Expats and Elites on Film

The test screening for the indie films The View From Here & Caliban’s showcased at Seoul Cinema last Friday to a full audience and received warm reception. Both shorts were filmed in South Korea and directed by an American in Korea, Kevin Lambert.

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The View From Here

The night kicked off with The View from Here, written and directed by Lambert. The View from Here is a dark comedy/drama, deeply set in feelings, both underlying and apparent. This film follows an expat couple living in South Korea who are faced with complications in their relationship due to pornography addiction. The topic seems heavy, but it wasn’t the dominating theme of the film which allowed room for humour and affection to be seen in the main characters, played by Miles Meili and Wendy Taylor.

Meili and Taylor in The View from Here.

Meili and Taylor in The View from Here.

One of the elements that made The View from Here seem authentic was that the film wasn’t totally scripted. Although this film was rehearsed many times over 6 months, there was a lot of open dialogue. According to Lambert, the idea was to establish, “this is what happens in this scene, these are the beats we need to hit,” but the rest was organic, making every take different from the last. There was a lot of witty conversation and expat life observations between Meili and Taylor, giving the film some lighter moments in an otherwise heavy environment. One of the sound guys, Edward Burgos, said he found the filming emotionally straining to be a part of. “I was just the sound guy and I was tense,” said Burgos, on the topic of shooting some of the more heated scenes.

Taylor in the mudflats in one of the most intense scenes of the film.

Taylor in the mudflats in one of the most intense scenes of the film.

The filming of The View From Here was approached with a documentary style, with all handheld shots and no tripods. “The idea was that we wanted it to feel natural and unsettling,” said Lambert, much like real life often is. Caliban’s, in contrast, was approached with the classical film style, being in black and white and with less hand-held shots, ‘harking back to a different era of film,” said Lambert.

The cast between takes on the set of Caliban's.

The cast between takes on the set of Caliban’s.

Caliban’s

Caliban’s was originally a play, written and directed by Ray Salcedo two years ago. Transforming it into a short film piece, Lambert chose black and white for the classic glamour, since it showcases the elite 1% and their decadent lifestyle. This short film is set in a high-class restaurant filled with rich socialites where anything can be bought for a price – including human meat for dinner. Caliban’s was shot at a place called Trick Magic Bar in Myeongdong, Seoul, where they do magic tricks as part of the evening entertainment. The film’s set designer transformed the bar into a place of fine dining for those with a taste for the macabre on their palette.

Back: Susan Morgan & Ray Salcedo Front: Rae Dohar & Lindsey Higgins.

Caliban’s: Back row, Susan Morgan & Ray Salcedo.    Front: Rae Dohar & Lindsey Higgins.

As for the origins of this story, there are dark roots which led to this dark comedy. While reading a book on the North Korean famine a few years ago, Salcedo came across a passage where one North Korean woman is explaining to another why she should be eating human meat instead of animal meat. The salesmanship of this woman boasting the benefits of human meat seemed so ludicrous that it garnered a chuckle out of Salcedo, which gave him the spark. He remembered thinking, “if something that desperate can be twisted into something that can make you laugh, maybe a dark comedy could come of that.” That spark led to further research on cannibalism and the rest you’ll have to see for yourself.

I had a few questions for director Kevin Lambert about The View from Here:

Kevin Lambert taking questions from the test screening audience.

Kevin Lambert taking questions from the test screening audience.

What made you want to tell the story of The View from Here?

I needed to address the issue of porn addiction which I felt (at the time) wasn’t getting any airtime. This was before Don Jon’s Addiction and even a few of the popular documentaries on the subject. I remember about a decade ago all you heard was “porn is healthy for men and relationships” and that never sat well with me. Of course, I didn’t want to hammer it over anyone’s head so there’s really not much mention of it. I just used it as a catalyst.

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Was the topic of addiction for the sake of art or was it something more personal that you wanted to get off your chest?

It’s personal. Well, it was for art too of course. You have to challenge status quo, even if the idea is incorrect. I can’t be afraid to be wrong, but I am. Truly fearless films challenge everything and make a reasoned argument. I’m terrible at arguing so I let my characters do that for me.

In a sense, there is no final resolution in The View from Here. Did you consciously choose to let the viewer decide or did it happen organically?

It’s definitely an organic process. Just as a tomato plant grows however the hell it wants to, your film will inevitably take turns that are in ways out of your immediate control and lend to decisions that change the final version.

The cast and crew of The View from Here.

The cast and crew of The View from Here.

The handheld shooting style for The View from Here used two cameras to capture the scenes, one long lens and one short. The resulting imagery is unique as many shots fade in and out from blurry to sharp, often drawing your eye to a different part of the screen that what you’re used to. On that filming technique, Lambert said the filming was shot to feel like an untrained hand. He said, “it shouldn’t feel like a film crew even if it feels like someone’s there. People think they’re supposed to empathize with the characters, but in some ways I think they’re really empathizing with the lens.  Averting their gaze, trying to get out of the room at times.”

Now that there’s finished copy of both The View from Here and Caliban’s, Lambert will be submitting the film to international film festivals around the world, so keep an eye out for the next screening.

3 thoughts on “Expats and Elites on Film

  1. @Mom, I did enjoy both films. I was trying to stay objective and not show my opinion, but yes, they were both good. I liked Caliban’s best, as the filming style was interestering to watch in black and white and the plot was so bizarre! Thanks for reading.

  2. Nice job. I like that you were able to ask Lambert some great questions.
    You summarized the plots in both films, but what did you think of them? Did you enjoy them? The View from Here sounds interesting, yet as you mention there was no final resolution. Did you leave feeling “What just happened?”
    Awesome writing Schmengy! I love you xoxoxox

  3. Hi Sweetheart:
    Your writing and journalistic bent knows no bounds–now a film critic and why not?
    Enjoyed your interview but I don’t get the porno interest by the director.
    Anyway, good col-yoom. Congrats.

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