I have often said that Asian directors often do not reach that same pinnacle of greatness whenever they travel across the globe to try and make a name for themselves in Hollywood. John Woo made a small mark and very recently, Kim Ji-Woon tried his hand with “The Last Stand”. Not sure why these directors excelled when they create movies in their native land, but it seems like they never seem to get the right script and perhaps they are granted limited creative control when they come to work in the U.S.. This time, the acclaimed director of the “Vengeance Trilogy” (the most well-known film in this trilogy is the fantastic “”Oldboy”) and the vampire thriller “Thirst“, Park Chan-Wook tries his hand at an American film, and despite the same issues that have plagued most Asian directors, Park was able to bestow his own style in the telling of such a standard plot.
India Stoker (Mia Wasikowska, Jane Eyre) is a reserved teenager whose father, Richard (Dermot Mulroney) had just died in a car accident during her 18th birthday. This leaves her alone in a large estate with her mother, Evelyn (Nicole Kidman), and a housekeeper (Phyllis Somerville), something India does not seem to be exactly too fond of. On the day of her father’s memorial, an uncle named Charlie (Matthew Goode) that no one really knew Richard Stoker had resurfaces, claiming that he had been traveling around the globe and that he had come home to aid his sister-in-law and his niece get their lives back together. Charlie is a well-mannered, soft-spoken and charismatic young man, that he exudes kindness that it almost seems like he is just too good to be true. He has formed a special interest on India, and no one exactly knows where he has been and what his motives are. Mother and daughter appears to have a sexual interest on Charlie, as he reminded Evelyn of her late husband; but for India it feels something much more. Psychologically and instinctively, they seem to have the same primal characteristics.
The plot of “Stoker” is pretty much what you would expect from a paranoid thriller about family secrets. It captures some Roman Polanski mixed in with some Hitchcock with stunning visuals that just screams of the style of Park’s past Korean movies. The screenplay by Wentworth Miller is linear and conventional, but most of the film’s individual scenes really isn’t. Park does his own signature style in the execution of its story, it plays on several metaphors and symbolisms that adds layers to its otherwise standard plot. It is like one is presented with a number of choices that would lead to the same revelation, and yet every piece is a mere part of a puzzle, the more one finds that it is a mere part of another puzzle. This makes the film feel a lot more compelling than the actions, as the simple scenes become much more immersive. Chan-Wook maneuvers around its very thick atmosphere that make his performers appear to be surrounded in a very heavy fashion.
The film is pretty sensual and sexual. Park uses color and consistency to speak for the film’s more sensual scenes to connect to the pleasure centers of the brain. There is something that feels old-school while at the same time retro in the way the set pieces were designed. But the grislier scenes in the film takes the central focus in the screenplay. Park shoots the scenes with an almost voyeuristic view and the use of earth colors blended with shadows, to undermine the colors of its more sensual sequences. It is a film that feels Lynchian, what takes place is the kind of evil that usually stays hidden behind its walls.
The performances were pretty solid and strong. Wasikowska was a great fit to play the role of India, who is a young woman just starting to realize who or what she truly is. She plays her role with a very natural tone, and while she was bizarre and hard to figure out in the beginning, it aids the film’s enigmatic style. Kidman is her usual self and feels very familiar with the role she play. Seductive, yet restrained, a little more of the simulated kind of personality, Kidman presents confusion and lust; something that embodied the mind being dominated by her body. Matthew Goode exhibits that kindly, charismatic enigma that often hides something much more sinister. I could almost see Goode channeling Anthony Perkins in “Psycho”.
“Stoker” is a very interesting watch; even when some tantalizing scenes lead up to almost nothing. It may be the weakest film of Park Chan-Wook when you compare it to his previous (Korean) films. Bizarre, yet it had that strong visceral punch, “Stoker” had a perfect ending to an otherwise conventional plot core. It provokes the correct reaction from whomever is watching the film, that it dazzles with the execution of its storytelling through its unique technique. I would say that it is the kind of film that feels distinctive, with all elements adding up to the whole picture. Park puts in a lot of effort to make the film compelling and interesting. Heavy it may be, but it sure made the film have more layers than if it was handled by a different director. “Stoker” is a film pushed to the very peak of what it was supposed to be, despite the simplicities of its core, it becomes much more rewarding than it should be.