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The director behind cult flick Oldboy, Park Chan-wook, makes his Hollywood debut with Aussie-starring mystery-thriller Stoker

Park Chan-Wook is the man behind the Vengeance trilogy, characterised by its vicious violence and, shall we say, unhappy characters – anyone who’s seen Oldboy (and the scene in which the lead actor eats a live squid in particular) can vouch for its myriad desperate souls. 

So when meeting the man in question to chat about his new movie, Stoker, a sinister Hitchcockian family mystery that features a roster of Aussie talent including Nicole Kidman and Mia Wasikowska, TNT is expecting to be intimidated.

For him to be physically imposing maybe, or have a veiled threat lurking behind his eyes, perhaps …  but how wrong could we be?

Very, it turns out, as director Park is a warm, gregarious and thoroughly charming bloke, who speaks conscientiously about his new movie, and with a passion derived from being an all-out film fanatic.

Stoker, Park’s ninth film, is his first foray into Hollywood, and his first English language flick to boot. So why choose to make the move Statewards now, and why with this movie? 

“My first impression was how quiet the script was and how it was not dialogue based – that was an advantage as my first English language film,” Park says of the screenplay written by Prison Break’s Wentworth Miller, but shopped to agents under a pseudonym.

“But also how quietly frightening it was. To be quiet and frightening is rare to come across.”

Stoker tells of the titular family, comprising recently widowed mother Evie (Kidman), who’s dousing her grief in wine, and her estranged daughter India (Wasikowska).

Their lives are thrown into disarray by the arrival of the mysterious Uncle Charlie (a deliciously creepy Matthew Goode), brother to the six-foot-under family head.

Moving into the remote family homestead, Charlie’s relationships with both Evie and India develop in ways they shouldn’t, and with unexpected results.

Violence bubbles to the fore while India’s sexuality blossoms with her 18th birthday imminent.

Life, for the Stokers, won’t be quite the same again. It’s a story that delves into murder, incest, rape and more as it unfolds so, for those familiar with Park’s work, it is easy to see why the script appealed. 

Park began making movies in the early Nineties but it wasn’t until 2000’s JSA: Joint Security Area that he hit paydirt, critically and commercially.

Inspired by a love of film – he’s worked variously as an art and film critic in his native South Korea – and of Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo especially, he embarked on his Vengeance trilogy – 2002’s Sympathy For Mr Vengeance and 2005’s Lady Vengeance, as well as the 2003 Cannes Film Festival Grand Prix-winning global smash Oldboy, in which a man is released back into the world after 20 years of unexplained solitary captivity and sets about finding out who was responsible for his incarceration and why. 

Oldboy, highly trumpeted by Quentin Tarantino among others, shares many similar thematic elements with Stoker – revenge, shady family relationships and especially Park’s stylised approach that sees him utilise visual motifs and sound as storytelling devices – and it was these that Park had set about working into the script once he signed on. 

“I wanted the script to be one I could direct and make into my own,” he says, considering his words and responses with precision.

“This process of tailoring the script was an imperative one and, because it’s an American film, I made sure there was nothing wrong with what I had written.

"I would write in Korean and then translate back into English and would then make sure with everyone – the cast, my wife – that due to the differences in language and custom nothing was inappropriate.”

 


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