Ian Gamazon’s brilliantly wicked psychological torture film “Living In Seduced Circumstances” opens with a heavily-pregnant woman, a quiver of arrows on her back, pushing a crippled man in a wheel-chair deep into the woods, where unspeakable pain will soon be experienced and relived. What follows is seventy minutes of sheer delight and shock; an economical, low-budget thriller that not only updates genre conventions, but strikes out new territory in its examination of the lingering spectres of the Vietnam War.
The follow-up to Gamazon’s critically acclaimed, kidnap-thriller “Cavite” (co-directed with Neill dela Llana), “Seduced” draws from such genre classics as “Misery” and “Saw”, but invests its story with a historical depth that resonates long after its final credits have concluded.
“Living In Seduced Circumstances” is available this month through Cinema Asian America on Xfinity On Demand. Gamazon sat down to answer a few questions about his latest film:
“Living in Seduced Circumstances” brings together several types of films which aren’t often seen together; the torture-film, an intense socio-historical critique, and the family drama. It is a film that transcends its constituent parts; can you talk about why you wanted to fuse together these seemingly disparate elements?
IG: After “Cavite”, Neill and I went on a lot of meetings in Hollywood. Two years of trying to get projects off the ground really took a toll on us. We had three different scripts ready to go and countless treatments that we had written for producers. It was a very frustrating and painful experience and I was itchy to make another film. After having read many horror/thriller scripts from producers I was in that horror/thriller mindset. I wanted to make a straight-out thriller in the vein of “Misery” or “Death and the Maiden”. But the twist I had in mind was to have the torturer be eight months pregnant. I wanted her to do all these physical activities while carrying a big load. Writing the script I realized how hard it was to make a thrilling and exciting film with limited funds. There were many scenes in the script that weren’t shot – thrilling sequences that wouldn’t have worked without proper care and funding. So I made a decision to take out all those exciting scenes you would find in a typical Hollywood thriller and just focus on the characters. I realized that if I was going to leave out all these scenes there had better be a big payoff in the end. So I infused a historical aspect in the film that you wouldn’t normally find in the torture genre. It was worth the sacrifice just to film the ending scene with Long Nguyen, one of my leads. He nailed it in one take.
The film has only two characters, and was shot in one location; it was made very economically, and you used this freedom and flexibility to your advantage. Did you develop the narrative concept for “Living in Seduced Circumstances” alongside how it would be produced and made?
IG: What I’ve learned from the experience of making no-budget films is to focus on a location that we can shoot most of the film in and minimizing actors I have to direct. It makes life so much easier during production. I’ve always had that mindset. Other filmmakers are able to do a no-budget ensemble cast with ease. I’ve tried that and it was too difficult for me to handle. So when I write I tend to write with these two factors in mind.
Because the film only has two characters, casting must have been a crucial process, to identify the right actors to carry the entire film. How did you choose to cast Long Nguyen and Quynn Ton in the lead roles?
IG: During the writing process I had “Ju Dou” and “Red Sorghum” in mind as far as how the characters were going to look like. I love early Zhang Yimou films. In those films the male characters were usually bald or balding. But there was just something about them acting with Gong Li. They were odd couples but somehow they had great chemistry. It’s a bit selfish on my part because I’ve always wanted to make a foreign film. So I made a decision to shoot the entire film in Vietnamese. I wanted to have an out of the world feel for people who didn’t understand Vietnamese. So the actors had to speak the language as part of the requirement. Of course Vietnamese people will have a totally different experience watching the film. But I was excited to watch the actors act in a language I’m not familiar with.
I knew I had to cast the film around the male character because of the tremendous amount of acting that he had to go through. When I saw Long Nguyen in Ham Tran’s “Journey from the Fall” I immediately knew he was my lead. I hunted him down. When I met him I told him he didn’t have to audition. He had the part. I told him to read the script and if he liked it the part was his.
While hunting for Long I was courting Quynn to play the part. She’s never acted before but I knew she would look great with Long. And since she was my girlfriend at the time (now wife) I knew there was a playful and sadistic side to her that just needed to come out. It took a couple of months to convince Quynn to take a break from being an attorney and act in the film. Since Long was a veteran actor I knew he would bring something out of Quynn. And on the first day of production they immediately hit it off. It was a fun five day shoot.
“Living in Seduced Circumstances” explores the still-open traumas of the Vietnam War, and your previous film “Cavite” (co-directed with Neill Dela Llana) is built around the activities of Islamic separatists in the Philippines. There is deep historical/political context embedded in your films; what draws you to this material?
IG: It’s funny because I’m not a very political person. Nor am I a historical buff. But when I write a script I first focus on the story. Once the structure and the plot points are worked out I try to add a bit of depth to the script. That’s when I do a lot of research on the subject. And if I feel like I can infuse a bit of historical or political context in the film then that’s a cherry on top. “Cavite’s” draw for me was to film a thriller in the Philippines using one character. The political content came later. “Seduced” came about because I wanted to make a “Misery”-type film with an eight-month pregnant woman as the Kathy Bates character. The historical aspect of it came about after the script was almost done. But in both cases I always had an interest in the subject matter and found a reason to somehow incorporate them in the films.
What are you working on now?
IG: I’m in the midst of filming a documentary about the artists in Venice Beach and the struggles they go through in these economic times. I’m so used to making films on the fly that I realized that I need to learn patience when it comes to filming documentaries. I started last year and I’m still working on it. Venice Beach is so hard to capture because you have so many stories you can tell that it can pull you in so many directions. It’s probably going to take me another year to complete. It’s the first and last documentary I plan to do.