When Pauline Kael wrote off The Coen Brothers’ 1984 debut, Blood Simple, she had this to say: “Reviewers who hail the film as a great début and rank the Coens with Welles, Spielberg, Hitchcock, and Sergio Leone may be transported by seeing so many tricks and flourishes from sources they’re familiar with. But the reason the camera whoop-de-do is so noticeable is that there’s nothing else going on.”
Nearly 30 years later, style as substance has pretty much won the day as much as extruded franchised dinguses (and at the risk of boiling American Cinema down to two camps, I certainly prefer the former to the latter endless string of blockbuster product.) The South Koreans have been elevating arch style and glossy violence since the start of this young century. After dominating Japanese culture for a number years, and getting every single person on the goddamn planet to watch Psy’s Gangnam Style video on YouTube, it was only a matter of time before Busan’s top directors started coming to America to make Hollywood movies with caucasian A-listers. Earlier this year, it was Kim Ji Woon with The Last Stand, and later this year it will be Bong Joon Ho with Snow Piercer, but right here, right now, it is Park Chan-Wook with Stoker. Put aside any concerns that the Korean auteur’s particular style of filmmaking would be in any way dulled, diluted or even perverted by his entrance into Hollywood system. Putting his more literal vampire film, Thirst, aside for a moment, Stoker feels like the logical cultural transition from his cult ‘Vengeance’ Trilogy, a set of films that seemed to get more classy -and classical- as they went along. Here, his collaboration with screenwriter Wentworth Miller, handsomely merges Shadow of a Doubt and Let The Right One In together inside the tasteful glass house of Joseph Losey’s The Servant. Stoker is a hermetically sealed coming of age film with a taste for blood and emotional straight jackets. One of many exquisite images in the film is of candles on a birthday cake so casually extinguished whereupon a crystal casing is put over top of the lit flames, effectively and cutting off the oxygen, but allowing the smoke to linger in suspension. It is a telling enough portrait of the family dynamic to follow.