Park Chan-wook, director of Oldboy, Thirst and Lady Vengeance, discusses making Stoker, his first full-length film in English, and the appeal of the script…
South Korean filmmaker Park is best known for his films Joint Security Area, Thirst and ‘The Vengeance Trilogy’, consisting of Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance (2002), Oldboy (2003) and Lady Vengeance (2005). STOKER, a coming-of-age drama starring Mia Wasikowska, Nicole Kidman and Matthew Goode, is his first full film in English language…
Had you been looking to direct a film in the English language for some time or did the script for STOKER just appeal so much?
Ever since Old Boy, scripts started coming to me, English language scripts, and when it came the time when I made and released Thirst, which was partly financed by American studios, it was taking me one step closer to doing an American film, I felt. Things happened in stages I feel. It was really a combination of both — that I have been thinking about making a film in America for some time as well as having the right script to come across.
Even as a young man did you harbour an ambition to make films outside your homeland?
It was very difficult at times for me to even imagine that I would really become a film director. Thinking I would make a film in America, I couldn’t even fathom it. Looking back, it all probably started when I read some American friends a novel, which I wanted to adapt into a film and in the process of thinking about that project I thought the very story of the book, particularly if I were to adapt it, was very American. It had to be set against the backdrop of America. And that is the first time I started thinking about this concept of making films in America.
Were you surprised when you found out that a popular actor, Wentworth Miller [star of Prison Break], rather than an experienced screenwriter, had produced the STOKER screenplay?
Well, when I found out that the scriptwriter was him, I was probably as surprised as anyone else who had found out who the scriptwriter was, because he wrote under a pseudonym. But to think that a young man, no less than a popular actor, has written such a script, is probably the last thing you would guess. I would have probably been less surprised if I had been told that it was a female actor who had written it. I still consider that he is an amazing, talented person and I think myself lucky that I got to direct this script.
What were the first visual metaphors that struck you when you were reading the script?
I have to say the saddle shoes, which India loves to wear and her mother abhors. It is a very fitting little item to speak to India’s somehow old-fashioned and closed-off personality. But before all that I, at first wondered what a pair of saddle shoes looked like because in Korea we are not used to seeing these shoes. It was never part of our popular culture so I started by looking for images of these shoes online to see what they looked like exactly. After that I began to think: What if it was a birthday gift for India every year, from a mysterious figure? And on her eighteenth birthday she gets a box but it is empty. Instead of a pair of shoes there was a key, which leads to the high heels? This all adds to the saddle shoes becoming in the end one of the most important visual metaphors. As you see in the film this pair or set of shoes that she receives on her birthday every year, it follows her across the years, from a baby size set of shoes to grown up pairs of shoes and she lies on her bed surrounded by them all. It is a very clear visual metaphor to say this is a coming of age story and having gone through these trains of thought it became clear to me that the reason I had conjured up this visual metaphor is because this is very much her coming of age story. It’s that, that helps categorize the film as such. In Korea between people who love each other, they never give shoes as gifts because there is an urban myth or a jinx that when you give a pair of shoes to someone you admire, they will wear the shoes and run away. The American writer, Wentworth Miller, could never have known this, so as a Korean director it is something of an element that I added to the script — the idea that she got saddle shoes every year and she never knew who was sending them but finds out it was Uncle Charlie and that this year instead of saddle shoes, she gets high heels, which is also a metaphor and wearing those shoes, she leaves, she runs away. So this is a very Korean train of thought and idea.
How did you play up the dynamic of hunter and hunted when shooting the movie? At different times, different characters seemed in control…
This is an important element and one of the most important elements I brought to the script. And it informs every aspect of the film. Of course, Uncle Charlie’s love for the car, the jaguar, is also part of that. It is such an important motif and when I met Mia for the first time my gift to her was a sculpture of a jaguar. It is all to do with how the father taught his child to hunt because he is worried that she would end up in a similar situation that befell Uncle Charlie, because her father fears the bad blood. And in order to find a healthy outlet, which can vent any potential violent urges, that is why he taught her to hunt in the first place. Also, Uncle Charlie believes that the blood running through his and her veins is exactly the same, he believes this idea and he almost forces the idea on his niece which leads us to that scene in the forest where she is attacked and how Uncle Charlie arrives at the scene and ties the boy up and just pats the prey saying to the young predator, ‘All yours’. You can compare that to any natural predators like lions, how they would attack their prey and render them immobile and have their baby lion or tiger come in to do the killing blow — to teach this whole hunting process.
Is there anything specific that you plan for the Blu-Ray & DVD release?
Now that you mention it, the documentary will of course be there. And all the trailers I would love to be there, especially the DJ Shadow trailer. This is my favourite trailer of all time, of all my films. Also, some deleted scenes could make their way back into the DVD. I can’t think of the scenes specifically now but one scene comes to mind is when Aunty Gin [Jacki Weaver] arrives. She is putting the flowers in the vase. That is when Uncle Charlie appears. She never knew about him being there and she drops the vase and it shatters on the floor of the kitchen. That scene will make it, perhaps. Another idea that comes to mind is that Emily Wells [who contributed to the STOKER soundtrack] is coming to Korea and she is going to be performing Becomes the Colour, which is the song for the film when the red carpet entries are being made by the guests and so I would love that live performance to be captured and to make it on to the DVD.
Stoker debuts on Digital HD™ on 24 June and on Blu-Ray and DVD on 1 July from Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment.
Syndicated interview courtesy of Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment and Premier Comms, but I’m really looking forward to the opportunity to ask Park Chan-wook one question again in person! Someday…