This is Park Chan-wook’s debut film in Hollywood. The most popular film from this South Korean director, “Oldboy”, is one of my favorites. However, I can say that compared to “Oldboy” or any other Park’s films, “Stoker” is much tamer. No blood, not even thrills. Supported by great performances from actors like Mia Wasikowska, Matthew Goode, and Nicole Kidman, is it fair to conclude that “Stoker” is not as interesting as “Oldboy”?
SYNOPSIS > Again, there’s no correlation between “Stoker” and, say, Bram Stoker or Dracula or else. LOL. “Stoker” is a family. India Stoker (Mia Wasikowska) is not ready to have her beloved dad, Richard Stoker (Dermot Mulroney), died in a tragic car accident. She also gets curious about the sudden arrival of her uncle, Charlie (Matthew Goode), whom she never knew existed. After Charlie moves in with her and her emotionally unstable mom, Evie (Nicole Kidman), she tries to resolve the mystery about her uncle and—finally—the secret about her family.
|Mia Wasikowska as India Stoker.|
REVIEW > It’s not that I eagerly want to put in comparison, but honestly the charm of “Oldboy” is too big to be ignored, and at last it becomes a minimum standard for Park. Not just “Oldboy”, but also with his other previous films that have a similar taste. Perhaps if not because of “Oldboy”, “the Vengeance trilogy”, and his other thriller films, Park Chan-wook won’t become this globally popular and finally, “Stoker” won’t really be this anticipated by the viewers. But, what I actually get from “Stoker” is a pretty but useless gift. “Stoker” is so interesting by the appearance, but nearly empty by the story. The story is too weak. There’s barely a real thrill in it. It perhaps because Wentworth Miller, the screenwriter, was unable to dig this simple premise more deeply and turn it into something essential. Is it because “Stoker” is his debut in screenwriting while he previously was known as the actor of “Prison Break”? Maybe.
“Stoker” is just about a “different” family, consists of a loveless mother, a weird daughter, and a cold-hearted uncle. The mystery served is more about the curiosity of what motives exist behind these “special” characterizations. I myself was more intrigued to know which one of the three leading characters is actually the real antagonist, because just from the beginning, they seem so grey. The series of scenes presented basically are a chronological presentation to resolving the secret about the family. It’s lucky that Park was more than able to re-package this simple (or trifling) story into a valuable work of art. Park understood how to arrange every single scene into a big, intact story that although is not very special but worth watching. But, well, content (or story) is definitely the main aspect of a film and without a good content, the film has lost its primary interest. For me, what Park did to “Stoker” is like serving a not-so-tasty cuisine on a gold plate. The more garnished the food is, the more I tend to see it instead of eating it.
|Matthew Goode as Uncle Charlie. He did a nice performance.|
So far, I know Park Chan-wook is a director who mostly works on screenplays he wrote. From his career record from IMDb, he has almost never directed films written by other screenwriters except himself. “Stoker” becomes his second film not written by himself. So, if we really have to question why “Stoker” doesn’t work for me, there might be two answers: either Wentworth Miller who has not enough experience in writing screenplays, or Park himself who has not enough experience in directing movies not written by himself. About the cinematography, I guess Park and Chung Chung-hoon (the cinematographer often works with Park) are more than just successful to polish this movie up. I love the transitions among scenes in this film. Very detailed, so much better than just a cut-and-paste job. And for me, the work of Park, Chung, Nicolas de Toth (the editor), and the other technicians was more prominent than what Miller did. Well, I mean, Terrence Malick also barely wrote the script for his movie—he just directs it, but I think this is not working for such a thriller movie Park made.
About the acting, the three leading roles plus Jacki Weaver as a supporting role has done their best. Mia Wasikowska has turned into a young actress with a very noteworthy performance. She has a bright career ahead in Hollwyood, I guess. She nicely brought her character, India, as a cold and silently terrifying young girl. (And Mia is pretty too, LOL). I didn’t know much about Matthew Goode before “Stoker”, but in this film I think he delivered a very convincing performance. There’s a little problem with Nicole Kidman’s role, especially near the ending—which I think a bit rushy so her character development was not really smooth, but overall she was comparable with the other two performers. Park knew that another thing necessary to be put forward from this film is the performance of the actors, and in this case, Park has again succeeded.
|Nicole Kidman as the emotionally unstable mother, Evie.|
CONCLUSION > “Stoker” is the best example of style-over-substance films. The story itself didn’t offer much, but with a nice acting from the actors, a tidy arrangement of scenes, and another artistic added-value, “Stoker” successfully takes off from the lowest ground. It’s nice to see if Hollywood gives Park Chan-wook another chance to not only direct, but also write his own film, because I believe that it will be great—so much greater than “Stoker”.
▲ Beautiful packaging by Park Chan-wook, nice cinematography and editing, good performance by the three leading roles
▼ Weak screenplay, too simple story, no real thrills.
STOKER | COUNTRY USA YEAR 2013 RATING Rated R for disturbing violent and sexual content RUNTIME 99 min GENRE Drama, Mystery, Thriller CAST Mia Wasikowska, Nicole Kidman, Matthew Goode, Jacki Weaver, Dermot Mulroney WRITER Wentworth Miller (screenplay), Erin Cressida Wilson (contributing writer) DIRECTOR Park Chan-wook MORE INFO