May 14, 2013

Film review. An analysis of the cinematography of Stoker by Chan-wook Park

This week I've seen Stoker, a movie by Chan-wook Park, the director of Old Boy,  Sympathy for Lady Vengeance and Thirst. I was intrigued to see if Hollywood changed the creative vision of the awarded south Korean director.

The plot. When her father dies, India, a 18 year old introspective and apparently passive girl finds herself to deal with the presence of her uncle whose existence she was not aware. The relationship of hate and infatuation with this mysterious charming man will help her to discover who she really is.

Cinematography: Chung-hoon Chung
Camera: Arricam ST, Arriflex 435
Lenses: Zeiss Master Prime, Angenioux Optimo
Aspect ratio: 2.35:1
Format: Super 35mm (3-perf)
Film Stock: Kodak 5207 250D; Kodak 5219 500T

Once again, as he did for the vengeance trilogy and Thirst, Chan-wook Park relies on Chung-hoon Chung who chooses the combination of  Kodak stock film and Zeiss Master Prime to shoot this mysterious thriller. This decision results in a very clean, precise and very high quality image (very typical of the Zeiss lenses) with a superb colour reproduction. Chung pays attention to every detail, liking better extreme close ups, cut-ins and longer lenses than wide angles and very wide shots and always with a great use of the depth of field achieving a neat and powerful aesthetic in every frame.

Since the beginning of the movie we notice that the image is brighter than it used to be in the last movies (the price to pay for shooting with Hollywood?), however Chung's work is outstanding. Light is always natural and justified: windows, doors and set lights are used as source in such a good way that you don't even think the scene it's been lighted. Almost throughout the movie, light is soft and  diffused  and shadows are rare but  well employed, creating an elegant and calm atmosphere, in contrast with the characters of the story. 

The camera is always steady, apart for two situations: when, during the first scenes, India is whirling inside the camera becomes quite shaking not only when it assumes her point of view but also when she is in front but close to the camera, which is rather interesting; and when her mother  loses for the first time her state of calmness and composure. Camera movements are also well employed to serve the fresh and creative vision of the director, especially in the piano duet scene.  

If a I have to mention a negative point of Chung's cinematography it would be the shot of the conversation between India and her uncle where they are framed with their head in the middle of the screen, with half frame empty above them: different and rule-breaking but in my opinion a bit forced and without much sense.

Chung-hoon Chung proved again to be a finest cinematographer yet without the recognition he should deserve, capable of creating a great aesthetic to a film which is not among Chan-wook Park's best works.


  1. Hi there! I'm a big fan of Chung Chung Hoon but I kind of having trouble when it comes to identifying the lenses he often use.
    So I kinda want to ask if you know what lenses he used particularly in the telephone booth (the wide angle one: 1:33 in the trailer) and the one when she said "My father is dead". (0:44 in the trailer).
    I'm thinking that maybe 24 and 85 but I'm not sure. Hope you can give me your insight. Thanks!

    1. Hi! You are almost right! for the second scene you mention, it's a 65mm, you can tell by the proportions and the apparent distance of the background. In the scene of the telephone booth they used a 35mm with the steady-cam and, when they placed the camera on the other side they used a telephoto, a 75mm I reckon, because of the compressed distance of the background from the subjects and the soft bokeh it has. Hope it helped!

  2. Thank you for this article!
    I'm a huge fan of Chung Chung-Hoon, but it is so incredibly hard to find any information about him (not even any pictures)!
    He is definitely one of the most creative cinematographers out there and it is such a shame that he is so underrated. Even in the Stoker DVD extras there is no mention of him, which is weird because he plays such a vital role in the look of most of Park Chan-Wook's films.

  3. hi i am a big fan chung hoon chung and was wondering if you could tell me what lighting he used and lenses he used in the piano duet between india and charlie as i would love to replicate the style of the scene thanks :)