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This is the time for South Korean directors to arrive on American shores and show us how it’s done. Just earlier this month, Ji-woon Kim’s The Last Stand provided a refreshing blast of well-made action, even if audiences foolishly allowed it to die at the box office. And at Sundance, an even greater and more revered Korean filmmaker, Chan-wook Park, made his English language debut. It’s not Park’s best film, but it’s a thrilling promise that a change of scenery won’t dull his edge.

Park is known for work that is extremely violent, philosophical, dark, and visually stunning. His three vengeance films (Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance, Oldboy, and Lady Vengeance (all three of which are being remade in the US, incidentally)) constitute one of the best trilogies ever made, and three of the best movies of the last decade. This is why his coming to the US, with a film that stars Mia Wasikowska, Nicole Kidman, and Matthew Goode, is such a big deal for cinema enthusiasts. If he can achieve even a modicum of mainstream recognition without losing his talent, it will be an artistic boon for everyone in this business.

The story features Wasikowska as India, a melancholy rich girl whose father has just died under mysterious circumstances. Not long after, she meets her uncle Charlie (Goode) for the first time, which she suspects isn’t a coincidence. Charlie very quickly insinuates himself into the lives of India and her cold, distant mother Evelyn (Kidman). He seems all too eager to claim his late brother’s status in the family… and possibly go even further, if his uncomfortable fascination with India is any indication. Soon, people who know things about Charlie’s past are dying, and India finds herself caught up in an escalating sequence of violence.

But this isn’t the story one might think it is. It starts out looking like that kind of story, a sort of twist on the home invasion thriller, but as the film unspools, it gradually becomes clear that it’s actually something quite different. In reality, it’s a coming-of-age tale, as India learns to come into her own and start down the road to adulthood. Except it’s a drastically warped vision of coming-of-age.

The expectation that an audience will likely have of this kind of plot, one that the film knowingly plays to at first, before proceeding to subvert it, is that India will overcome her social awkwardness as a result of her trials. She does, but not in the way protagonists like her usually do. It becomes clear as the movie goes on that India is a disturbed girl, and when her triumphs come, it’s not clear whether the audience is meant to cheer or shudder in revulsion. Likely, it’s both.

This is Park’s greatness. He’s doing Hitchcock, though with more of an explicit sensibility than that master was allowed to showcase, due to the strictures of the time he lived in. Park displays the same exceptional talent for generating suspense, and for visual panache. The film looks gorgeous, and has some terrific recurring imagery (shoes, a spider crawling up a leg, a lamp swinging from the ceiling) that both thematically resonates and drums up a meaning-laden backbeat to everything that happens. It’s full of arresting photographic and editing choices, but each one exists for a reason beyond “looking cool.” That’s what separates Park from the pack.

And yet, despite all this gushing, this is pretty far from Park’s best film. In fact, I’d only call it better than Joint Security Area, one of his first (I haven’t seen I’m A Cyborg, but I’m Okay). While Wasikowska is great as India and Goode is manically mesmerizing as Charlie, there’s an awful lot of wonky acting in the film, especially from Kidman. Park seems to be directing everyone to act as if they were in one of his Korean films, but that style feels alien when embodied in English-speakers. There are strange pauses in dialogue and odd affectations that make the film unintentionally silly at times.

More disappointing is that while Stoker is an achingly cool stylistic exercise, it really isn’t more than just that: an exercise. There’s not much of the thought-provoking ideas that mark so much of Park’s work. The gruesomeness of his movies is only half the reason that they stick with the viewer – the other half comes from the films worming their way into one’s head with unshakeable philosophical questions. Stoker isn’t empty, but there’s not as much going on beneath the surface as there could be.

But it’s still a great movie. It carries on Park’s tradition of uncomfortable subject matter. It’s doubtful that the mainstream audience will expect anything like the thick, incestuous overtones between India and Charlie. Stoker is a fun time at the movies, provided you’re game for some absolutely bonkers plot developments and ruthlessly skilled craftsmanship. Chan-wook Park is going to do great things in this country.