If you have only seen one Korean movie, chances are it is Park Chan-Wook’s brilliant Oldboy, the film that has done more than any other to put Korean cinema on the map.
The question with Stoker, his first English language movie, is whether his wickedly dark sensibilities (Oldboy saw a man eating a live octopus) can survive the journey through the Hollywood machine.
It follows the eponymous India Stoker (a typically understated Mia Wasikowska), whose brooding uncle Charlie turns up unexpectedly at her father’s funeral a few days after her 18th birthday. Charlie (Matthew Goode) has movie-star looks and an air of simmering menace that has India and her sozzled mother (Nicole Kidman) in his thrall.
Park keeps you guessing not only how this bizarre triangle will turn out, but what genre his movie is – is Charlie really a malignant presence in the family home or is it all just a kinky coming-of-age fantasy conjured up by the overactive imagination of a lonely adolescent? Is he even of this world or is there significance to the decidedly gothic family name?
Park’s influences are myriad: it starts with shades of The Secret Garden, bleeding into a sinister The Talented Mr Ripley-esque psychological melodrama, with more than a hint of Tim Burton’s kooky gothica to it. Park makes liberal use of nifty, often jarring overlays, which owe much to Stanley Kubrick, and the sumptuously dreamy visual tone is set right from the stylised opening credits. Goode is compulsively watchable and Wasikowska sets out her stall as one of the most promising young actors in Hollywood.
I felt a real surge of disappointment as it came to a close: I wanted to rewind it and start again. Stoker promises to be an instant cult-hit – one to watch and rewatch, picking up the subtle pointers you missed the first time around. It is simmering, surprising and very beautiful: Park could be Hollywood’s hottest new property.
First published in City A.M.