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Stoker and why the first US movies of foreign directors usually suck

By on 23/04/2013

Park Chan-wook is in my opinion one of the world’s most prolific directors. Despite his relatively short amount of movies he’s lamented himself as one of world’s greatest directors much in part to his Vengeance Trilogy – especially Oldboy. He has a unique visual style that bleeds through in all his movies, which has become more prominent the more movies he has made. There is brutality to his movies that is extremely poetic and not for the faint of heart, even his movies that are essentially love stories deliver this love with a kick in the teeth. So when I heard he made his US debut I was extremely excited about the prospect. When I saw the trailer for the movie Stoker I was even more excited



Despite the amazing looking trailer which had Park Chan-wook’s visual style written all over it the end result was what felt overly long (considering it was 99 minutes long), over stylised, disjointed mess. I tried to love it, but couldn’t. Visually it was amazing – the film is testament to his visual style but the script didn’t hold up and it contained some of the most wooden acting I’ve seen, especially from Nicole Kidman who seems to get worse with every movie she makes. The film tried to be too many things at once, but none of these things it did well, if not for the unique and interesting visual style the film would have been a complete let down, but this visuals over powered every aspect of the movie to the point where it took away from what would have been some of the better scenes in the movie


Stoker fell under the curse of the Foreign directors coming to Hollywood that have plagued so many directors, in which their first US movie has to suck balls.



is the latest territory to he hit the influx of its directors to Hollywood. Jee-won Kim recently directed the Arnold Schwarzenegger movie The Last Stand, a movie with some very mixed reviews, but I’m yet to see it, but looking at his previous Korean work like A Tale of Two Sisters, A Bittersweet Life and I Saw The Devil – this movie is nothing like his previous work although some of his visual style seems to come through



Its almost as if this US movie is a watered down version of the elements of his films that people know and love him for.


Hong Kong Directors

Look at John Woo. Hard Boiled the first Hong movie I ever saw of his, and is an uncompromising & brutal movie, yet absolutely artistic in its delivery of its action scenes. From its opening scene you realise that what you’re about the witness is something special.



It was way before its time and delivered in terms of action scenes what Hollywood attained to do, and brought on a series of copy cats, much like the affect a movie like The Raid will now have on Hollywood


It seemed only natural for John Woo to be the first in the influx of Asian directors to the US. This lead to his first US movie – Hard Target which suffered from what I’ve termed the Jean Claude Van Damme Curse – a curse which has plagued many a Hong Kong movie director. It seems that by rite of passage every Hong Kong director has to make their first US film with JCVD – sort of like if you can make a good film with JCVD then you can make a good film with anyone.


Ringo Lam, a director of some of the greatest Hong Kong movies ever like City on Fire, a heist movie known to be the inspiration for Reservoir Dogs, and Full Alert a heist movie which is up there amongst my favorites with the likes of Heat.



It was natural for him to come to the US to make movies – something I was truly excited about as I thought it was would bring some of those much needed Michael Mann-erisms back to Hollywood, but not once but three times suffered from the JCVD curse with Maximum Risk in 1996, Replicant in 2001 and In Hell in 2003 – which were all pretty terrible. Luckily in between these movies he has been back to Hong Kong and made some greats


Tsui Hark, a Hong Kong movie veteran since the early 80s, whose movie Zu Warriors from the Magic Mountain in 1983 broke the boundaries of special effects at the time collaborating with the technicians from movies like Star Wars and Star Trek



He also directed Once Upon a Time in China which catapulted Jet Li‘s career and was producer of John Woo’s A Better Tomorrow & The Killer, as well as A Chinese Ghost Story. He came to the US and was hit by the JCVD movie Double Team



The movie is terrible, but extremely watchable for its shear ridiculousness and unintentional laughs. He didn’t learn and was hit by the JCVD curse again for his movie The Knock Off. He has since moved back to Hong Kong to make proper movies again.


It seems the only Hong Kong director to escape the JCVD curse was Kirk Wong director of Jackie Chan’s Crime Story and made his US debut with with the Mark Wahlberg & Lou Diamond Phillips movie – The Big Hit. No don’t get me wrong – I like this movie for its comedy and unintentional funniness but in essence its shit and not a touch on his previous material



He then went on to make The Disciples with Ice-T and Eva Mendez which was so terrible that it was released under Alan Smittee and no one has heard anything from him since


With word of the likes of Andrew Lau and Jonnie To potentially coming to the US it probably a good thing that JCVD is no longer “in his prime”


French Directors

Foreign movie directors coming to the US and having to deal with absolute fuckery is not limited to Asia, French directors also have to proverbially eat shit when they first come to Hollywood. Xavier Gens director of the brutal horror Frontier(s) was soon after brought to the US to make the visually amazing, but extremely poorly scripted Hitman.



Alexandre Aja made one of few movies to really make me squirm and grab a pillow and use it to cover my face when watching – Haute Tension aka Switchblade Romance



The movie was a real game changer and lead to people looking at the whole slasher horror genre in a different way. He then came to the US to make The Hills Have Eyes remake which despite its success was pretty unoriginal


Jean-Pierre Jeunet has a very distinctive visual style which bleeds through all of his movies. He truly is a unique director that brings his fantastical worlds to life in strange and wonderful ways with films like Delicatessen and The City of Lost Children



His influence can be seen on many directors today and is considered to be the French Terry Gilliam. It seemed natural and exciting for him to come to the US and was given Alien Resurrection as his first Hollywood project. Considering the script his actually did a good job and his visual style was well represented in it, but the movie was very flawed. He has since gone back to France to make movies where is next films were the multi award winning Amelie and A Very Long Engagement – it says a lot.


La Haine director Mathieu Kassovitz made what seemed like a natural progression to the states after the film’s success, but rather than be given the sort of subject matter he is used to he made a horror and a scifi both of which were pretty terrible – namely the Halle Berry movie Gothika and the Vin Diesel scifi actioner Babylon A.D


German directors

On the Germany. Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck created an intimate view of the world of drama thrillers with The Lives of Others in 2006 which went on to win an oscar.



This same director came to the US to make The Tourist. As far as talent and budget goes Hollywood this time didn’t hold back, but wow the script sucked, I almost can’t believe it was the same director as The Lives of Others.


It’s not looking good….

I think I’ll stop there for now. Why is it that these great directors are brought to the US with their unlimited budgets and should let these directors truly run free. It seems instead they are not given the normal choice of projects they would normally have as well as the same creative control and post production time as they get in their home territories. Jose Padilha director of the Brazilian hit Elite Squad and its sequel was chosen to be director of the RoboCop reboot, a project that has been wrought with many problems and delays. He has spoken recently of the uphill struggle that he has experience whilst making the movie and how of every 10 ideas he has 9 of them are rejected by the studio, and how he’ll never make another American film again after this movie. A very much unknown director internationally Mike van Diem won an Oscar in 1997 for his movie Character and was suddenly on the Hollywood hit list and was brought to the US to make the movie Spy Game with Robert Redford and Brad Pitt. After working on the movie for 2 years he was fired from the studio and replaced by Tony Scott (RIP)


There are many reasons why movies like Stoker failed. The creative control these directors are used to is lost. To me it felt like Chan Park Wook didn’t have the control he is used to in his usual movies and he then went all out (a little overly in places) on the aspects he did have control over – namely the cinematography, which despite its beauty and showed his skills was overdone, felt out of place and took away from the story in places. Its is for these reasons that many of the first Hollywood movies from foreign directors become style over substance exercises.


Has my disappointment over Stoker and other foreign director Hollywood movies made me bitter and write off all foreign directors coming to the US – some what yes. It hasn’t been all bad.


….but there’s hope

I’ve mentioned the troubles that the new RoboCop project is currently in, but did you know that the original RoboCop movie was the first US movie from Dutch director Paul Verhoven. Despite more recently making terrible movies like Godzilla and 2012,  Roland Emmerich first American movie was Universal Soldier – yeah the film is terrible and it has Jean Claude Van Damme in it, but when it first came out it was the shit rather than just shit. We cannot also forget the likes of Werner Herzog. Roman Polanski‘s first Hollywood production (despite previously some English movies) was Rosemary’s Baby which changed horror movies forever (if you’ve not seen his whole Apartment Trilogy which also includes Repulsion & The Tenant – I’d highly recommend it). Before his amazing US debut of Drive, Nicolas Winding Refn created the Pusher Trilogy which really pushed him into the limelight, the first movie of which has already spawned 2 English language remakes already



prior to coming to the states he also made 2 UK productions – the amazing Bronson which put Tom Hardy on the map and the relentless Valhalla Rising.



Let the Right One in (original) director Tomas Alfredson made the brilliant Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (although in many respects it can be considered an English movie rather than a Hollywood production). Pan’s Labrynth Director Guillermo Del Toro had his US debut with the better than average Mimic and has since released films like Hellboy as well as quitting directing The Hobbit. City of God director Fernando Meirelles has his US debut with the multi award winning The Constant Gardener. Amores Perros & Biutiful director Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu‘s US debut was with the wonderful Sean Penn drama 21 Grams which was a very much like his previous material but in the States



How can we forget Ang Lee who’s Life of Pi recently won him best director at the Oscars, his US debut Sense & Sensibilty was award winning and he has since followed it up with films like Ice Storm, The Hulk and Brokeback Mountain. Wong Kar Wai who directed many Hong Kong greats like Ashes of Time, Chungking Express & Fallen Angels made his US debut with the not very talked about but highly acclaimed Norah Jones movie My Blueberry Nights



So I guess its not all that bad, but for a large part coming to Hollywood is a minefield for foriegn directors. Hollywood is an amazing place, but a very different kettle of fish from the foriegn movie market in terms of the levels of control directors have over their movies and the amount of time they can spend on post production. Here’s hoping that RoboCop and Snowpercer will be all they can be and have as much substance as they do style. The problems of Mike van Diem on Spy Game show both Hollywood’s quickness to jump on a new foreign movie director yet not allowing them the levels of control that they are used to in their own markets.


Stoker is the first movie that Park Chan-wook did not screen write and it shows. Despite its many faults its not a terrible film. Its not exactly great and I won’t be in a hurry to watch it again. His skills do come through as he did a much better job with the ropey script as most would have. Lets hope that this movie is not his last foray into Hollywood as he could achieve great things in Hollywood given the right project and level of control


By Tendai – Cognitive Space