By Charlie Schmidlin | The Playlist February 27, 2013 at 12:00PM
2013 stands to potentially bring three South Korean filmmakers' names into the mainstream American fold; a move notable not just because of the three auteurs' common land, but also for placing their distinctive visions in an entirely new realm. With Kim Ji-Woon already delivering his Arnie action throwback, “The Last Stand,” and Bong Joon-Ho's “Snowpiercer” dropping later this year, the strange middle child is up next, in the twisted, baroque form of Park Chan-Wook's “Stoker.”
Carrying over the intensity from “Oldboy” and his other revenge trilogy entries (“Sympathy For Mr. Vengeance,” “Sympathy For Lady Vengeance"), Park has also gathered a stellar cast for his English-language debut: Mia Wasikowska, Nicole Kidman, and Matthew Goode, delivering unusual turns to the tune of Hitchcock's “Shadow of a Doubt.” They make up the truly twisted family at the center of the film -- steeped in Park's themes of murder and gallows humor -- with an American landscape and Gothic approach, and as Park and the cast recently attested during the film's Los Angeles press conference, those aspects have created both new and familiar elements in Park's filmography.
Park's filmic output is rare enough that when a project finds his name attached, actors take notice, and uniformly the cast of "Stoker" was no different. In particular, Kidman held a strong affection for the director, and thought he'd be a great fit for the sparse, haunting story. “[The] real strength of director Park is his atmosphere, and this script relies heavily on the language of the images," she said. "His use of color and sound and everything, it's very specific and not by chance. And that's something that really fills in a lot in a script like this."
That script comes courtesy of "Prison Break" star Wentworth Miller, but in fact, the pseudonym of Ted Foulkes was the one garnering all the attention. Under the perceptive belief that Hollywood might scoff at his first screenwriting attempt, he became Foulkes and promptly landed on The Black List of unproduced screenplays. He may have been right all along.
Identity issues were never an issue for Park or the cast, as Wasikowska acknowledged. “A good script is just a good script. I thought it was amazing the first time I read it and was instantly drawn into this world and these really complex characters.”
Kidman added, “I had to read it a couple of times just to understand it, just because it's got a lot of subtext and layers and just wanted to absorb what the overall feeling of it was.”
In the film, India Stoker (Wasikowska) and her mother Evie (Kidman) are mourning the loss of their father and husband, Richard (Dermot Mulroney). Coming from wealth, their expansive mansion grounds suddenly grow much lonelier with his auto accident death, but that all changes with the arrival of Uncle Charlie (Goode).
"Park said this is a movie about bad blood," Kidman described, and in Charlie's slow ensnarement of India's emotions and dangerous impulses, Goode inhabits that theme wholesale, a process he found “so psychologically interesting” in Park's “confusing, brilliant and wonderful” take on him.
While the decision for the cast to jump into Park's world was near instantaneous, the unknown variable of communication still loomed large. Park retains a decent grasp on English, but his precise cinematic vision might've found trouble with an American cast and crew.
However, Park was absolutely prepared, starting from the first moments of pre-production with a detailed “story-bible” that laid out every shot, camera move, and instance of visual symmetry. As for the cast, which includes Jacki Weaver, Alden Ehrenreich, and Lucas Till, Park says, “They are professionals who deal exclusively with people's emotions and their thoughts. Working with this smart cast, sometimes I would only have to start speaking a word, and they would immediately catch on to what I wanted to portray. So it was not much of an issue.”
Kidman explained her side, saying, “There are times when you have to clarify words, obviously because different words mean certain things, so a lot of times it would just be me going, 'Is this exactly what he wants?' because in translation things can get lost. So I was just very specific with him.”
Having already learned Spanish for the 2003 film “South of Grenada,” Goode was well-suited to the intuitive levels of communication, a process he found “as hard as you're gonna get, but boy, do you listen.” He added, “We just want it to make sense. [The characters] are all detached, so much so that we don't really know where it's set or what time period it is. Charlie's very good on his own; he's like a chrysalis; a fucked up Peter Pan in the middle of Mia's coming of age story.”