When Kim Jong-il decided that he wanted to build a North Korean film industry from scratch, the first thing he did was kidnap a South Korean filmmaker, and it’s easy to understand why—South Korea has produced some of the finest filmmakers in the world.
But for North American audiences, the South Korean cinematic renaissance has passed by largely unnoticed. That could change next year when South Korea’s three top filmmakers make their English language debuts. First comes Kim Ji-woon’s The Last Stand (with Arnold Schwarzenegger as an unlikely Texan sheriff), then in October we’ll have Joon-ho Bong’s Snow Piercer (with Chris Evans as a traveller in a land of ice and snow). But by far the most anticipated of the lot is Park Chan-wook’s Stoker, a psychological thriller starring Nicole Kidman, Mia Wasikowska, and Matthew Goode which will hit theatres in March.
Written by Prison Break star Wentworth Miller, Stoker seems indebted to Hitchcock’s Shadow of a Doubt (the plot focuses on a young woman who must deal with the sudden appearance of a mysterious uncle right after her father dies), but something tells me that Park—the director of the ultra-violent, ultra-stylish Oldboy—will take the story in directions that Hitchcock never dreamed of.
Of course, it’s important to remember that when the great Hong Kong action filmmakers of 1980s and early 90s (John Woo, Ringo Lam, and Tsui Hark) tried to establish themselves in Hollywood, they only had one bona fide hit between them (John Woo’s Face/Off), then returned in defeat to China, where—despite strict government censorship—they had a much easier time making the kinds of movies they wanted to make. Let’s hope that the South Koreans have better luck.