Well it seems as if my optimism over the release of Park Chan-Wook’s first American feature film Stoker was ill-founded, and that the Vengeance trilogy writer-director has fallen prey to the curse of Hollywood. He isn’t the first high-calibre Asian director to be courted by Hollywood only to produce sub-par material, and I’m sure he won’t be the last.
John Woo went from making elegaic, hyper-stylized action cinema, injected with a sense of Jean-Pierre Melville’s brooding existentialism to bland action star vehicles with all the charisma of a car advert (although I’ll put my hands up and admit to Hard Target being something of a guilty pleasure – if only for Van Damme’s exceptional mullet).
As for Wong Kar-Wai’s My Blueberry Nights, Hollywood appeared to strip his style of emotional resonance leaving only the cliches on screen, coming over as an attempt to “do” Wong Kar-Wai – perhaps the absence of regular cinematographer Christopher Doyle had something to do with it; or perhaps the freewheeling, energetic shooting style employed on films such as Chungking Express and Fallen Angels are what the Hollywood studio system cannot duplicate.
Park Chan-Wook’s Stoker tells the story of India Stoker (Mia Wasikowska), who, grieving after the death of her father (Dermot Mulroney) and struggling to get along with her estranged mother (Nicole Kidman) finds herself increasingly embroiled in the world of her mysterious uncle Charlie (Matthew Goode) who arrives after the funeral and unexpectedly moves into the house. Elaborating on the plot any further is irrelevant – if you’ve seen one sub-standard Hitchcockian psychological thriller then you’ll know exactly what to expect.
Watching Stoker and you can’t help but sense that the studio had in their hands a script which can be described as average at best and were desperate to inject an element of class into it – a quick call to Park Chan-Wook (and a no doubt a hefty cheque in the mail, too) and they got a director who could bring a degree of style to the material. True, the direction is assured and there is some impressive cinematography by Chan-Wook regular Chung-hoon Chung, but it isn’t enough to overcome the shortcomings of the material, not least its entirely predictable twists which are signposted in such a heavy-handed manner that you see them coming a mile away.
If Park Chan-Wook insists on remaining Stateside for his next feature, we can only hope that he dusts off his typewriter and writes it himself.