‘Stoker’ director Park Chan-wook talks about coming to America

"Oldboy" director Park Chan-wook on the set of his latest film, "Stoker." Credit: Macall Polay
“Oldboy” director Park Chan-wook on the set of his latest film, “Stoker.”
Credit: Macall Polay

South Korean filmmaker Park Chan-wook has been a staple of foreign genre cinema since 2000’s border action film “Joint Security Area.” But he’s still best known for his “Vengeance Trilogy,” comprising “Sympathy For Mr. Vengeance,” “Sympathy for Lady Vengeance” and its centerpiece, “Oldboy,” famous for both its hallway hammer fight barnstormer and a scene where its lead slurps up a live octopus. Park makes a perhaps belated debut in America, but he does it his way: “Stoker,” starring Mia Wasikowska, Matthew Goode and Nicole Kidman, is a stylish Gothic thriller about family secrets, outre sexuality and serial killing.

What made you want to make a film in America?
It took me 10 years to make [my previous film] “Thirst,” from the very inception to finish. After that, I had done all the films I wanted to do. I felt I was in need of a turning point in my career. I was on the lookout for a good script, and this was just a case of good timing.

It seems like the script, though not by you, shares a lot with your previous work.
There are many ways to link this to my previous work — but when I first came across the script, I noticed the characters were different [from my previous films]. They don’t seem to have much in the way of ethical dilemmas, whereas the characters in my other films are wrought with dilemma. In “Stoker,” the characters don’t seem to have any sense of guilt. But actually it’s not that they don’t have any dilemmas or sense of guilt — they’re just better at hiding them.

What’s it like working in the U.S. versus South Korea?
The presence of the studio is stronger here. There’s a greater exchange of ideas and opinions. I found myself having to explain why I wanted certain things to be a certain way. The sheer volume of opinions is something I wasn’t used to. I found it to be quite arduous. But in the end, it proved very productive.

There’s very little violence in “Stoker.” Was that a response to your reputation as a maker of violent films — which aren’t, it should be noted, even that graphic?
It wasn’t a function of me pulling any punches. What sparked my interest in this script was that my daughter was the same age as the protagonist here. I wanted to make a film that girls the same age as India [the lead character] would come to see. Anything that came across as overly disgusting just wouldn’t do. I simply wanted to make an elegant and beautiful film [that] girls the same age as India would enjoy


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