Michelle Kim breaks all the rules in her debut feature, The Tree Inside. Shot over 12 months, the film beautifully employs Vancouver's changing seasons to reflect the winding, unpredictable, oddly paced tale of 20-something, commitment-shy Myra (played by Kim), who's locked in a thorny relationship with a teacher, David (Casey Manderson).
It’s a distinctly feminine movie, filled with strikingly frank conversations about cock size among other matters between Kim and her best friend, Jennifer (The Interview’s Diana Bang), sharply observed Millennial archetypes, and even an unlikely tribute in its climactic scenes to, of all things, Chan-wook Park's Oldboy.
“We tried to dismiss conventions that we weren’t even looking for,” Kim tells the Straight, calling from a filmmaking workshop in Kyoto.
“There are a couple of scenes where I look in the camera and [co-director] Rob [Leickner] and I were, like, ‘Let’s keep this.’ Locations didn’t work out and we’d just find something better. It was an intuitive film. We shot and edited it intuitively. Everybody performed in it intuitively.”
Kim and Leickner courted disaster, in other words, for a whole year, coming up trumps with a charming and unusually honest film. Kim tapped her own brother for a small role—he’s one of the film’s many non-actors—“because I couldn’t find another half-Korean guy.”
“A lot of his dialogue comes from when he thought we weren’t shooting and he was just swearing at me—and we kept it,” Kim continues.
“It all felt very real. It’s not supposed to happen on set but all the drinking scenes were real. I encouraged it. For what this film was, it really worked, especially with the non-actors. In the dinner scene, the guy that plays opposite Diana is a banker, and the woman who play’s Dave’s ex-girlfriend is a nurse-educator. And she’s so good!!”
Agreed. As is Michael Turner, who shows up late in the film to play a louche, housecoat wearing novelist-poet with a strange and probably not very healthy hold on Myra. She takes a drunken skinny dip in his pool. He pulls her out and delivers a brilliantly Michael Turner-esque monologue about her “multivalent” nature.
“He definitely got into character,” Kim says, with a laugh. “It was really awkward. I went to one of his readings when I was 13, and the second time I see him, he’s looking at me naked.”
The Tree Inside screens as part of the Vancouver Asian Film Festival, on Friday (November 6)