Review: Stoker

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.

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Friday One Sheet: Stoker

It is a tangle of things according to the teaser poster for Park Chan-Wook’s English language debut, Stoker. My only criticism of this design is to remove the actual people, who are not necessary on a teaser, and Nicole Kidman, Mia Wasikowska and Matthew Goode’s photographic visages seem a little at odds with other hand-drawn elements. Otherwise, a homage to Dracula without actual vampires from the director of the Vengeance Trilogy, well, I’m in.

Fantasia Review: Paranmanjang (aka Night Fishing)


The English title, Night Fishing, is far different than the literal translation of “ups and downs,” although both absolutely apply to this tale of haunting, exorcism and catharsis. The fame of its director notwithstanding, Paranmanjang first made waves for being shot entirely on an iPhone4, albeit with a full crew, a palette of lenses and one hundred thousand dollars. Three minutes into the 30 minute film and all thoughts of tech and gadgets are out the window though as it is unmistakably a product of the talent who made the much revered Vengeance Trilogy. More tonally along the lines of the latter half of Lady Vengeance than flat out cinematic-viscera of Oldboy, Park Chan-Wook (co-directing here with his brother Park Chan-Kyong) is not through with fishing line and hooks. Do you recall that wince-worthy scene in Thirst? Here you do get some colourful shots of putting bait on the hook, and various entanglements, but the line, and the hooks, become a through-line of sorts between the mundane world of the living, and a more uncanny afterlife. Symbols and metaphors for cultural mores come more effortlessly to Park than many of his contemporaries. The mixture of human awkwardness and spiritual ritual has been one of the things I enjoy most about the South Korean auteur, and the key reason I believe Lady Vengeance is his best film. It is a delight that it exists as a whole or in part in all of his films and here it is the primary focus.

On a solo all night fishing trip in a remote part of the Han River, Oh Gi-Suk (Vengeance Trilogy bit player, Oh Kwang-Rok) snarls a body or a ghost on one of his many set lines. To the sound of softly ringing bells, and a bit of fear-laden slapstick, the fisherman ends up having a close encounter and eventual dialogue with the ghost who seems to know far too much about him. The scope of the story then spreads out to eventually encompass Oh Gi-Suk’s extended family which the fisherman abandoned a few years back. Like ghosts, or skeletons in the closet, they are, naturally, looking for closure. Having much in common with both the arthouse intentions of Palm D’Or winner Uncle Boonme Who Can Recall his Past Lives and commercial execution of Alejandro Amenábar’s The Others, it is not surprising in the least that Paranmanjang won the Golden Bear at this years Berlinale.

Many of us have iPhones in our pockets, but I would expect very few of us have the chops to shoot something this good looking and intelligent with the powerful little toy. In the hands of a master filmmaker the pocket-computer-with-a-camera becomes simply another medium or vehicle for creative storytelling. The baroque visual elements and the director’s ability to rattle souls we have come to expect is fully on display in another cinematic (and spiritual) tour-de-force which packs in more than enough to chew on in 30 minutes than many filmmakers can manage in 90 or more.

So, Um, Yea…Spike Lee is Remaking Park Chan-Wook’s Oldboy


I was reluctant to post anything on this story until things became a bit more ‘firm.’ But they have indeed solidified in the past week according to Variety. Spike Lee is going to direct another adaptation of the Japanese Manga made famous by South Korean director Park Chan-Wook’s visceral highly-cinematic and much lauded (it won the Grand Prize Jury Award at the 2004 Cannes Film Festival) adaptation which ended up as one of the more famous films to come out of the South Korean film-boom in the early half of the aughties; and the middle chapter of the directors much lauded ‘Vengeance Trilogy.’

Having seen what Lee can do with the pure genre grind with the fabulous Inside Man, and having less attachment to Old Boy as many in the fan boy film community seem to, (I am partial to Sympathy For Lady Vengeance myself) I am quite keen to see what Lee brings to the table on this. Will the squid eating sequence remain? The controversial plot twist survive in all its icky-glory? It shall be a while until this hits any screen and judging by several derailments of this project in the past, there is certainly no guarantee it will ever hit the big screen. Colour me interested…

Park Chan-Wook, meet Tony and Ridley Scott.


Well colour me completely surprised on this one. South Korean director Park Chan Wook, who certainly has a world-wide cult following with his Vengeance Trilogy and his recent off-the-wall vampire flick, Thirst, is going to be making an English language film with Fox Searchlight to be produced by Ridley and Tony Scott, under their Scott-Free banner. I rarely go to AICN anymore, but I did today and learned of this film, called STOKER:

A young girl whose father suddenly dies. Her mysterious and estranged uncle returns to the family after a long absence. Suddenly strange things begin occurring.

OK, seriously, not too much to go on, but Park Chan-Wook has a great visual sensibility and makes some of the glossiest, but still very compelling, cinema in South Korean (competing mainly with contemporaries, Bong Joon-Ho, Im Sang-soo and Kim Ji-Woon), he’s been in a bit of an experimental mode right now, shooting a lengthy BMW Short type film for a TelCo on an iPhone. I am certainly interested to see what he can do on this side of the world with Hollywood money. Do not hold your breath though, at best, this doesn’t start shooting in spring and there is no casting at the moment, but the rumour is Mia Wasikowska (In Treatment, The Kids are All Right, Alice in Wonderland.)

American Remake of Oldboy Dead?



I‘m sure many of us around here will be glad to hear this news: The planned Steven Spielberg-Will Smith Oldboy film has halted in the negotiation stages and now looks as if it’s dead in the water. Latino Review has a tip that production companies Mandate and DreamWorks didn’t see eye to eye, negotiation for the rights to the manga by Nobuaki Minegishi and Garon Tsuchiya (on which Park Chan-Wook’s incredible Korean film was based) have fallen through and DreamWorks is walking away from the project.

/Film and Film School Rejects wonder if it’s still possible that another production company might just pick up where DreamWorks left off, but let’s just keep our fingers crossed this is the end of it, okay? Going off the original manga was at least a better idea than a direct remake of Park’s film, but come on. Oldboy is a pretty perfect film as it is, and everyone should just rent that one. I can only imagine the happy/sentimental ending it would’ve gotten in an American version.

And anyone else working on remaking a foreign film that’s only a few years old? Please stop. Now. (Yes, I’m looking at you, Let Me In. /pipe dream)

Bookmarks for October 15th


What we’ve been reading – October 15th:

  • Top 10 movie shoots from hell
    From "Cleopatra" to "Apocalypse Now," these infamous productions have all been struck by extreme weather, tragedy, illness and sometimes death.
  • Fillion’s Super hopes
    "There are so many superheroes out there, I feel like there's none left. But there is one I think I could handle, and that's a redo of The Greatest American Hero."
  • Twitch: Park Chan-wook confirmed for Le Couperet/The Ax remake
    Costa-Gavras confirmed the news at the Pusan Film Festival in South Korea, which runs until Friday.
  • The Story Behind Toy Story 3
    How did this new adventure for Woody, Buzz and co come about? For that, we have to travel back in time. Back to the making of Toy Story 2, when Disney and Pixar’s relationship was a little different. Please keep your hands, arms, and accessories in the car, and no flash photography…
  • ‘The Hangover’ as a best picture nominee?
    With several of the big-ticket “Oscar movies” destined to disappoint, perhaps a bona fide summer blockbuster will occupy a slot (or two) of the top 10.
  • Kids’ books face a rough path to the big screen.
    Turning a children’s book into a feature film is akin to making a parachute out of a handkerchief, with the adapters having to adopt various strategies for fleshing out the material.

New York, I Love You Trailer

New York, I Love YouI knew that at some point we’d posted a trailer for the anthology film New York, I Love You what I didn’t realize was that that trailer was posted a year ago.

The film premiered at TIFF last year and Kurt foresaw the film would open early in 2009 but for some reason, reviews perhaps?, it was shelved and forgotten until today when a sexy discombobulated new trailer appeared. With acting and directing contributions from a long list of talented folk (Park Chan-Wook, The Hughes Brothers, Faith Akin, Mira Nair, Yvan Attal, Shunji Iwai, Wen Jiang, Joshua Marston, Andrei Zvyanginstev, Brett Ratner, Shia LeBeouf, Blake Lively, Natalie Portman, Hayden Christensen, Anton Yelchin, Orlando Bloom, Christina Ricci, Chris Cooper, Kevin Bacon, Robin Wright Penn, Maggie Q, Ethan Hawke, John Hurt, Scarlett Johansson, Natalie Portman and Olivia Thirlby) this is bound to have a little something for everyone.

The trailer is not exactly eye popping but it certainly looks nice and I have love for much of the talent involved so I’m game. I still haven’t seen Paris, je t’aime but I may have to check it out before being sucked into this one.

New York, I Love You is scheduled for limited release on October 16th.

Now, who’s working on a Vancouver, I Love You?

Trailer is tucked under the seat!

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Thirsty? Red Blood Trailer Now Online

ThirstWe talk vamps around here all the time. It’s kind of “the thing” these days as you may have noticed. From “True Blood” to Twilight to the more recent Underworld installation, vampires are definitely the trendy thing right now amongst the popular culture crowd.

And of course, as we’re all aware, the phenomena isn’t only relegated to North America. Asia has also taken an interest and Focus features released a brand spanking new (English) trailer today for Chan-wook Park’s (Vengeance Trilogy) vampire tale, Thirst.

Not sure what is so “red band” about the trailer aside from maybe a little blood. But Oh. My. God. This looks bloody awesome. Winner of the jury prize at Cannes, now I see why. Thirst will be unleashed on July 31 (limited) to an unsuspecting North American crowd. Prepare:


Chan Wook-Park and His Thirst

Thirst posterThe love for Chan Wook-Park’s Vengeance trilogy is damn near unanimous on this side of the tracks; particularly the Oldboy third. So whenever a new effort from said director bubbles its way to the surface of American pop culture, unlike most of South Korean cinema (and this nclude his previous effort, I’m A Cyborg by that’s OK), we take notice. And when the word “vampire” is mentioned in the same sentence as Park, our ears prick up just that much higher.

So yeah, Park’s next film that is sure to take us all by storm. It is being pitched as a dramatic romance with horror and no small amount of blood splattered across that premise. Thirst stars Song Kang-ho (from The Host and The Good the Bad and the Weird) A religious priest from a small town agree to be part of a medical experiment of which the results may be able to cure a fatal disease. With the experiment going horribly wrong, the priest opens his eyes after death with a strong affliction to sunlight. Sounds like a case of vampirism if ever I heard one.

Now, ready for the good news? It’s two-fold actually. One, the newest trailer is online (which you can see embedded below). The second bit of oh-happy-day is that Universal has agreed to finance the distribution here in the states. It’s the first financial backing Park has received in the states so it’s likely that we’ll be seeing a limited release for this bit of potential greatness in theaters very soon!

Take a gander at the trailer below (do you speak Korean?) and see what you think. I for one am on board!
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