and he loves Philip Glass.
What made you want “Stoker” to be your first English language project?
I liked the fact that the script wasn’t very reliant upon dialogue. It wasn’t a dialogue-oriented film. I liked how it had a lot of room to bring visual elements and sound elements out. This is very much how I like to make films in Korea. Those films allow for a lot of things to be brought in to really enrich the film’s world.
Speaking of sound – how did you decide on the composer for this?
Well, first came Philip Glass, which I had to because I wanted him to write the piano piece during the piano duet. I love Philip Glass’ work, not only as a film composer but also as a musician. The film score work that he does always amazes and shocks me. One of the great things about making an American film is getting to work with people like Glass, someone I have admired for a long time. It was a dream come true. That’s how the piano music came to be.
As for the score, I was really familiar with Clint Mansell‘s work from back in the days of “Pi.” I really loved Clint’s work on “The Fountain.” I was very happy to work with Clint.
What’s interesting too is that Emily Wells, who does the song at the end of the film, she was somebody who I wasn’t familiar with but when I wanted a song to come at the end of the film and speak to what happens to India, my sound editor came up with this great suggestion. He said, “You should go and listen to this brilliant singer/songwriter perform.” So I went to a club in Silverlake where she performed and was immediately attracted to the work she doing and she started to work on the song from scratch. I was amazed by how receptive she was to what the film is about and she was able to absorb everything about the film and express it in a musical way. It amazed me.
Let’s talk film influences.
Well, let us speak to the influence of Hitchcock, which was already found in Wentworth Miller‘s script. The most obvious one that inspired the script was “Shadow of a Doubt.” And I didn’t ever intend to draw any more from Hitchcock than was already in there. In fact, I wondered if I should take out some of those Hitchcockian elements in the script. But then I thought better of it, because if I took that stuff out, given the characters and structure of the film, it was hard to get rid of the shadow of “Shadow of a Doubt.” Instead, I chose to accept those Hitchcockian influences and decided to make that one of the layers of this film, one of the interpretations of this film it would lend itself to.
What was the main difference between making a movie here and making it in Korea?
The main difference I noticed was, was how short the pre-production and production was in the United States, whereas the post was much longer in Korea. If you would ask me what my ideal process is, I would say, long pre-production, long production and long post-production.
How did you assemble these actors?
Well, when it comes to our two female actors – they were the kind of actors I’d always wanted to work with. I had been familiar with Mia since she had done that short film in Australia ages ago, and I had always been looking to do a project with her. With Nicole, it’s Nicole – what more do you need? If there was some script and the only role was a midget on Mars, I’d still send it to Nicole. That’s how much I wanted to work with Nicole. Matthew is the only one that took a long time to get to. It was something of a discovery. I was looking for the perfect person to play Uncle Charlie and then I happened upon Matthew, which is why I’m particularly proud of Matthew’s work in “Stoker.”
Where does “Stoker” fit in with your filmography?
It may feel like it’s stylistically different but to me it’s very much a continuation of what I was doing with “I’m a Cyborg, But That’s OK.” One day I plan on doing another film about the coming-of-age of a young girl and complete the trilogy.
“Stoker” is out now and is expanding nationwide.