As South Korean troublemaker Kim Jee-woon’s recent The Last Stand proved, worldly arthouse directors often get neutered when they hit America.
Park Chan-wook’s US debut busts that mould.
Despite brimming with movie references, the Oldboy auteur’s cool, cruel family mystery never falls into faceless homage: its queasy eroticism, black wit, arch nastiness and intensely loaded images couldn’t be anyone else’s doing.
Hitchcock’s Shadow Of A Doubt is echoed in Uncle Charlie (Matthew Goode), who arrives at the funeral of his brother Richard (Dermot Mulroney) oozing smarmy malevolence.
But Chan-wook diverts into coming-of-age turf, seen through the black gaze of Richard’s 18-year-old kid India (Mia Wasikowska), a Wednesday Addams-alike who wields a mean pencil.
When Charlie meets India, the plot thickens: India’s mum’s (Nicole Kidman) designs on Charlie, Charlie’s designs on India and intimations of family secrets offer enough psychosexual subtext to give Freud a migraine.
Prison Break actor Wentworth Miller’s script sounds schlocky on paper, but Chan-wook charges it with style: the symbolic images (eggshells, spiders), suffocatingly lush furnishings, discordant Clint Mansell score and contained setting lure us into its claustrophobic hothouse of suggestion and suspicion.
Wasikowska is a revelation, and Kidman rediscovers her brittle form.
Some will find the grandiose climax excessive.
Others will see something to relish in its mix of OTT violence and gallows humour: proof that Chan-wook’s appetite for disruption hasn’t been lost in translation.
Park Chan-wook brings operatic finesse to generic material in his tight-wound, wickedly weird US debut. And Mia Wasikowska nails it.