TORONTO — Sandra Oh and Anne Heche engage in some over-the-top, '80s-inspired brawling in the new movie "Catfight," but there's much deeper meaning behind the fists and insults that fly onscreen.
In the film, which hit digital and on-demand platforms on Friday, writer-director Onur Tukel seemingly marries his love of dark comedies like "Heathers" and "Crimes and Misdemeanors" with a flavour of retro action films starring the likes of Sylvester Stallone, Bruce Willis and Arnold Schwarzenegger.
Oh and Heche play a pair of one-time college friends whose lives diverged dramatically. Ashley (portrayed by Heche) is barely eking out a living as a struggling artist creating politically charged artworks, while Veronica (Oh) is living the high life as the wine-swilling wife of a wealthy businessman about to profit from a U.S.-led war in the Middle East.
When Veronica and Ashley reunite unexpectedly at a party, some tense exchanges quickly accelerate from biting barbs to a full-out stairwell brawl — and an unlikely reversal of fortunes.
Oh, who hails from the Ottawa suburb of Nepean, said "Catfight" was shot in a brisk 16 days, leaving little wiggle room as she and Heche prepped for their knock-down, drag-out battle scenes.
"It was like choreography on the fly.... 'What do we have? We have this corner.' 'What can we do? Let's do this,'" Oh said during an interview alongside Heche at September's Toronto International Film Festival, where the movie premiered.
"The stunt doubles would do the first pass at it, and we would film them.... And we would learn what we would do, a few moves by a few moves.
"It was exhausting physically and it was exhausting emotionally, and also deeply fulfilling, because it was connecting to what we wanted to say."
The scraps between Veronica and Ashley are both comical and cutthroat but offer a commentary on the violence of a war that's referenced but never seen.
"I'd say for both Anne and I, that's one of the main reasons that we are all interested in it," said Oh. "You see these two characters battling it out, but then, there's a larger point of view on it which is the world, and how difficult it is to stop this cycle of violence and this cycle of loss."
Heche said there are multiple layers and themes within the film that are "going to hit everybody with something."
"The complexity that you want to see it in is up to you. But I think that's what so amazing, because people are receiving it not just in one way," she said. "We're getting people to feel the complication of this life, of this story."
Tukel said he was determined to cast and create a story with women at the centrepiece — in front of and behind the camera.
Alongside producer Gigi Graff, nearly all of the key department heads on "Catfight" are female, including the director of photography, assistant director, camera operator, production and costume designers and make-up artists.
Tukel said it was also important to have input from Oh, Heche and other women in helping the film evolve.
"When I gave the script to them, it was constantly changing based on our discussions. It was written by a guy, and all these women took it and informed the script and told me how it should be changed — and I listened," he said. "I'm trying to write stories that will appeal to women, but at the same time, I have a lot to learn.
"It's just trusting the actors who've got 30, 40 years of collective experience and trusting that they knew a lot more than I did."
"Catfight," which also stars Alicia Silverstone ("Clueless"), Tituss Burgess ("Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt") and Dylan Baker ("Blindspot," "The Good Wife"), will be released on DVD/Blu-ray on April 25.
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Lauren La Rose, The Canadian Press