Allyson Paton admitted that Park Chan-wook was one of her favourite directors, during her very accomplished maiden introduction as host at this weeks Robert Burns Centre Film Theatre Film Club which was showing the South Korean directors latest film Stoker (2013).
Born in 1963, Park, known for his violent, dark psychological thrillers, is one of the most significant talents to emerge from South Korea’s new wave cinema. He studied philosophy at Sogang University, where he founded a film club and developed a strong interest in film theory and criticism. Working first as an assistant director and then in 1992 he went on to make his feature film debut The Moon is the Sun’s Dream. The film that brought him to world prominence was Joint Security Area (2000) a drama focusing on a murder in the demilitarized zone highlighting the volatile political relationship between North and South Korea following this he went on to make what has become known as his vengeance trilogy. Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance (2002) was followed by Old Boy (2003) which tells the tale of a man who has been incarcerated in a room for fifteen years, and who on his release attempts to determine the identity of his captor and why he has been imprisoned. The third part of the trilogy is Sympathy for Lady Vengeance (2005) the film opens with our heroine serving a 13-year prison sentence for the abduction and murder of a child. After her release she plan’s to carry out vengeance against the man who was really responsible for the murder. Other films of note have been I’m a Cyborg, but that’s OK (2006) an offbeat screwball comedy described as a madcap fantasy, made so that his young daughter was able to see one of his films. This was followed in 2009 by Thirst, in which a priest becomes a vampire!
Allyson then went on to tell us that tonight’s film was the first time Park had made an English-speaking movie and it’s also the first writing credit from Prison Break star Wentworth Miller. Sadly it was the last film co-produced by Tony Scott who died shortly after production. This British-American psychological thriller stars Mia Wasikowska as eighteen-year-old India whose father dies in a car accident. Matthew Goode is her father’s brother Uncle Charlie, a mysteriously charming man whom India never knew existed, who comes to live with her and her emotionally unstable mother. Nicole Kidman plays the mother who finds Uncle Charlie irresistible. Our host also told us that the film was not a reference to Bram Stoker and that we would find little or no product placement in the movie that she said was deliberate to make the film seem in a world of its own.
The group discussion that followed the screening agreed that the film was very effective with its gradual build up and a narrative that was always threatening to break out into violence action, which is a trademark of Park’s work. This is a wonderfully dark and disturbing movie with its underlying gothic theme but set in modern day, and along with Chung Chung-hoon’s sumptuous cinematography, which included a superb visual pun involving Kidman’s hair and a field of long grass, makes it a movie well worth seeing again.