It wasn’t until recently that I saw the award-winning Korean film Oldboy for the first time. I’d heard of it briefly and how brilliant it supposedly is so when it came on Film4 I decided to see for myself.
It’s true the film is brilliant, as well as disturbing; images involving a live squid I will unfortunately never forget, and it’s quite confusing in parts. But the directing is what stood out for me the most. While it’s a one-of-a-kind story and the script is great it’s in the presentation that won me over. Director Chan-Wook Park has such a unique filming style that is as important in creating the atmosphere, tone, and enhancing the storytelling as the characters. He’s very stylised in his presentation, and imaginative. He’s a master craftsman creating art with the camera and that’s why he’s fast become one of my favourite directors.
Chan-Wook Parks most recent picture, and first time English language film is Stoker; written, to my surprise, by Prison Breaks Wentworth Miller. The film has its flaws, a lot of them, but again it’s Chan-Wook Parks directing which held my attention. It’s beautifully shot and does more in storytelling and creating an atmosphere than the characters and story itself. Oldboy, due to its disjointed narrative and partly because it’s a foreign film where in my opinion things are sometimes lost in the translation left me with a couple of questions, but none I couldn’t let go of or excuse. Stoker however just raised too many. There’s a supernatural element brought into it from the beginning, India (Mia Wasikowska) can apparently hear things no one else can, a gift shared with her creepy uncle but it’s never mentioned again after that, the same creepy uncle Charlie (Mathew Goode) practically stalks her and magically appears when she’s in trouble due to their ‘sonic hearing’ I guess. There’s an incestuous undertone which comes out of nowhere, and I want to say more because believe me there are lots but I’d be giving too much of the story away. It’s also an odd casting choice. Don’t get me wrong it works but I wouldn’t have imagined any of these parts to be played by Wasikowska, Goode, or Nicole Kidman who plays the cold, spiteful, and vain mother to India. My only explanation for it is Chan-Wook Park is a fairly unknown director to an English-speaking audience and unlikely to bring in the box-office Nicole Kidman can. But to her credit she gives the films best performance. The main problem is the film seems very two-dimensional. There’s no character development or motivation behind these characters and their actions so we’re expected to take huge leaps of faith and just go with it. I can stretch my belief only so far and India, Stokers central character does things, *SPOILER ALERT* becomes a cold-blooded killer, out of nowhere.
And I know I said I couldn’t say too much or I’d give half the story away but I can’t let it go. So if you don’t want to have major plot points revealed, or ‘holes’ as there better referred to in this case, then don’t read on after this next bit. …..
Stoker is worth a watch for Chan-Wook Park’s incredible directing if nothing else. And if you look past the two dimensionality of it and stretch your imagination really really far, filling in the gaps with whatever you fancy then it’s actually quite interesting and watchable. However it’s no match for Chan-Wook Park’s Oldboy, Lady Vengence, and Thirst. So if you want to see him deliver his best then watch one of those.
Further questions I have:
How does the creepy Uncle Charlie know of India’s sinister tendencies when he’s never met her and her father has refused him contact with her. India doesn’t even know her uncle exists.
What’s the deal with the little spider that keeps showing up?
Where did the mysterious giant balls come from in the garden?
Why is the hired help spying on the family for Charlie since India’s birth?
What’s the point of the shoes she gets each year?
How does the grandmother know what Charlie’s intentions for India are?
Why does Charlie decide to kill the grandmother only now?
Why does he even kill the hired help and hide her in the freezer when he buries everyone else in the garden?
How does India’s dad know she’s like her uncle?
Why is she even like her uncle and her dad isn’t?
What is the point of hinting at incest if you’re not going to bring it up again?
Why does India’s mother hook up with the creepy Uncle Charlie when she pretty much knows what terrible things he’s done?
I’m pretty sure I can find more but honestly I think I have enough to be getting on with trying to answer these.