Chan-Wook Park (or Park Chan-Wook, as he is known to his countrymen as well as fancy-lad journalists who want to seem smarter than you) has been directing films in Korea since the early 90s, but it wasn’t until his 2003 breakthrough hit, Oldboy, that the rest of the world recognized the man’s genius. The middle chapter of his now iconic Vengeance Trilogy, Oldboy served as a showcase for Park’s penchant for eccentric characters, challenging subject matter, and richly detailed sets, all shot with a fluid, organic style that borders on the surreal. While usually featuring scenes of extreme, unflinching violence, Park balances this with touches of dark humor and the odd bits of whimsy, all of which come together to lend his films a fantastical, brutal sensibility that plays out like the hell-spawn of Wes Anderson and Sam Peckinpah. From Oldboy forward, Park’s films became an international event, with fans worldwide clamoring for his next offering. Given his success, it was only a matter of time before Hollywood would eventually come a’callin’, offering Park his first shot at directing an English language film with 2012’s Stoker.
Based on a screenplay by actor/model/producer, and now screenwriter, Wentworth Miller (Prison Break), Stoker tells the tale of India (Mia Wasikowska); the awkward, introverted daughter of award winning architect, Richard Stoker (Dermot Mulroney) and his distant wife, Evelyn (Nicole Kidman). On the morning of India’s 18th birthday, Richard is killed in an automobile accident, leaving Evelyn and India alone to both pick up the pieces (as well as learn to get on with one another) now that Richard is gone.
The two aren’t alone for long, however, as, during her father’s funeral services, India is introduced to an uncle she never knew existed; Richard’s handsome and impossibly charming younger brother, Charles (Matthew Goode). Evelyn is immediately taken by the younger Stoker, and invites him to stay on for a while, but India senses something is not right with the man, so she keeps her distance despite Charles’ attempts to form a bond with her.
As Evelyn’s infatuation with Charles grows, so, too, does India’s distrust of him; a suspicion that’s validated when Charles, the self-professed globe-trotting businessman, finds his ideal new situation threatened by forces inside and outside of the Stoker clan.
A visually scrumptious and deeply troubling slow burn thriller, Stoker makes for an impressive debut, not only as the first English language feature for Park, but also as the first produced screenplay by Miller. It’s absolutely riveting stuff that’s part Southern Gothic, part Hitchcockian thriller, and all kinds of twisted. Park really digs into his bag of tricks, here, employing bits of subtle animation, artful transitions, and dizzying, oftentimes mesmerizing camera work by cinematographer, Chung-hoon Chung (who’s worked on every Park film since Oldboy).
Of course, a film is little more than pretty pictures were it not for the actors who bring the tale to life, and Wasikowska, Kidman, and Goode prove to be more than up to the task. Goode is especially…well…good here, lending his Charles a sense of magnetism and charisma that, despite his obvious demons, makes it easy to see why everyone, save for India, is so easily charmed by the man.
Stoker comes to Blu-ray courtesy of Fox, and is presented in a flawless 2.40:1 transfer that has to be seen to truly be appreciated. This is an image that really pops off of the screen, boasting jaw-dropping detail, crispness, and an almost tangible sense of depth and dimension. You know you’re in for a treat as soon as the film’s clever title sequence begins, with India running through the forest, her flowing white nightgown fluttering against a the shadows, running “through” the credits as they appear, breaking them apart like dandelion spores in the breeze. This sequence looks absolutely breathtaking and it just gets better from there, with Park’s ornately decorated sets, costume design, and the occasional Fincher-esque macro photography all serving to make this one an HD enthusiast’s dream. The film sounds as good as it looks, with an expertly mixed 5.1 DTS HD Master Audio track that offers a truly immersive aural experience.
Fox doesn’t skimp on the bonus features, either, with a nice collection of quality goodies, including;
● A Filmmakers Journey: A thirty minute making-of piece featuring interviews and behind-the-scenes tidbits from all of the principles.
● Deleted Scenes
● Theatrical Behind the Scenes: A collection of short featurettes, including Mysterious Characters, Designing the Look, and Creating the Music.
● Red Carpet Premiere: Footage from the film’s premiere in London.
● Music Video of “Becomes the Color” by Emily Wells
● Photography by Mary Ellen Mark: Essentially a stills gallery of photos taken during the production.
● London Theater Design: Another stills gallery, this time featuring images from the London premiere.
Rounding out the extras are trailers for this and other Fox releases (HD).
While it’s doesn’t pack much by way of action, Stoker makes up for that with a wonderfully dark, thrilling, and sexy script by Wentworth Miller, a trio of fantastic performances by its stars, and virtuoso direction by Park. Fox’s Blu-ray presentation is superlative, with reference quality video and audio, as well as a host of quality extras, making this one an easy recommendation.