WAMG Interview: Park Chan-wook – Director of STOKER
Park Chan-wook is a South Korean film director, screenwriter, producer, and former film critic. The director of THIRST and OLDBOY is one of the most acclaimed and popular filmmakers in his native country and is a cult figure among fans of offbeat foreign films. Now Park Chan-wook has brought his novel sensibilities to Hollywood, where he’s made his first English-langiuage film, the bloody soap opera STOKRT starring Mia Wasikowska, Matthew Goode, and Nicole Kidman.
Read my We Are Movie Geeks review of STOKER HERE
Representing We Are Movie Geeks, I recently participated, along with several other film journalists, in a conference call interview with Park Chan-wook.
Question: Your film Stoker is being compared to being on par with the masterful director, Alfred Hitchcock. How does the comparison make you feel? And of his work, has any of it influenced you in your career and on the set of Stoker?
Park Chan-wook: First and foremost, the film that made him decide to become a film maker in the first place is the film Vertigo. Vertigo, to Director Park, is synonymous with the word “Hitchcock.” For him Vertigo is Hitchcock’s representative work. When he first started out studying film … he drew a great deal of influence from Hitchcock. Of course after he became a film maker himself, he had gone on his own path, but certainly during the period of studying films he drew lots of inspiration from Hitchcock.
Q: When in development did Director Park come aboard, and what was it about Wentworth Miller’s script that appealed to him enough for it to become his first English language film?
P C-w: In terms of his answering point was after Wentworth had completed his draft of the script and before the casting stage is where, in terms of which phase in the development, he came in. But you do know, Tim, that Wentworth had already written the script which went on to the …, you know that background story, right?
P C-w: And the appeal that Wentworth’s script had for Director Park was the fact that it’s a very quiet script, in that it’s not so heavy on the dialogue, only a small number of characters inhabit this world, and it only takes place in a few number of locations.
Q: I was curious, how was Director Park’s collaborative experience working with English language actors for the first time?
P C-w: The question of the language barrier was something that Director Park was worried about at the beginning, but after he started working with the actors the language barrier was something that was overcome easier than he had ever thought. Working with a good translator … and in the situation where he and the actors are attentively listening and focusing on each other’s words, they could easily forget that there was even a translator around and focus on what each other was saying.
Q: Since this is your first American studio film how did this experience differ from making films in Korea, and was it a positive experience for you?
P C-w: Well, he thinks it’s not a question of positive or negative experience. It’s … of him coming in to the U.S. system and making films in America, for him despite doing this it makes the question unaskable, if you like, and you can’t really evaluate the experience as being positive or negative. This is because it’s just like a Korean coming on to American soil and complaining that it’s raining, why is the weather like this here, why is it raining, or any other weather conditions, it’s something that one cannot do anything about. Of course the experience was different from making films in Korea, where the American studio would share a lot of their opinions with Director Park, and also require a lot of explanations from Director Park. At first he didn’t find that to be an easy thing at all to express all his thoughts behind every single element or idea, every single directorial choice, to give an explanation behind everything in a detailed fashion like that, and to also consider every thought that was shared from the studio. But at the end of the day after having experienced the whole process he felt it was a productive process. The short answer is it wasn’t easy, but it was good.
Q: I just had a two part question. I was looking over your filmography and Thirst, the Vengeance Trilogy, and now Stoker it’s obvious you get drawn to the darker subject matter, and I just wondered what it was about the darker stories that interested you. And also if you can talk about your directing style, which is full of movement, color, beautiful images, and how that contrast works so well with those dark stories.
P C-w: Although he’s led quite a peaceful life without there being any problems, no big issues to speak of, and he is still leading a quiet, trouble free life, he finds it interesting and bewildering to find that in the self there lies sometimes, he sometimes finds this desire for vengeance, for feelings of jealousy and other negative emotions, these darker emotions. And this makes him interested in how this could be, and perhaps this is why he’s making films that examine this phenomenon. But when he’s suggesting to the audience we should examine the darker side of the human condition in this way and when he’s making that suggestion if he’s creating a film that is ugly and disgusting only, who would be interested in taking a look at such a study. It is only when the film is beautiful he would be able to attract attention to this subject and allows the subject to attract attention in a serious way, and that is why he’s making that choice to present his film in that way. When something so dark is depicted in a beautiful way, that’s when you have irony and that’s when you’re able to reveal and deal with the complexities of human nature or the human condition.
Q: I wanted to ask about your work as a film critic, and I’m wondering where you felt your expertise was as a critic as you studied film and the structure of film and images, and from that what do you feel that you take from your work as a critic that you bring to the films that you make?
P C-w: The answer to the two parts of the question are one and the same, he said. The effect of him having majored in philosophy at university and the effect it had on his work as a film critic and as a film maker is actually the same, and that is that it made him very thorough. And when he says “thorough” he means in studying or examining subject matters rather than jump from one and the other, or rather than doing a shallow examination of many subjects, when he has one subject matter on his hands he delves deep into it and looks at it very thoroughly, and that is the training that he got from studying philosophy.
Q: With your other works, particularly Oldboy and Joint Security Area, it seems that the mysteries within each film have remained a mystery until close to the very end of the film. Was there a reason that the mystery was unveiled more towards the beginning of the third act of Stoker than the other ones?
P C-w: In Stoker some mysteries are revealed at the beginning of the third act, but some mysteries still remain mysteries until the end. The mystery about Uncle Charlie is unraveled at the beginning of the third act, but the mystery about India remains there until the end. He says the mystery about India are things like the question of is evil hereditary or is it something nurtured, it’s the question of nature versus nurture, and the question about what is she going to do with her mother, and also the question about what’s in store for India from now on in her future. And there’s a small clue which might help answer some of these questions, and it is the last shot of the film, it is there we realize this flower that we thought was simply red at the beginning of the film was actually white to begin with, but a splash of blood has turned it red.
Q: The most memorable moment in Stoker was the four handed piano duet between the two leads. What was going on in that scene? Was it difficult to film? And do you know if that piece of music was written for one player to reach over his partner’s hand like that?
P C-w: Well, … was working with Philip Glass, the great Philip Glass after all, so he went into the process thinking, well, no matter how difficult it ever may turn out to be I’m happy that I’m doing this with Philip Glass. During this first meeting with Philip Glass, Philip Glass asked Director Park what is the nature of this scene, this piano duet, and Director Park answered that it’s basically sex between the two characters, and that prompted Philip to share a story. There was a four hand piece that Philip Glass had written before, and his good friend played this piece, and they were a married couple, and the husband came up to Philip and told him, you know, Philip, do you know what we can do with this piece, and as they were playing together, these couples, the husband would pull one hand away and put it around his wife and play just like how Uncle Charlie does in the film. And this story prompted Director Park to make a revision in the script so that it can be played this way, and the resulting collaboration between Director Park and Philip, Philip’s piano piece, reflected this as well, his four hand piece that he had written specifically for Stoker. Director Park very much enjoyed the process of creating this piano scene and creating this music with Philip. The most fun he had making Stoker, the scene where he had the most enjoyment from, was fun, was the piano duet scene.
Q: I’d like to know how much of a role did he have in casting the principal actors, and was he familiar with Matthew Goode and his role in Watchmen before meeting him?
P C-w: In the casting process it’s not just himself alone in the casting process, it’s not like that of course, but he was playing an active role at every stage of casting, and in fact those three principal actors were Director Park’s choices … . He had seen A Single Man and he had seen Watchmen already before the casting, before he came to this casting process ever, but he didn’t think of Matthew Goode right away when he was trying to cast Uncle Charlie. It was when he saw Match Point much later, and around when he was casting for Stoker, so it was much later than Match Point hadoriginally been released, but in any case, he saw Match Point and he felt there was a moment of discovery when he saw Matthew Goode’s performance in Woody Allen’s Match Point. And that’s when he realized, oh, that’s the same actor who was in A Single Man and Watchmen, and … Matthew’s … factors about his performance was perfect for creating a very complex character that is Uncle Charlie.
Q: It seems that Stoker is the full length feature film that you didn’t originally write. Was it more difficult or easier to make a film that wasn’t originally written by you? And did you have any issues injecting your own style when adapting the screenplay for the film?
P C-w: There are two aspects to this. First is that when … the script he found there to be a lot of room in it for any director to come in and transform it into his or her own work. Second of all, taking a script that somebody else wrote and turning that into a film … it didn’t feel fundamentally different from, say, taking a source material like a novel or a graphic novel and adapting it into a film. And he treated it much the same way, in that he took Wentworth’s script as a starting point and went through the process of tailoring it to be his own script.