Park Chan Wook’s films have always been characterised by a brutal yet delicate narrative style woven throughout. Coupled with his meticulous and precise cinematography, these elements have established the South Korean auteur as one of the finest directors of the present day. His films such as The Vengeance Trilogy, I’m a Cyborg But That’s OK and more recently, Thirst (2009) have all sustained these elements. There was a very serious danger that his transition to Hollywood with Stoker would be subdued by the West, irrevocably diminishing the impact of his work. Thankfully this hasn’t happened – in fact Stoker is probably his finest film since Lady Vengeance (2005).
Mia Wasikowska (Alice in Wonderland) is brilliantly cast as the fragile and equally tumultuous India. Her elfin features are put to excellent use in her portrayal as the lost teenager, grappling with coming of age. After the death of her father (Dermot Mulroney), India’s hitherto unknown uncle, Charlie (Matthew Goode) arrives at the funeral. Handsome, charismatic and intriguing, he naturally becomes the object of India’s mother’s affections (played with remarkable delicacy and cunning by Nicole Kidman). What’s left is a makeshift family of different personalities. As in his other films there is an element of classical storytelling, although this being Park Chan Wook, we’re never quite sure what to expect.
Essentially gothic in tone, the violence in Stoker isn’t quite as prevalent as it is in the director’s more recognised pieces; however, we are more aligned with the film’s emotional intensity, which is suitably cruel and unsettling, and consequently the violence that does occur is more surprising. Though it will inevitably be compared with Wook’s other work (particularly given it’s his first film in the West), Stoker is a creation unlike anything else he’s made previously, filled with surprising tenderness and skilful storytelling.
Chung Hoon Chung’s cinematography is undeniably hypnotic. The use of imagery is exquisite and, combined with Clint Mansell’s excellent soundtrack, perfectly captures India’s sense of detached fascination and invites the audience into a world shrouded in fantasy and wonder.
There’s no risk of a frosty reception for Park Chan Wook outside his native South Korea. Breath-taking, mesmerising and overflowing with enough psychosexuality to snap at Blue Velvet’s heels, Stoker is an assault on the senses and stands shoulder to shoulder with the director’s finest work – an excellent addition to Wook’s impressive canon.
Stoker is currently showing in cinemas nationwide.
Watch the trailer for Stoker here.