Stoker: Park Chan-wook’s American Debut, Starring Matthew Goode, Mia Wasikowska, Nicole Kidman

Park Chan-wook makes his American directorial debut with “Stoker,” an impressively mounted Gothic mystery that works on any number of levels, as a family melodrama as well as a fairytale, full of manifest and latent meanings.

Lady Vengeance (Chinjeolhan Geumjassi)

Benefiting from a high profile cast, headed by Matthew Goode, Mia Wasikowska, and Nicole Kidman, “Stoker” proves that a gifted Asian director (Park is South Korean) can make an effective English-language tale, given the right choice of material.

Unlike many of his peers (Chen Caige, Zhang Yimou) who had failed miserably when working in the West, Park has chosen the right material for his first American movie.

Inevitable comparisons will be made with Park’s previous films, most notably what is known as his Vengeance trilogy (see review), and in this respect, “Stoker” is one notch beneath them.

World-premiering at the 2013 Sundance Film Fest, “Stoker” will be released in early March, a good time for such unclassifiable item.

The versatile actress Mia Wasikowska plays India, a curious and mysterious femme whose world is shattered after the death of her father Richard Stoker (Dermot Mulroney). We learn that father and daughter had been unusually intimate with each other.
Things change with the arrival of the eccentric and seductive Uncle Charlie, played by the handsomer Matthew Goode (the character’s name may be a tribute to Joseph Cotten in Hitchcock’s “Shadow of a Doubt”), who shows up at Richard’s funeral and places himself atop a tomb, staring down at the plot‘s twists and turns.

Uncle Charlie proves to be a dangerous presence, yet as time goes by India is drawn into him, too. Using his charm, he seduces India’s mother, Evelyn (Nicole Kidman, in anther bold performance after her part in last year’s Lee Daniels’ The Paperboy).

India and Evelyn are linked by blood ties, but the arrival of Uncle Charlie changes the group dynamics. For one thing, India is not as enamored as her mother of their outsider house guest. As a screen character, India combines elements of several fairytale heroines, Cinderella, Alice in Wonderland, and others.

Bizarrely stylish (with visual flourishes that call too much attention to themselves), “Stoker” wants to be a truly Hitchcockian experience, but fall short of its ambitious goal.