India Stoker (Mia Wasi..Waskikno..Wasizuzu…chick from Alice in Wonderland) is a bit distant since her father passed away on her 18th birthday. Then again, she may have been that way for a long time. Even before her father died, I’m sure she would still have been sullen and not quite there. It is at the funeral where she is introduced to the uncle she never knew she had. Charlie Stoker (Matthew Goode) is a handsome lad with a cool car, great clothes, and an aura of mystery. This, of course, makes all the girls thinks he sexy. Seriously ladies, just because a cute guy is staring at you out in the distance somewhere doesn’t automatically mean he’s the quiet, sensitive type. When people begin disappearing, India starts to become more interested in her uncle, and so does her mother, Evelyn Stoker (Nicole Kidman).
This is when the movie becomes tricky to describe. I can’t tell if events actually happened or if it was all in India’s head. There are a few moments where it shows one scene, and then shows it again with something new added in. I kept thinking while watching this that India is just imagining everything, but no that wasn’t it. The story had me interested the whole time, but when it was over. I found it difficult describing what happened after the first person disappears. It’s clear that the relationship between Evelyn and Charlie, who are siblings-in-law, is strictly sexual, but I’m not so sure about the relationship between India and her uncle. One idea is that Charlie and India are drawn to each other because they both can see themselves in the other person. Another possibility is that India wants to get closer to Charlie to find out more about her family and late father. Whatever suggestions you come up with is fine. It’s the incestuous vibe these two characters share that remains very disturbing.
There are many beautiful shots, and this is where the movie scores one of its biggest points for me. During the opening credits, the text on-screen moves or changes based on where it was placed. I have seen this done before, but here it works because it helps set the tone for the rest of the story. I also never thought the image of brushing someone’s hair would look so cool on the big screen, but the way it changes into a different scene is really quite remarkable. The score by Clint Mansell and Phillip Glass is where the second biggest points are earned. Right from the very first scene, the music is in perfect sync with the visuals, and it’s quite the experience. The problem with a movie that looks this good is that the story and characters end up not being very well developed. Every actor here does a really good job with the material, and Mr. Park gives us some great moments with them. But since English is not his native language, I kept thinking of that scene from Lost in Translation when Bill Murray was shooting the commercial and all the translator could tell him was to speak “More intensely.” Maybe that’s why he decided to concentrate more on the look and less on the story but I’m not sure. I do want to see this again because it left open a lot of unanswered questions. I can’t completely trash a movie that does that, but I can’t completely praise it either.
Why is it that when a director from another continent comes to America and makes an English language debut, it’s never as good as the films made in their home country? Some directors, such as Ang Lee, have been successful in making that transition from foreign to English language films without any real trouble, while others such as John Woo have never been able to fully capture the same success with their North American titles as they did with their Asian work. Take a look at Jee-Woon Kim, for example. The man has made tons of great movies in his homeland including The Good, The Bad, and The Weird and I Saw The Devil. These got great reviews from both critics and audiences world wide. He comes to America and brings us The Last Stand. A standard Arnold Schwarzenegger vehicle that didn’t get as much praise as his other films did. Now with Stoker, we are getting the English language debut of director Chan-wook park. The man has giving us great films like Oldboy and Thirst, and if you are a fan of those titles because of visuals, you will love this one because the cinematography is breathtaking. However if you are a fan because of the way he tells stories, you may be a bit disappointed with the tale he has woven here.
Overall: 7 out of 10
What did you think of Chan-wook Park’s American debut? Please leave comments below. I now leave you with a cool video from the soundtrack featuring the song “Becomes the Color” by Emily Wells.