Chan-wook Park’s works are becoming my guilty pleasure
Watched Lady Vengence and Stoker in the past couple of days. Having a weak heart, I had been avoiding watching Chan-wook Park’s works because they were known as being violent, scary and dark. But these two films offered such thrilling viewing experience that I am becoming a fan of Park’s works.
Surprisingly, Stoker is not written by Park, because the darkness and emotional intensity is certainly the signature of Park’s auteur style. Having not seen any information on why Park came to Hollywood to direct this project, I suspected that he was invited to direct this film because Hollywood producers see how skillfully Park has made morally twisted thrillers.
Park is certainly good at at least three things:
1) the cinematography is just stunning. Almost every shot has an amazing composition and each shot has a reason to be there. While watching both films, I more than once burst into a cry of Oh My, simply because of the unimaginably beautiful shots. The colors were vibrant and functional to the atmosphere of the whole film. The cinematography is one of the main reasons why it gave me guilty pleasure. When the sheriff is killed and his blood spurting all over the field, you see what India sees: the flower and the wheat being painted by the red blood. That was just too beautiful to not feel visually pleased by it. Park uses this cinematography to invite the audience to share the beauty that India saw in the act of killing, and this scene made me feel thrilled and guilty at the same time.
2) Park is a master of creating tension and suspense. In both Lady Vengence and Stoker, Park shows his skill of using parallel editing as a moment of horror and discovery. In Stoker, we see Evelyn putting on make-up to seduce Charlie, finding out that he is not there; Charlie approaching the aunt in the motel telephone booth and strangle her; and India eating icecream at the basement and found out that the housekeeper’s body was in the fridge. To refer to another of my post on the middle point of Lady Vengence, we could see that how unbelievably well Park makes use of parallel editing to create the most exciting and revealing moment in his thrillers. In my opinion, he is truly masterful as a director of the genre of thriller.
3) Park’s incredibly thrilling editing and smooth transition between scenes/shots was one of the main source of my pleasure from Stoker. He seems to like using flashbacks, which allows him to connect different points of the story and allows the audience to remember some of the details that have a deeper or a new meaning after the revelation of a new layer of the story. In Lady Vengence, there was even a moment when he flashed some moments from the future in the scene when all the parents of the abducted children were gathered to watch the videos of their children. In my opinion, some of the flashbacks were great, but sometimes I thought he was a bit over-using it.
In terms of the depth of story, I liked how Stoker kind of challenges or did not care about any accepted moral value. The film invites the audience to identify with India’s character and even see the beauty of killing from her point of view. It does not pass any judgment about the act of killing itself, although it did define this act itself as a result of insanity. But I liked how the film implicates the audience into this conspiracy of killing, in the way that Charlie implicates India in this guilty pleasure.
As for Lady Vengence, the story shows the weakness of legal system, people’s doubt about law, and a figure who is seeking for redemption but did not eventually forgive herself. Strangely, I have coincidentally watched a couple of films about justice, punishment and compensation. In Herzog’s Into the Abyss, despite most people’s objection to the death penalty, the victim’s family said that she felt a burden off her shoulder when she witnessed the death of the murderer. The scene of all the victims’ parents eating a cake together in Lady Vengence reminded me of this. It seems that after each of them hurt the killer and shed his blood, they felt relieved in some way, although their children can never come back to life. This mentality of feeling compensated through punishment is certainly peculiar.
Anyway, one of the thematic elements that both Lady Vengence and Stoker shared was that they were not confined within the moral judgment and did not have much respect for the existing legal system. They both beautified, justified and glorified an act outside of law, either vengence, or enjoying killing beyond the normal. Chan-wook Park is not only a master of suspense and beautiful cinematography, but also a storyteller who is pushing the boundary of existing ideology of law and normality, and challenges the audience’s idea about what is morally, ideologically correct. In his film such as Stoker, the morally “perverted” is presented as being aesthetically pleasing, and for India even as being sexually arousing. Some criticism blamed the film for being violent for the sake of violence. And I think that says that these viewers totally missed the point of the film. —