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A History of Violence

InsideHook Q&A: Stoker's Park Chan-wook


Director Park Chan-wook’s speciality is blood. Bad blood.

Just ask Quentin Tarantino, who picked Chan-wook’s Oldboy  — that epic tale of revenge and incest that’s soon to be remade by Spike Lee — as his fave flick at Cannes in 2004.

Now, Chan-wook’s just-premiered flick, Stoker, continues to push uncomfortable boundaries, and this time in English. It’s a lurid, noir-ish tale of rampant murder and taboo set in a purposely unspecified time and place (“somewhere in the U.S.”).

... playing piano together. Very sexual ... but with no touching.

“It’s something like Billy Wilder meets David Lynch,” said co-star Matthew Goode (WatchmenMatch Point).

We spoke with the director (via translator) and the film’s two stars – Goode and Mia Wasikowska (Jane Eyre, The Kids Are All Right) – about the film’s graphic nature, co-star Nicole Kidman, the blood bond between families and why all that on-screen sex and violence is really quite, well, sensible.

Why make this your first English-language film?
Park Chan-wook: I had just finished the vampire film Thirst, which was almost ten years in the making. I felt a little empty after that, and then this script [by Prison Break’s Wentworth Miller] arrived. It’s about a family of three: a mother, father and an 18-year-old daughter, the exact same makeup of my family. But this script turned that relationship on its head.

Those relationships are interesting. Especially between the uncle and niece.
Matthew Goode: There’s a very euphemistic scene between my character and [my character’s niece] India, playing piano together. Very sexual ... but with no touching. 

...a cell phone, ringing from the grave.

Were you familiar with Park’s work?
Mia Wasikowska: I hadn’t seen his films before. I had heard of Oldboy, though, and after I signed on I did a marathon of his films. (Long pause) That was ... intense. 

How involved was [the late co-producer] Tony Scott?
Park: Tony, and for that matter Ridley, were frightfully busy on their own projects, so there weren’t a lot of long conversations. But the fact they had seen my previous work and held it in high regard ... I can’t think of anything that would be more helpful to me, or make me more excited to be involved.

The soundtrack [by Clint Mansell] and the sounds in the movie are incredibly oppressive.
Park: I really wanted to use sound to stimulate, provoke and – honestly – get on your nerves. When I read the script, I could visualize all the sounds. It all comes from being in an isolated setting. It’s why you can hear one character’s breathing into a wine glass and that sound being trapped, or a dead character’s cell phone ringing from the grave.

StokerNicole Kidman has a supporting role here ... How is she behind the scenes?
Matthew: She’s brilliant, and a lot of fun. It’s funny, you can’t help but have preconceptions about her. But I’ve lived with her image since I was eight years old and saw her in "BMX Bandits." If you had told me then that I’d be working with her one day – and holding her boob (laughs) – I wouldn’t have believed it. 

What’s your opinion on the film’s level of sex and violence?
Park: In all my films, I exercise restraint. In other films, they may have shown sex between Uncle Charlie (Goode) and India (Wasikowska). Or the violence – there are some death scenes that are merely implicit in the film. No matter how bold people say my expression of violence or sex is, I feel like I’m not being gratuitous. [Editor’s note: well, except maybe here. And here. Annnnnd here.]

Mia: What surprised me was that Park told me to treat this like an innocent, coming-of-age story ... but also like a rather twisted fairy tale. In the end, I think his message is that violence – it’s not about bad blood; it’s about how violence is contagious.

Matthew: The thing with Park: he’s such a f---ing magnificent director, and considering what he depicts on screen, he’s really so peaceful, thoughtful and has some amazing heart and fierce intelligence.

"Stoker" is now open in limited release. Find out where it's showing here.

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