Already a hero in his homeland, director Park Chan-wook is one of the most successful filmmakers to ever come out of South Korea – three of his films (Joint Security Area, Oldboy and Sympathy for Lady Vengeance) are among the highest grossing films ever made in the country. But despite his success Park was a reluctant filmmaker from the start and, even though he has enjoyed a critically acclaimed career thus far, will only release his first English speaking film this Friday – the dark and disturbing Stoker starring Mia Wasikowska. We sit down with the celebrated director in his London hotel to talk Stoker, Hitchcock and dark desires.
STOKER IS YOUR FIRST ENGLISH SPEAKING FILM – WHY WAS THE TIME RIGHT NOW WHEN YOU’VE TURNED OTHERS DOWN BEFORE?
The script was excellent, so whether the film was right for my American/English debut it wasn’t part of the consideration really. The script sold it to me and there were so many scenes that mesmerised me that I found hugely inspiring. I liked the overall atmosphere of the script, it came across like a small chamber piece or even a play and I liked how the film was quiet, with no major action, yet the tension and sense of fear was palpable from a reading alone.
WHEN DID YOU FALL IN LOVE WITH FILM AND DECIDE TO PURSUE IT AS A CAREER?
My decision to become a filmmaker was a long time coming. I loved film and had a vague idea that I would like to be a filmmaker but I always thought that it wasn’t a job that just anyone can do. I thought it took a special kind of person and it took me a long time to build up the courage to make the decision to pursue it. I didn’t go to film school because of these thoughts. When I saw Hitchock’s Vertigo at university that’s what finally made up my mind. It’s like when guys take a long time to ask out a girl who he secretly loves – that was my relationship with becoming a filmmaker. I was an observer, and it took me over a decade to make the leap.
YOUR FILMS ARE KNOWN FOR THEIR DARK SUBJECT MATTER – WHAT DRAWS YOU CONTINUALLY TO THIS GENRE?
I am fully aware of the dark desires and emotions that are inside of me, ones that I don’t always want to admit. This makes me interested in the subject and makes me want to observe what causes the darkness – this curiousity is what draws me to these subjects. And it’s not just me, everyone has dark desires and emotions. When I realised this I realised that I could play with these emotions and it would resonate with people.
HOW CLOSELY DID YOU WORK WITH THE WRITER OF STOKER, WENTWORTH MILLER?
When I first met Wentworth we spent hours talking. He told me what his intentions were with the film and after that it was up to me to make it from his vision, but of course I made some changes so that it became a film that people would recognise as my work. After we spoke, Wentworth almost handed the film over to me saying, in a way, my work is done, now it’s your baby.
THE FILM HAS BEEN CALLED A MODERN HITCHCOCK – DID YOU ASPIRE TO THIS COMPARISON WHEN MAKING STOKER?
Hitchcock was my main influence when I decided to become a filmmaker in the first place – after I saw Vertigo I knew that’s what I wanted to do, so invariably that is part of it. Wentworth Miller was quite obviously writing the script under the influence of Shadow of a Doubt and this can’t be ignored. This film is under the shadow of Hitchcock because of these two factors. But having said that, during the process of turning the script into a film I didn’t intentionally draw on any extra Hitchcockian elements, I just held the script which inherently had the traits; there was no conscious decision to add more. If you asked me to cite my major influences I would have to say my own wife and daughter over Hitchcok.
SOME OF YOUR PREVIOUS FILMS SUCH AS JOINT SECURITY AREA DEAL WITH SOUTH KOREAN POLITICS AND THE STATE OF THE COUNTRY. IS THIS SOMETHING YOU PLAN TO DEVELOP FURTHER?
Yes, I have made a series of films delaing with social issues in South Korea in some way and I’m sure that I’ll have further opportunities to deal with social issues in my films – I feel it’s important to do so.
Stoker is released nationwide on 1st March.