Interview: Park Chan-Wook Talks STOKER

Ben Umstead, East Coast Editor
Park Chan-wook needs no introduction to any longtime Twitch reader or fan of 21st century Korean cinema. With Stoker, his first English-language film, it is very likely that his star will shine even brighter and higher for even more of the world to see. Our friend in NYC The Lady Miz Diva was fortunate enough to sit down for a 1:1 with Director Park wherein they discussed Westerns, Josh Brolin, oh, and yes, they got really deep into the story of Stoker, so I've gone ahead and added spoiler tags for those that don't want the movie ruined. So with that, Park Chan-wook! 

The Lady Miz Diva: STOKER is one of your most visually beautiful films.  Did having your longtime collaborator, cinematographer Chung Chung-hoon working with you help in any particular way on this first journey into English-language film?
 
Park Chan-wook:  The first thing I would like to say about this is for a very personal and emotional reason, in a situation where you can imagine I'd find myself very lonely; to have somebody I was very close to was a very reassuring thing.  Of course, there was Wonjo {Jeong}, but Wonjo was one of the co-producers, but being in the producer department means that he was one of the enemies.  Even though he was another familiar face, I had to rely on Chung-hoon.
 
{Both PC-w and Jeong Wonjo laugh}
 
PC-w: Anyhoo... And creatively speaking, to have somebody who I've been collaborating with for a long time, especially when I find myself on a film set where everything had to happen at a much faster pace, I had to have somebody who I was familiar with; we know each other very well.  If it wasn't for that fact, I wouldn't have been able to finish this film in the 40-day shoot that it was.
 
In your Korean films, you're known for pushing the envelope with regard to violence and sexuality.  STOKER felt more restrained. I wondered if this film had been made in Korea or with a Korean company, would it have been any different?
 
PC-w:  To tell you the short answer first, no, it would have been exactly the same.  Not only is it to do with the fact that at the center of it, the protagonist is a young girl.  To expand on that, to have the audience coming to see this film, young girls India's age; I didn't want to make a film where they would frown and be put off by the violence and other extreme expressions.  That's why I exercised restraint myself.  My ultimate goal was to create something that was aesthetically elegant and something that teenage girls India's age would find to be beautiful.
 
A lot of people who know your previous work may immediately think that STOKER is a revenge story.  I saw it as more of an origin story, almost like a superhero; a story of becoming.  In some ways it reminded me of Kafka's Metamorphoses.
 
PC-w:  You're absolutely right.  But also the film lends itself perfectly to other interpretations just as equally, too.  So all those viewpoints; I would have to say they're all right.
 
But how did you see it?
 
[BEGIN SPOILERS]

PC-w: To me, these interpretations are all equally important and precious.  If somebody wanted to see this film as a tale of vengeance; it's perfectly fine for them to see it as such.  Because when you see little Charlie, who murders his baby brother, Jonathan, he does it out of  - in a way - a vengeful act for taking all the affection of his older brother, Richard, away from himself.  So you could see that as a vengeful act.  Also, Uncle Charlie killing Richard, his older brother like that, you could interpret that as a vengeful act for incarcerating him in an institution for his entire life.  You could also see India's killing of Uncle Charlie as much as a revenge against her father's murder.  

I don't intend to do a sequel to this film, but it's also equally pertinent that you could see this as "India begins," as it were.  And this idea of metamorphosis is always at the core of all my filmmaking.  It's a very important influence.
 
It raises the question as to whether someone can be born evil.  Is that part of the study of STOKER?
 
PC-w:   Well, you could see this film from that perspective, it is true, but I would like to suggest the possibility of seeing it in a different light:  Because when you look at the character of India, if she hadn't met Uncle Charlie, do you think she could have become that evil if Uncle Charlie hadn't paid that visit?  Do you think she would've become a murderess?  It may be an entirely different question, but even though the DNA might've been very much a part of her, if she wasn't stimulated and that side of her wasn't developed by Uncle Charlie, she might've ended up just being an ordinary girl.

When I was writing the opening voiceover narration from India, the thing that was in the back of my mind was that this was India's excuse for doing what she is doing.  When she talks about "A person cannot determine their own identity," and she alludes to how a flower cannot choose its own colour, she is offering an excuse to all her violence and evil behaviour.


[END SPOILERS]
 
Can you tell us about your conversation with Josh Brolin regarding his starring in the OLDBOY remake?
 
PC-w:   What had actually happened is that Josh - such a sweet man, Josh Brolin - is the one who asked for my blessing.  He was saying, "Director Park, I am doing this film, Spike Lee's remake of Oldboy and I would like to ask for your blessing."  He was so sweet.  And I had never met Josh, but we had a really nice conversation on the phone years before this Oldboy remake and ever since, we had mutual respect for each other.  And I felt it was so kind of him to have asked for my blessing.  Because of that, I gave him my utmost, my best blessing.
 
What are you working on next? There's been word about a Western you're interested in?  Will it be a straight US Western or something closer to Kim Jee-woon's THE GOOD, THE BAD AND THE WEIRD?
 
PC-w:   I'm thinking of doing a Western in the US, or to put it more correctly, if I am to do a Western, I am thinking of doing it in the US.  It is something that I've heard before; it may not necessarily end up being my next film, but I would like to just say that it is ultimately something that I would like to do, make a Western in the US.  As far as something coming up next; it's not confirmed.  It's maybe or maybe not, so I'd rather not say.

------

Our utmost thanks to The Lady Miz Diva for her time, as well as to Jeong Wonjo for translating. This interview was originally published on Diva's website, The Diva Review. Stoker opens in limited release in North America today before expanding in the coming weeks.
 
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  • benu

    Glad you liked the interview and are excited for the film, but please note that the interview was conducted by our colorful friend in NYC, The Lady Miz Diva. I merely posted the piece as Diva does not regularly write for us. So credit where credit is due!

  • Michaelb

    Great interview, Ben!

    I cannot wait to see this movie and you're interview with Chan-Wook has me even more excited. I'm planning on seeing it at the Kendall Square Cinema in Cambridge, MA sometime this week.

    I'm not going to let the mixed reviews deter me and, hopefully, Stoker fairs better than Kim Ji-woon's The Last Stand.

    I'd be very curious to see a Park Chan-Wook western.

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