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A pale shadow of Hitchcock's Shadow from Park Chan-wook.

2 5stars

With the exception of last weekend’s Best Director nod for the Taiwan-born Ang Lee, 2013 has so far been an unlucky year for Asian filmmakers hoping to export their talents to Tinseltown. Korean helmer Kim Jee-woon made a dud of his English-language debut in January’s brain-dead The Last Stand, and, with Stoker, a similar fate has befallen his auteurist compatriot, Park Chan-wook. It’s now ten years since Park’s brilliant, brutal Oldboy made him the darling of the international genre scene, and it’s tempting to suggest that Stoker feels very much like the effort of a director a decade removed from his best work.

In fairness to Park, however, he largely holds up his end of the bargain, lending Stoker an abundance of style as well as queasy overtones of psychosexual dysfunction—which, though less frequently noted than his flair for operatic violence, are a key feature of his Korean filmography. What’s wrong here, rather, is a screenplay from former Prison Break star Wentworth Miller, patently patterned on Hitchcock’s 1943 classic, Shadow of a Doubt, but crucially lacking that film’s suspense, thematic substance, or dramatic weight.

In Stoker, just as in Shadow, the plot centres on the perverse bond between a teenager on the cusp of womanhood (an admittedly strong Mia Wasikowska) and her charming-but-sinister Uncle Charlie (Matthew Goode). Yet where Hitchcock allowed our suspicions to simmer and invited us to invest in a subversive portrait of an American family, Miller’s script forsakes both mystery and emotion. In Park’s hands, the final product is mannered, moody, and dolled up like a fashion mag spread, but it remains at best a pale imitation.