Park Chan-Wook: Coming to America

By Wang Dexian from SeoulMovies - 01 March 2013 10:32 AM | Updated 05 March 2013

Park Chan-Wook: Coming to America

Park Chan Wook, the Korean director behind Asian classics like ‘Joint Security Area’ and the ‘Vengeance Trilogy’; ‘Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance’, ‘Oldboy’ and ‘Sympathy for Lady Vegeance’, is certainly one of the most respected names in international cinema.

Known for his immaculate framing and the brutal violence that goes on in his movies, he can count on Quentin Tarantino being an ardent fan of his work. And despite the often brutal subjects of his films, attention on his work has been rising fast in Hollywood.

Park Chan-Wook and Mia Wasikowska at the 'Stoker' premiere in Seoul

For Director Park, as he was fondly known to the cast and crew of ‘Stoker’, finally working in America is undoubtedly a big deal and I had the chance to sit down with him and figure out what makes the former Philosophy majortick.

On the surface, the family thriller doesn't seem to be the type of film that he would usually do. He had been offered the chance to direct other movies in Hollywood prior to this, so why now?

Many a time, he would answer with his head up, tilted towards the sky, his brow furrowed... clearly in deep thought over how to handle this over-exuberant film reviewer. Here's our interesting exchange, where some things got lost in translation. Quite literally, due to the translator.

There have been several projects from Hollywood that were offered to you prior to ‘Stoker’ like ‘The Evil Dead’ remake and ‘Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy’. What really drew you to be compelled to take on this project as compared to the ones that were offered before?

First and foremost, the one thing that sparked my interest was the fact that the protagonist, India, is exactly the same age as my own daughter. And both India and my daughter are only childs, they have no siblings.

Were you reluctant about working in Hollywood, knowing that the executives tend to exert control over the creative process which could have caused some interference?

When it comes to Fox Searchlight, they're a very auteur driven studio. And if you look at the films they have made, you will know what this means. It's not just one or two films, they have been doing it for quite a long time and it's a tradition for them to respect the filmmaker that they're working with. So, it was quite an easy decision for me.

‘Stoker’ trailer

What were the qualities of the cast members (Mia Wasikowska, Matthew Goode and Nicole Kidman) respectively, that won them their parts?

For the role of Uncle Charlie, I needed an actor who seems to be the last person you would think of when it comes to being evil. I really wanted to have someone who has that quality and Matthew has very gentlemanly and beautiful features as well as attitude. Also, underneath that, he needed to have a childlike innocence and really, I thought these qualities of Matthew would help to turn this casting to be a little bit of a surprise.

And with Nicole, when you look at the character of Evie... she makes her entrance in the film as this very icy cool character, a very strong and oppressive character. But it's revealed how vulnerable and fragile she actually is inside. And to be able to portray this “twisting” of the character if you like and to be able to do so effectively, I needed an actor like Nicole who has a very strong charisma about her. yet she's able to portray the sensibility of this woman being shattered.

‘Stoker’ Characters featurette

Mia's character also has that duality about her. With the character, if you were a parent you would know – she needs to have this sensitive side to her, which is quite ordinary when you're talking about teenage girls but yet she has that closed off quality about her and she has that mystery about her.

What were some of the problems working on a set like that, such as needing a translator?

The issue wasn't as bad or serious as I would have imagined, I was able to overcome this working method, very quickly. Once I started working with my actors; like talking and communicating to them, especially when we were having conversations – we sometimes forgot that there was even a translator. So, the process was really a lot smoother than I expected.

Now that you've worked in both America and Korea, tell us what you appreciate about working on both sides of the fence.

With making films in Korea, the cast and the crew tend to be people I have been working with for a long time. There's convenience to be found by working with the same people over and over again in that you don't have to say much to each other. Immediately, you know what each other wants, sometimes just by looking at each other even.

In America, it meant that I had to find a new group of people to work with and it would take that much more time to build the relationships that I enjoy in Korea. And as my “family” or group of people that I work with in America grows and grows, I imagine that the process and notion of making films on the other side of the fence will be largely the same.

Park Chan-Wook on set

I remember you commenting about the planned remake of ‘Oldboy’ with Steven Spielberg and Will Smith and you commented that it was interesting because it was such an “odd” choice. Now that it's in the hands of Spike Lee and Josh Brolin, as purely a spectator, what are your expectations of it?

I wasn't saying that it was an “odd” choice but it's an interesting choice and there's a difference. And again, with Spike Lee and Josh Brolin, it's a very interesting choice in a very positive sense. When you think about Spike Lee, he's not the kind of director you would immediately think of for a film like this because he hasn't been making films that were conventionally categorised as thrillers. And Josh Brolin of course is phenomenally talented and very adept at playing the “real man” type of characters and the casting on this film is just amazing. I've liked Elizabeth Olsen’s work very much and it's a very apt choice for that role. With Sharlto Copley, I've only seen one film but I really liked his work in that film.

But yeah, this combination of talent: the director and the cast, it's not an easy “throw in” kind of mixture that perhaps someone who is only interested in making money would just go “I'll choose this and I'll choose that...”. They're very considered and carefully selected elements in this combination.

Stoker’ opens nationwide in theaters on 7 March 2013