When a world-destroying storm hits Hong Kong, Asha (Kara Wang) is stripped from the life she once knew and forced to live out her days scrounging for scarce supplies, whilst hiding from vicious enemies. All hope for the future seems lost until the arrival of Hei Hei (Sarinna Boggs) changes everything. STARBURST talks with Kara to uncover everything you need to know about THE CALM BEYOND, a distressed, post-apocalyptic story!
STARBURST: At the start of the movie, it’s just your character Asha. What were those scenes by yourself like to do, and how did you go about bringing the frustration of her situation to the screen?
Kara Wang: When people ask me about the film, I always say that it’s a cross between Castaway and Waterworld with elements of Mad Max in there. Obviously, the parts you’re talking about at the very beginning are like Castaway, where it is just me, in this building, by myself, no other characters to play off of. It was a really great experience, and I had an amazing crew there to support me. Because I had worked with Joshua Wong before, I considered him as such a dear friend of mine, I know where the story of Asha, and where the character of Asha was born from, which was his first experience with cancer. So it was a really, really cool experience, to be able to talk to him, pick his brain, and talk about these themes of trauma, guilt, isolation, and grief. Those were the things that I really wanted to make sure that I brought justice to when I was exploring her arc and the development of this character.
When Asha listens to her radio, she flicks past a channel that is looking for survivors. How would describe your character when we first meet her? Is she not that hopeful for a better future?
Absolutely, I think it comes out later in the film when Hei Hei comes into her life where she’s like “I’ve tried going out there before, and it’s dangerous out there” So it’s clear that she has, at some point during her isolation ventured out into the world, and gave it a go, but it obviously didn’t go well, and from that one attempt she’s been discouraged. I think one of the themes of the film that is highlighted so beautifully is this difference between surviving and living, they’re two very different things. At the very beginning of the film, when we meet Asha you see that she is just surviving. She is just coasting day to day with her life, and I think it’s something that most people can relate to. That we’ve probably all done at some point in our lives, where we are living day by day and coasting, but maybe not necessarily in a good way, it’s very stagnant. What is the difference between surviving and actually living; living to your fullest potential and living life for different purposes in your life, and feeling like you’re actually living your life? It’s very interesting, we shot this film in 2019, pre-COVID, and now it’s coming out post-COVID, and obviously, when we shot it we had no idea of the shitstorm that was heading our way for two years, and it’s very interesting because I always think about if I had shot this film now, how different it would be. I feel like the world collectively has had this universal experience, of dealing with isolation, trauma, and grief, that we didn’t have two years ago. So I think that this film will hit audiences a little differently than if it had come out two years ago.
Things start to change when Hei Hei enters the movie. Can you tell us about what Sarinna Boggs was like to work with, and what she brought to the dynamic between both of your characters on screen?
Sarinna was absolutely incredible. She was eight years old when we shot this film, and it was her very first feature film role. It’s hard for adults to memorise lines, and be natural on camera, let alone for a child. It’s like, “What was I doing when I was eight years old? I was not doing this!” I was so impressed with Sarinna and her professionalism, and how she brought that childlike innocence and her instincts to her character. That is what most directors want when they cast child actors, they just want them to be them. That’s always the note, “What would you do here?” It was so helpful to me as an actor and also for my character because I feel like that big sister instinct naturally took over. As well as the feeling of wanting to take care of her, take care of her as Sarinna the actor, but to also take care of her as Hei Hei the character. When Asha finally decides to take her in, in the beginning, it’s very much like “Oh, I’m saving this little girl” but I think as the film progresses, it’s very clear that in a lot of ways it’s Hei Hei who’s saved Asha’s life. She’s brought this hope and purpose back into this girl’s life. When she has been so tied to grief, trauma, guilt, and isolation for so long. It was a great experience, Sarinna was wonderful to work with, and I was really happy to be there for her first feature film role.
In the movie, there are a lot of backstory sequences about Asha, with her friends and family. What do you think those backstories brought to the story in the present day?
I thought that the story reveals itself so brilliantly, because obviously, we start with Asha in the present day, but then as the flashbacks come, and they’re cut in-between these very bleak scenes of the present, it contrasted it so well. Because it would be so bleak, and then you go back to the past, and you would see how Asha was this vibrant person with family and friends. I thought that it just played that contrast really well. I thought that it was also wonderful to see the world before and to see the present-day world. Because once again it’s that idea of what is living versus surviving. She’s currently surviving in the present, but she used to be living for lack of a better word, with all of these things that also seem so menial, like taking selfies, eating fries, going shopping, talking about hiding her boyfriend from her parents. So when it flashes back to the present day it can seem so “Wow those things were so petty, and here I am trying to survive” but also, are those things petty? Those are the little things that make up the fabric of living your life.
We felt like the unresolved issues with Asha's family really shaped who Asha is, and how she interacts with those she meets within the movie. Would you agree with that?
Yeah, I absolutely do. I think the flashbacks of her with her family, linking back up to the present and you see how there’s actually a physical tie to her grief, how she can’t leave this apartment for a lot of reasons, because she’s made this home for herself to survive. But also I think in a lot of ways, she’s tied to that grief physically. There’s a comfort in that grief. There’s the comfort of knowing her parents are there, but also the guilt that keeps her there. It does definitely shape who she is, and how she deals with the characters that come into her life. Even Hei Hei, what does Hei Hei represent? Hei Hei brings up so many layers of grief and trauma, and guilt from her own sister, not being able to save her own sister, and all of these feelings that she has suppressed for so long because she has just been trying to survive.
Your character gets redemption for not saving her own sister at the end of the movie. What was that gory fight sequence like to film, and what else do you personally think it brings to your character’s story arc?
The action scenes at the end were actually so fun to shoot. I got to do all of my own stunts for the film, which was very exciting. It’s something that I hadn’t had the opportunity to do, and I had a great stunt team there to support me, to make sure I was safe and taking care of my body, and taking care of myself. Those scenes were very fun to shoot. They were very physically exhausting, but it was just a great opportunity to be able to shoot something so physical. When it comes to the character arc, as you said, it is a redemption. For so long she has been stagnant and chosen to hide, instead of taking action, and Hei Hei is one of the reasons that drive her to be able to finally make these choices. She has something to live for and fight for. I think it was definitely a monumental moment for Asha’s character, to choose to fight, instead of to hide, because for so long that’s all she did to survive, and finally, it’s like “Oh, there are actually other choices, we just have to choose to make them”
Going on from that, can you elaborate on what it was like to work with Joshua Wong, and what do you think his vision really brought to the movie? Also, we were very sorry to hear about his passing.
Yeah, Josh was so amazing, he, unfortunately, passed away on Christmas Day, 2020. I had worked with him on a short film before he approached me for this feature, so I kind of knew his directing style already, and Josh was just a ball of light. He was always cracking jokes on set, and very collaborative. For this particular project, he was very open to my take on the character, if there were certain lines that I wanted to change, which didn’t feel natural. He was just like the energizer bunny! I have no idea how that man had so much energy. Especially as adults now. I do like three things in a day and it’s like “I’m exhausted” I was so driven by his passion, he was a very, very passionate person, and he was also very driven. If he wanted to get something done, he would get it done. I saw that in the everyday work that we did, but also in the grand scheme and scope of things. He would put his mind to something, and he would get it done. I would really say that he brought the light to every day of work, he was so considerate and so thoughtful. I went on a meal plan for this film because I wanted to make sure that I looked a certain way for the world, and Joshua was also on a full 30 plan, so he would cook all of my meals, along with his, and he made sure he was part of my intermittent fasting schedule, to the smallest, minute details. These are the things that people don’t get to see, but how considerate and thoughtful he was. Nothing was too much of a nuisance for him. Every detail was important, and nothing was ever a problem. He would just handle it, and he’d handle it while telling his jokes. It was great.
The sets were brilliant and extremely detailed. Can you tell us what they were like to work within?
The sets were so incredible!. I shot in the various rooms every day for a month, and I would still discover new things about them, 30 days down. They rented out a warehouse, that had a couple of floors, including the roof where we shot, and they basically built the set from the bottom up. We had an incredible Hong Kong set designer, art director, production designer, and they had a theme for every room. As you saw, there was a music room, there were flats, there were apartments there, there was like a seamstress room. Thematically, the rooms were wonderful, I don’t know how they make something look like distressed so artistically. You go in these rooms, and it looks like someone went through them with a tornado, but everything was placed there with purpose and intention. It was such a treat, and so helpful for me when I was shooting as well. Because when I was shooting, there were cameras and lights everywhere, but also, it’s so easy to immerse myself in the world because of the environment. So, in a lot of ways, the set was another character in the film.
We were curious to know, what was the huge storm flood sequence like to work on, and how long did it take to come together?
The flood obviously came later in VFX, but this scene once again speaks to Joshua’s character. All of those extras in that scene were Joshua’s friends. He literally made a call and said “I need people to run down the street tonight, can people come through?” and there were like 150 people! I have no idea how he got all of these people to come and volunteer their time. You know how it is on sets, it’s not a two-hour little hold on your time, they were there all night. It’s because Joshua is so generous as a person, normally in his everyday life, so I wasn’t surprised when he made the call, and so many people showed up. We did shoot that scene in just one night, it was a very long night. I remember that day it rained in Hong Kong, and sometimes the weather there is very unpredictable. It wasn’t supposed to rain, but it rained, and obviously, they had already planned to shoot this massive scene with 100s of extras, and it rained and we didn’t know if we were going to be able to shoot, because they didn’t know if it was going to be safe, with so many people running down the street, now that the street was wet. I remember the cameras went up, Joshua talked to everybody and made sure that they were safe, and had practised running on the pavement, and made sure that nobody was slipping. However, it was actually a blessing in disguise, because when I think we saw the shot, the lights were reflecting off the wet cement, so it actually added another layer that I don’t think the shot would have looked the way that it did if it hadn’t rained. Everybody was just so professional, it was awesome. When you’re shooting scenes like that, and you’re running with like 50 people behind you, you do not need to act terrified. I was like “Holy shit, I better run, because there are 50 people behind me, and this is a stampede”. I will also say that I got my steps in that night, running up those stairs, it was a lot! But hey, my calves got a good workout that day.
If we haven't already covered it, is there anything else that you would really want the viewer to take away, or learn from watching The Calm Beyond?
I think at the end of the film, what I would love the audience to walk away with is a sense of hope. Now that I have re-watched the film in the times that we’re in, the film definitely hits differently. Because the world has a universal understanding of some of these themes because we are going through this pandemic together. But all of us have various storms that hit our lives, from small storms to larger storms, but it is about the calm beyond those storms. I do believe that the message of the film at the end is that things will always pass, and we always have choices to choose how we move forward from these storms, and there will be a calm beyond the storm that we can look forward to. So I do think that that’s sort of a sense of what I would love the audience to walk away with.
The Calm Beyond is available on digital outlets now.