In this monthly column we spotlight new Blu-ray/DVD releases by interviewing directors about the scenes that stood out most for them while making their movies. This month we talk to Park Chan-wook (Oldboy) about his latest thriller, Stoker (out June 18).
For Stoker, his first English-language film, Korean filmmaker Park Chan-wook casts Mia Wasikowska, Nicole Kidman and Matthew Goode for this creepy coming-of-age tale (written by actor Wentworth Miller) that follows India (Wasikowska), a teenage outsider who becomes infatuated with her Uncle Charlie (Goode) after her father’s sudden death.
In the film’s most shocking scene, India showers following a jarring experience in the woods that left Whip, a boy she was fond of, dead by the hands of Uncle Charlie. Replaying the moment in her mind she can’t help but become excited about the experience and begins to pleasure herself.
Here, Chan-wook discusses the scene’s jigsaw puzzle-like structure and the unconventional style that helped bring it to life.
"The scene is right at the core of the story; it was what [made me] want to do the film."
"When I was reading the script I could see the scene is right at the core of the story; it was what [made me] want to do the film. That’s how strong the scene was for me. There were two things that really stood out for me. One was that the scene goes on for quite a while without any dialogue and I also noticed that there was a lot of crosscutting already written in the screenplay. So I did enjoy that it was quiet and not dialogue intensive, and in reading this particular scene I decided to expand on the crosscutting.
I did that by cutting the shower scene and the incident that India thinks back on in the shower, the murder of Whip, into much shorter pieces, that way to turn the overall length of the shower scene into being a crosscut between the two. So it was an evolution. Also, I changed around the placement of the scene as [it was] originally placed in the script, and creating new elements to the scene. The result really encompasses a long day for the India character where a lot of things happen. It’s almost troubling to talk about this scene because it’s hard to know where to begin. This is because it’s a very organic sequence where different scenes blend into each other. You have India confronted at school, her sharpening the blood of the pencil, her seeing the dead face of Mrs. McGarrick [in the freezer] and then there’s the piano duet with Uncle Charlie.
Later her walking in on he and her mother (played by Kidman), and then of course there’s India meeting up with Whip where the murder takes place, which is crosscut with the shower scene. So all of these elements basically are part of this big chain reaction that leads to India becoming a woman.
And how I evolved the scene from how it was written in the screenplay was the way in which the murder of Whip happened. The use of the belt by Uncle Charlie to strangle Whip, I included that. Also, the idea of stacking one character on top of another: India at the bottom, Whip on top of her trying to have his way with her and then inevitably you have Uncle Charlie over Whip strangling him. By having the events unfold this way India is witnessing this murder literally right in front of her eyes. And the way India behaves at this moment—to take Whip’s hand close to her chest in order for him not to fight back or free himself of the strangling—she’s actively participating in the murder and assisting Uncle Charlie at that moment. That’s what I added to the scene."
"When the film involves a scene like the shower scene, that is sensitive material and I have those storyboarded first, ahead of the other scenes."
"With these kinds of scenes what I find most useful is rather than conversations I believe the use of diagrams or pictures is much better. This is something that I’ve always done on my Korean films. So I use storyboards to share my vision with all my cast and crew. And this would not be limited to just something like the shower scene, but the entire film.
My usual process is storyboarding the entire film from first shot to last, watching as if you were the audience watching the screen. But when the film involves a scene like the shower scene, that is sensitive material and I have those storyboarded first, ahead of the other scenes. I spend the time and effort to make it as meticulous as possible so it’s detailed to the point of how I’m imaging it would be edited, that way it helps the actor visualize exactly what it is that I want to achieve with the scene. So if they have any objections or comments we can talk about them before shooting. So this whole process of having detailed storyboards is to share what I want to achieve and then invite discussion and to be able to change it so everyone is on the same page.
After having gone through this process it’s important to then shoot the scene exactly the way that I storyboarded it and agreed by the actor. In this scene in Stoker it so happens that going through the process Mia had no objections with what she saw in the storyboards, nor did she say she didn’t want to do any of it. She appreciated and liked my efforts and recognized the need for the scene artistically and creatively. So there were no drawn-out debates or discussions. It went very smoothly."
"...the movie is about a coming-of-age story of a young girl and this is the moment when she becomes a woman."
What the audience needs to get out of the scene are two things. The first is something that Wentworth had already described very well in the script, though I had evolved on it, which is that the movie is about a coming-of-age story of a young girl and this is the moment when she becomes a woman, becomes an adult. It’s a moment of her sexual awakening. It’s also infused with her demonic or violent character coming into being as well. So these two elements are fused into one. The other aspect of the scene is it’s very complex how the sequence is crosscut and the passage of time seems to be very mixed up. At first glance it seems to be random but the important thing is these memories in India’s mind have been disassembled and reassembled so as she is pleasuring herself in the scene, she is assembling in her mind all the moments that excited her and these two aspects of the scene I believe got across to the audience.
In short, the entire scene has to do with how enticing the seduction of evil is and that it can be so strong and mesmerizing that if the audience can get that I have succeeded."
[Translation by Wonjo Jeong]