Last week I got to sit down and chat via translator with the legendary South Korean director Park Chan-Wook in anticipation for his first English language film Stoker, which opens this Friday in Philadelphia.
It was great to chat with this amazing director about not only what it was like making his first English language film here in the United States, but also what inspires him to make these dark and often very complicated films.
So, what was the appeal of the script of Stoker, by Wentworth Miller, that made you want to make it as your first English language film?
I first became aware of the script when it appeared on the Blacklist, but the aspect that attracted me to it is it is a very quiet script and it is not so heavy on the dialog. Only a small number of characters inhabit this world and it only takes place in a small number of locations.
With your previous films like Oldboy, Sympathy for Lady Vengeance and now Stoker it seems like you are attracted to darker stories that are beautifully filmed.
As a director why is that and why do you feel that dichotomy is so important when telling a story?
Even though I have led quite a peaceful life, without there being any problems or big issues to speak of. I find it interesting and bewildering to find in my inner self there lies this desire for vengeance, feelings of jealousy and other negative emotions.
These darker emotions make me interested in how this could be. Perhaps this is why I am making these films to examine this phenomenon.
But when I am suggesting to the audience that we should examine these darker conditions in this way and if I am creating a film that is ugly and disgusting only; who would be interested in taking a look at such a study? It is only when it is beautiful can I attract the attention to this subject in a serious way. That is why my films are presented in that way.
When something so dark is depicted in a beautiful way, you have irony. Then you are able to reveal, and then deal with the complexity of human nature and the human condition.
How was the language barrier working on the film? I know you worked with the actors via translator, since you did not speak English.
The question of the language barrier was something that I was worried about at the beginning. But after I started working with the actors I was able to overcome that barrier much easier than I thought I would be able to.
Working with a good translator and in a situation where everyone is listening attentively to each other’s words, we could easily forget that there was a translator around and focus on what each other was saying.
Since Stoker was your first American studio film, how did that differ from making films in South Korea, and was it overall a positive experience for you?
I can’t evaluate the experience as positive or negative.
This is because; it’s just like a Korean coming onto American soil and complaining that it is raining. Why is the weather like this here, why is it raining? It is something that one cannot do anything about.
Of course the experience was different than making films in Korea, because the American studio would share a lot of their opinions with me and also require a lot of explanations. At first I did not find it an easy thing at all to express all my thoughts behind every single elemental idea and every single directorial choice in a detailed fashion like that.
At the end of the day, after the experiencing this whole process I felt it was a productive process. So it wasn’t easy, but it was good.
Finally, your film Stoker is being described as being on par with the master Alfred Hitchcock, how does the comparison make you feel? And of his work has any influenced your career?
The film that inspired me to become a filmmaker in the first place was Vertigo. Vertigo is synonymous to me with Hitchcock; I feel it is his representative work. When I first started studying and working in film proper, I took a lot of influence and inspiration from Hitchcock’s work.