In the attention deficit disorder country we're living in, it's hard to imagine any American movie requiring intense concentration succeeding beyond expectations. If not for the international markets, a movie such as Park Chan-wook's "Stoker" may not have much of a chance of making enough money for profit. And that's a shame when this South Korean director could be one of the greatest directorial talents to emerge in America from another country.
It's South Korea where Chan-wook has become a near cult figure in the movies. But Koreans are strong believers in deep philosophy being entwined into their movies. Chan-wook's "Vengeance Trilogy" had those mind-bending philosophies and ethical dilemmas to offset the intense violence that most Koreans don't bat an eye over. Most of the cerebral aspects were conveyed through Chan-wook's visual style, which is what made his name.
Trying to translate such a detailed and symbolic visual style is a true challenge when working in America. While we still get similar visual styles with some of the best indie directors, the visuals in "Stoker" are far more intellectual and less obvious. Unless you're already familiar with the story, some of those visual cues may confuse most people as anything other than pretentious.
That's the very trouble Chan-wook may end up dealing with in America as "Stoker" releases throughout March. Already, some mixed opinion is starting to trickle in from critics. Others, who understand where Chan-wook is coming from, consider "Stoker" to be an absolute masterpiece on a visual level.
Even then, Chan-wook seemed to have toned his visuals down a few notches if you've ever seen his South Korean input. It's a strange two-way street with this director whose penchant for violence in his films may find a Tarantino-like following, but also problems in people understanding his eye. As it is now, "Stoker" will likely play only art houses because of its visual artfulness.
The success of the film may also determine whether Chan-wook really has a career going for him in America. When you have a visual artist who's so close to becoming a new Hitchcock, it's worth pondering how long it'll be before he's put under studio pressure to make his movies more obvious. For "Stoker", he apparently wasn't, despite a demand for a faster shoot time.
Nobody can expect his new film to hit #1 at the box office either, despite a stellar cast of Mia Wasikowska, Nicole Kidman, and Matthew Goode. That's an unfortunate signal of being stuck in the indie circuit where Chan-wook may not get the large audiences he enjoys in his homeland. Such prospects likely gives worry to his American fans, especially if the director heads back to South Korea to make films so he can enjoy adoring crowds again.
Now we have to wait and see if Park Chan-wook is ever approached to remake one of his Korean movies here in the states. With Spike Lee already filming an "Oldboy" remake, it's hard to imagine Chan-wook not stopping by the set if he's hanging around Hollywood. It's also worth noting what approach he'd give to a remake of one of his own films.
He dare not make them too mainstream, or he'll be a promising talent who wavered from his signature style just for the sake of making bigger Hollywood money.
This path has already happened many times before to foreign directors. Chan-wook simply has to find the right balance, or follow the golden compass of the one and only Guillermo Del Toro.
- Arts & Entertainment