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A World Without Time or Place: Design & Crafts
Radiant imagery, an omniscient camera and carefully conceived visual metaphors are the hallmarks of a Park Chan-Wook movie. Director of photography Chung-hoon Chung has now worked with the filmmaker on five films, including OLDBOY, LADY VENGEANCE, I'M A CYBORG, BUT THAT'S OK and THIRST. Together, they created STOKER's dreamlike, erotically charged atmosphere, moving characters in and out of the frame in a game of hide-and- seek with viewers, using long camera set-ups, unique camera angles and intricate sound design to delineate hunter from hunted among the characters.

The pair used the same time-tested approach for STOKER as they did on their previous collaborations. "We always start working together in preproduction, so we share the same vision," Chung says. "As we amend the script, we talk about reference pictures, photos or screen captures from other films. But deciding how to shoot each scene is minor compared to understanding the characters' emotions in the script. Right from the start, we thoroughly analyze the script the same way the actors do."

Chung, who is considered one of the master cinematographers of contemporary Korean cinema, worked hand-in-hand with Director Park to conceive meticulously detailed storyboards for the film. "Creating the look for a film like this is similar to building a house," he observes. "It is not until a certain amount of time passes that the film takes shape. The more detailed the storyboard is, the easier it is to predict how the film will come out.

"STOKER has a very different feel from the other projects we have worked on together," continues Chung. "It's not just the subject matter. There is a progression to the story that is reflected in the cinematography. It starts out very normal, but as the story advances, the characters reveal themselves and the relationships become quite complex. The most exciting and challenging part of my job was to show that progression visually. Whatever Evie or Charlie is feeling, the camera is observing. That helped me determine how close the shot should be or if the lights needed to be hotter or cooler."

The constrained location of the story was a departure for the pair, but Chung quickly discovered he could exploit the house's nooks and crannies to good advantage. "The majority of the story takes place in the Stoker mansion," he notes. "Normally, we would build a set for the house to accommodate camera and lighting. Because the Stoker house is a real location, I was concerned the angles and lighting might be repetitive. But I discovered that because the space was so limited, I was able to understand its characteristics better. Just as some actors photograph differently from certain angles, I learned that the house could look gloomy or hopeful, depending on the perspective."

Creating the intricate dance between lens, actors and environment was only possible because of the tremendous thought that goes into a Park Chan-Wook production before the director ever sets foot on set, says Costigan. "He is so detail-oriented and Chung is an essential part of it. They are able to create character and story through visual language and camerawork. Director Park does so much preparation. He prepares meticulous storyboards."

Park's extensive preparation makes it easier for him to shoot quickly and precisely. "My style of filmmaking involves very specific camera movements," he explains. "I edit the film in my head well in advance, so working in the conventional manner, with long masters and lots of coverage, does not work for me."

The film's shooting schedule was abbreviated compared to the customary pace in Korea, which also affected the way the camera was used. "Having to capture the scenes so quickly made it difficult to use the long elaborate camera movements I am known for," Park says. "But this may have a better effect on the film. When such shots are used only in the most memorable way, it increases the tension."

Production designer Therese DePrez, who was responsible for the surreal visual style of the Oscar-nominated psychological thriller BLACK SWAN, says, "There's a great ebb and flow between the unsettling and the beautiful in this film. There is nothing in the design that doesn't have a reason. It's meticulously done. Director Park's previous movies have all included cinematic elements that I'd never seen before and that stayed with me. One of my initial questions for him was 'how stylized are we going?' And he really wanted me to push it. It is a true Park Chan-Wook film in that sense."

Knowing that there would be a language barrier between designer and director, DePrez prepared an extensive book of visuals that represented her ideas on the tone and mood of the film. "He was enamored with it and those initial images became an important part of the look of the movie," she says. "We talked about it being a fairytale with an ethereal quality. We spoke about the idea of the hunter and the hunted. These characters are very much circling each other, and the hunting motif became a major theme in the movie."

Park also emphasized that he wanted a feeling that India and her mother exist outside of time and place, even though the film is set in present-day America. They seem mysterious, staying close to the confines of their home, establishing a sense of timelessness in the house and within "the family" in an almost otherworldly way. "We could do that because it's really a small character piece," DePrez says. "There are only a few actors and most of the action takes place in the house. I saw the environment as timeless, austere and very stylized, with the focus always on the characters. It has only very subtle references to the era that we are in."

The first and biggest challenge was to find a house for the Stoker family that would embody their isolation, alienation and social milieu. "The house is a character," says DePrez. "It's an otherworldly place. The original idea was a large, stone Gothic castle. We probably looked at 80 different homes in numerous styles and sizes, but what we had envisioned didn't exist in Nashville."

They selected an expansive 1920s estate for the Stoker mansion, set on open, rolling hills with a creek and extensive gardens for India to lose herself in. Even so, the house was significantly smaller than what Park originally had in mind. He saw Evie and India as a fairytale queen and princess, trapped in a sprawling castle. "But this house had the right amount of antiquity and elegance, and the more I looked at it, the more appealing it became," the director says. "It had all the elements we needed, including a cellar and a garden all in one location, so we could film everything there once we fixed it up the way we wanted."

Most importantly, it had an impressive staircase for a scene that Park saw as central to establishing the nuanced balance of power between Charlie and India. "In his mind, this whole movie revolved around a subtle dance that takes place between the two of them on that staircase," says Costigan. "It all has to do with who is in control and that scene is the starting point."

For six weeks, the production designer and her team worked to transform a traditional home into the Stoker mansion with a top-to-bottom renovation. No detail was neglected, including color and style, details in wallpaper, items on Richard's desk, and even bathroom toiletries.

"Richard Stoker put his family in this house to set them apart from the outside world," says Costigan. "Finding a house that had the right aesthetic for an architect and a member of an old-money American family was very specific and challenging. It's sparsely furnished with impeccable elements that represent the wealth of the family. Each element was carefully chosen, because Director Park's attention to detail is so acute. There's a philosophy behind every element."

The hunting trophies India and her father collected together, many of them avian, are on display in the house and add to DePrez's concept of the house as a diorama. "We often talked about the house as an unraveling nest and the characters as birds," she says. "Evie is a peacock. Uncle Charlie becomes the mother hen and India the baby chick. They are all caught in this diorama of a house. It goes back to the idea of the hunting motif, and to Director Park's image of India as a fledgling coming out of her shell."

The interior walls of the main floor are painted varying shades of icy green to make the viewer feel slightly unwelcome. "We also decided not to hang framed photographs or paintings on the walls," says Park. "It makes the house seem larger with big empty walls creating the sense of isolation and loneliness of our characters."

"Director Park wanted it to destabilize the audience a bit," says DePrez. "It's quite elegant, but it has the feeling of a prison as well. In the downstairs rooms, the colors are quite cold. To add the idea of them being imprisoned, there are a lot of linear elements in the wallpaper and panel molding."

The bedrooms in the upstairs of the house reflect more of each of the Stokers' individuality. "India as a character is very much about symmetry, order and pattern," the designer explains. "Evie is the opposite. She is asymmetrical, unraveling, a bit more chaotic. The rooms could not look any more different. India's room has yellow-patterned wall paper with things lined up perfectly, while Evie's room looks like an overgrown greenhouse."

The costume designers, Kurt Swanson and Bart Mueller, pulled DePrez's unusual palette into the wardrobe, as well. At the beginning of the film, India is in pale yellow, which symbolizes her innocence. India's costumes were inspired by the artist Balthus. "He captured all of these paintings of little girls in cardigans and skirts, falling asleep and cat napping on couches, and this was our inspiration for India," says Mueller.

Evie is a peacock trapped in a cage during her mourning period, dressed in a tight silhouette with everything formfitting and sleek. Her feathers open up with Uncle Charlie's attention until she becomes completely vulnerable at the end, skin exposed and hair loose and messy. Meanwhile, Uncle Charlie's dapper style recalls Cary Grant circa 1950. There's a precision to his casual elegance right down to his cashmere sweater and, of course, his saddle shoes. The end result is a look that is both oddly familiar and a bit disorienting; completely contemporary, yet dislocated in time and place. "What was most exciting for me as a fan of Park Chan-Wook is that this has a different look from his other films," says DePrez. "It is similar in the way he approaches the characters and his impeccable compositions and framing. But the setting is different from anything he's ever done."

STOKER's haunting, evocative score was created by Clint Mansell, who received a 2012 Grammy nomination for Best Score Soundtrack for Visual Media for the psychological thriller, BLACK SWAN. Director Park was impressed with Mansell's work on that and other films, including MOON, REQUIEM FOR A DREAM and PI. He was offered the job after the director attended a performance at the legendary Los Angeles nightspot, Largo.

Mansell had seen Director Park's previous films OLDBOY and THIRST, and was aware of his renown within the film community. "I took the gig, because I wanted to work with Director Park," he says. "I look for different sensibilities and different experiences than might be found in many movies. STOKER has these."

Mansell holds Director Park in high regard, both as an artist and a collaborator. "He is very relaxed, yet very focused. Even when his notes were quite small, they had a big impact on the score. He knows what he wants, but is open-minded about new ideas, so working with him was extremely fulfilling."

"My number one goal is always to create music that serves the film," adds the composer. "But I feel I do my best work when I connect with the film in a way that the music I create is very personal to me."

Director Park has long been enthralled by Clint Mansell's music. "When we were making the trailer for SYMPATHY FOR MR. VENGEANCE, I heard a piece of temporary music that the editor had put in on his own, and I was thunderstruck. It was because this music, the kind that I heard for the first time in my life, was shockingly beautiful. I was told it was music from an American film, PI, but I didn't think to memorize the composer's name. We didn't have enough money to afford the rights."

"Clint exquisitely brings alive the texture of each and every instrument," says Park. "He doesn't forcibly impose any one single emotion. The piano, the strings, vocals, and percussions, each seemingly singing about different emotions, come together to create a new emotion which is so complex it's difficult to describe with words. And this music, in the end, is beautiful. Exciting, but beautifully exciting, sad but beautifully sad, terrifying, but beautifully terrifying."

Park continues, "Our minds met not only on doing all of this, but also on bringing out a sense of movement while doing so. Just like dancing, gracefully moving forward, then back, turning, jumping, landing to immediately roll, then stomping while getting up, then forwards and back again… Graceful, like a cat."

Music plays a key role in a scene that Park says was essential to his vision of the film. India and her uncle are seated at the piano together. Charlie, who has previously professed no musical ability, joins her for a complex, soul-stirring duet, a hypnotic piece written for the film by trailblazing contemporary composer Philip Glass. By the time they have finished, India has been transformed and there is no longer any doubt who he has come all this way to see.

"I had long dreamed of working with the maestro," Park says of Glass. "I was a bit nervous, but he was very kind and warm. Even when I dared to ask him to change a part here and there, he was never bothered or annoyed. The resulting piece is dramatic and beautiful, and I believe the piano scene is a true gem."

Mia Wasikowska had never played piano before this film and took a three-month crash course to prepare. "The scene took one whole day to shoot even though it had no lines," she says. "It's a powerful and emotional piece of music. I could just let the music wash over me and that was the scene. That was the best day of filming for me."

STOKER is a fitting addition to Park's acclaimed canon of work, according to Costigan. "Like all of Director Park's films, it is primal, but also poetic and human. It's about overwhelming emotion and its intersection with violence. He was able to craft Wentworth Miller's riveting script into something even scarier, surprising, beautiful and lush, even funny at times. Everyone involved with the film feels very proud to have been able to help director Park make a true 'Park Chan-Wook film' in America."


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