Roseanne Liang is on a roll, passionately extolling the many worthy virtues of action flicks.
"Anyone who thinks that action films are hollow isn't taking notice," she states. "They work on a spectacle level but they also punch on an emotional and intellectual level."
We're chatting about her new film Shadow in the Cloud, a joyously over-the-top genre mash-up of World War II action and monster-movie horror which opens in cinemas today. The Chinese-New Zealand director filmed it here, tasking Weta with handling the movie's many special effects.
Hollywood starlet Chloe Grace Moretz gives a kick-ass performance as Maude Garrett, a female flight officer assigned to the all-male crew of a B-17 bomber en-route from Auckland to Samoa. Given less than a hero's welcome, she's shunted down into the glass-domed gun turret that hangs from the belly of the plane. Things take a very nasty turn when she finds herself under attack from Japanese fighter pilots, a menacing Gremlin-like creature and her fellow soldiers who ignore her increasingly frantic calls to be let out of the turret they've locked her in.
It's a sharp handbrake turn from Liang's award-winning, autobiographical rom-com My Wedding and Other Secrets and her comedic web series Flat3 and Friday Night Bites.
"I really wanted to pivot," she explains. "I've always been a genre girl, right from when I was studying film at university."
She describes her previous work as "a side tour", from her true passion; action. After a short film screened at the Sundance Film Festival in 2017 she gained Hollywood representation.
"It really was one of those 'pinch me' moments. I was at LA airport looking at the ceiling and twirling. Well, I wanted to do that," she laughs. Her Hollywood agent started sending her Hollywood scripts and the one that captured her imagination was titled Shadow in the Cloud.
"It was by one Max Landis," she sighs. "My producer was like, 'I've worked with Max. He's not a good fit for us, personality wise. If you're interested in this we should remove Max from the project so we can do it our way'. And that's what happened. This was before all the criminal allegations came out against him."
Landis, a well-established scriptwriter and filmmaker and son of Hollywood heavyweight John Landis, director of comedy classics like The Blues Brothers and Animal House, was accused of emotional and sexual abuse by eight women in a 2019 article published on The Daily Beast.
"This is where the timeline becomes very important. At the time, 2018, we didn't know the scope or the depth and breadth of his alleged crimes," Liang explains. "All my producer knew was that he was a difficult person to work with and that he should be distanced from the project. The Daily Beast article didn't come out until after we finished shooting the movie."
While his writing credit remains, what you see on screen is vastly different from the original script in terms of its themes, motivations and depths of character. Liang refers to the original script as a blueprint she built off, adding social commentary and gender issue themes during her many rewrites and revisions.
"We thought deeply about the men's motivations. They're not just hateful men. They're of a time and combine into this wolf pack that's one of the biggest adversities that Garret has to face," she explains. "Unfortunately, that's really relatable for anyone who has ever been in an unsafe space and felt like they're being aggressed upon and that they don't have the power to do anything about it."
The turret Garrett is trapped in is the definition of an unsafe space, with bullets flying, a gremlin clawing at the window and the glass cracking under her feet.
"It's an allegory, especially now," Liang says. "I started this before the pandemic but now I just feel overwhelmed. I'm so worried by so many things; we've got climate change, the age of misinformation and what that does to people, the pandemic and all your daily stuff. People say Garrett faces too many adversities in this movie, I don't know, man ... right now we have to deal with so many adversities all at the same time. Just when you think it can't get worse, it gets worse again. That's something that the people who really love this movie really understand on an empathetic level. This is not a movie about the war, this is about strength against adversity."
And this is why Liang loves action movies. The idea that they can be as big and fanciful as you like while still hitting on a deeper level and also saying something of substance and worth.
"Why do I care about action movies?" she muses. "Because they stay with me. You go and watch them at the cinema and they stay in your imagination for the rest of your life. Those are the movies I want to make."