life-of-pi

The Elusive Genius of Ang Lee

The sky had gone uncharacteristically grey the day I was to drive to L’Ermitage in Beverly Hills to interview Ang Lee. Rain dotted the glass on my windshield. Rain in Los Angeles almost makes it feel like a real city. I was driving over the hill way over Laurel Canyon, out of the comfortable reality of “the valley” and into the strangely uncomfortable unreality of Beverly Hills — shiny black cars with tinted windows — the world you can’t see behind the windows is left to your delusions about the good life.

Interviews aren’t my favorite thing in the world but this wasn’t just any interview. This was Ang Lee. You can count on one hand the most influential directors of the last twenty years, the ones didn’t take their lead from the Big Four — Lucas, Spielberg, Allen and Scorsese — but instead forged their own unique path, inventing their own school of cinema. David Fincher is one. David Lynch is another. And then there’s Ang Lee.

His new film, Life of Pi, like many of his films, perplexes viewers, dividing them into three groups — those who are there for the revolutionary 3-D imagery, those who will be moved by its playful approach to spirituality, and those who see it as new age gobbledegook at best, or a cartoon at worst.

However it turns out, there is no denying that Ang Lee has pulled off one of the most ambitious films of his career. When I saw the film I was reeling from something personal in my life that left me in a constant state of fear about death. Even in yoga class, while I was supposed to be meditating, the inevitability of my own mortality would paralyze me in the moment. Really, all of this, only to come to the end and die? We’re really just moving in one direction? That day I just lived is gone forever? I will never be 20 years old again. I am here in middle age waiting for everything to start decaying. It was rough going for a few months there. Strangely, Life of Pi turned it around for me.

As an atheist, I have never been someone who turns to God for relief. I understand the need for it and I am envious at people who can find relief there. I have just never been one of them. When people say “I’ll pray for you” my first thought is, good luck with that. To me, if there was a higher power, he or she is an apathetic one. But there is undeniably another dimension to “this.” There is what Einstein said about religion, “A knowledge of the existence of something we cannot penetrate, of the manifestations of the profoundest reason and the most radiant beauty — it is this knowledge and this emotion that constitute the truly religious attitude; in this sense, and in this alone, I am a deeply religious man.”

Life of Pi shows both — the radiant beauty of the natural world and our ability to see and describe that world. By the end of it, you are given a choice in how to view life. You can see its realism or you can see it as miraculous. I suspect we all do a little of both.

It wasn’t the first time I’d been greatly moved by an Ang Lee film.

I know that when I started Oscarwatch back in the 1999, the first Oscar year I followed closely was Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon vs. Gladiator. We’d never seen anything like Crouching Tiger before and it ignited cinema in a brand new way. The other films up that year were so conventional by comparison. They were and remain very good films but they didn’t drop the match the way Lee’s film did.

 

 

Because it was technically a foreign film it wasn’t going to win Best Picture but I remember predicting it to win anyway, being a relative novice and thrilled at the idea that the impossible could become possible. Everyone knew Gladiator was going to win, and of course, how could it lose? But Crouching Tiger was far better than any of them. That was my first introduction to Ang Lee.

Luscious, erotic, full of suspense, surprising, without conventional story structure Crouching Tiger headed into the Oscar race with ten nominations. Ang Lee had won the Directors Guild award, while Gladiator had won the Producers Guild award. Complicating matters was that Traffic had won the SAG award.

That year, no one could believe that Steven Soderbergh, who had turned in two movies — Traffic and Erin Brockovich — wouldn’t be winning SOMETHING. The voters took it upon themselves to decide that Traffic was the movie he should win for. They circulated letters. Gladiator would win Best Picture, Traffic would win Best Director and Crouching Tiger would win Best Foreign Language Film.

 

 

 

It was as heartbreaking to me then that Gladiator beat Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon as it would be a few years later when Hollywood and the Oscars turned their backs on Brokeback Mountain by awarding Crash Best Picture. When I look at those two films alone, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and Brokeback Mountain I could say that Ang Lee was one of the masters of cinema. But when you then add in Sense and Sensibility, The Ice Storm, Lust Caution and now, Life of Pi, how can you not drop to your knees in appreciation?

It is never easy meeting someone you greatly admire, or anyway it never has been easy for me. I’ve suffered through it when asked because I know that all of this is finite and you don’t want to wake up at 70 years old and have many regrets about missed opportunities.

I found parking near the hotel, hoisted my tripod on my shoulder and my camera strapped over my shoulder like a purse and walked casually towards the entrance, pretending, as always to be a real press person. My plan was to video Mr. Lee and the star of Life of Pi, Suraj Sharma.  When I got there, I noticed the battery had either fallen out of my camera or else I’d forgotten it. The videotaping was out. I would have to improvise. I checked my iphone’s battery. That would have to do.

I knew my emotions would get the better of me upon meeting Ang Lee. Part of that was his being such an important part of my working life, starting way back in 1999. But it was also my own amazement at his willingness to expose that which is hidden, to go deeper for that reveal, to fearlessly face down what is a cynical and overly branded culture and give them something they’ve never seen before.

Inside L’Ermitage, publicists milled about, jotting down notes, flipping through press notes, monitoring their iphones and ipads. Press would come and go, each of them being called in for their conversations with Lee and Sharma. My turn was coming next. I left my camera gear in the press room and found Ang Lee waiting there with Life of Pi’s star.

The embarrassing part of the story is that yes, I did start to cry upon meeting Ang Lee. It wasn’t the first time my emotions got the better of me meeting an admired director (when asked, I could not muster the nerve to even shake Martin Scorsese’s hand; perhaps I am a flawed human being who sees them as Gods — but so be it. It is what it is). The humble and impossibly human director said, “Can I give you a hug?” And I hugged Ang Lee.

My plan of pretending to be a real press person and giving a real interview failed completely as I bonded with one of the best directors who ever picked up a camera. After a while, it sort of seemed like I’d known them both a lot longer than just one afternoon. But an emotional outburst can do that — think Emma Thompson at the end of Sense and Sensibility. It cuts through the pretend barriers.

We talked about Life of Pi, we talked about 3-D, we talked about God. “It’s supposed to be mysterious,” Lee said of what Life of Pi means.  “I think faith and our relationship to God is an emotional attachment more than something you know.  If you think you know it, then that’s not God.  The story of the boy and tiger on the ocean is a man made story.  But God is something else.”

We laughed a little. Sharma, who has movie star good looks, startling in fact when you see him in person, joked about how much fun he had eating to bulk up for the beginning of the film, and then how hard it was by the end, when he felt so sick and thin. They shot the film continuously so that it would be believable that he’d just spent all of this time adrift at sea. Sharma is majoring in philosophy in college back in India. He said that he had read the book, Life of Pi, several times, “It’s the kind of book, you read it and then you think about for thrice as long as the time you took reading it.  I don’t think I got the first time I read it.  Which is why I read it again.  And again.” So, does that mean he gets it? “I’ve realized that the thing is, sometimes it is really about not getting it.”

What I loved about Life of Pi was the playful approach to something so essential to each of our lives — its meaning. Ang Lee’s films have revealed to me over the years a full color spectrum of the human experience, from vitality to sexuality to oppression. He manifests earthly delights like no other. He never approaches his work with fear or hesitancy. Even the films the critics panned bring something unique to the human story. Some will embrace that kind of skyfall; others won’t. But Lee says, “I’ve been doing this for a long time.   Over the past 10 years, I’ve begun to have this eerie feeling that it’s not I who directs the movie but the movie directs me.”

By the end of the interview I hugged the beloved director one more time. He told me that when he’d read my review of Life of Pi he felt it approached film more the way audiences do in Taiwan, and therefore, in my former life, I must have been Taiwanese. Here in America critics and audiences can be too rigid, I think, in cornering a director to fit their definition of him or her, but perhaps that is why Ang Lee has been freed from such constraints; he is under no obligation to adjust his vision to our way of thinking. It is our job, I figure, to be open to his. It isn’t the critic’s job, nor invitation, to seek perfection. That is what artists do.

In the 13 years of Oscarwatch/AwardsDaily I can count such spectacular encounters on one hand. It isn’t just about greatness, yes it’s about that. But it’s also about having gone places Ang Lee has taken me. With Life of Pi he gave me one of the best reasons to be alive at all. Because the answers are all around you. All you have to do is look.


Happy Tears
— MOVIECLIPS.com

 

 

 

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89 Comments

  1. joeyhegele
    November 21, 2012

    I absolutely love him. I do not understand how he was not nominated for directing Sense And Sensibility and The Ice Storm. I think he should have won for Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, but at least he lost to a worthy competitor. The same cannot be said for the film Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon lost Best Picture to. Even more outrageous was the loss of Best Picture for Brokeback Mountain. At least he finally won a very deserving Oscar for his directing.

    With all the controversy over whether Brokeback Mountain lost Best Picture due to homophobia, it seems Ang Lee making history as the first person of color to win Best Director has been ignored. I certainly hope he is nominated again many more times, starting with Life Of Pi as well as the film itself for Best Picture and many other categories.

    Do not worry Sasha. I would have cried too if I met Ang Lee. The hug from him must have been one of the best you ever experienced. Thank you for the great interview.

  2. davidlocke
    November 21, 2012

    Beautiful. Thank you Sasha.

  3. KC
    November 21, 2012

    Thank you Sasha. Ang Lee movies have always been very important to me as well and I’m very sure I would have cried. Can’t wait to see Life of Pi.

  4. JamesinToronto
    November 21, 2012

    I have always felt that Ang Lee directs movies like the ’80s and ’90s never happened. By that I mean he has a real sense of what works for the film and doesn’t seem to worry about what (supposedly) works for the audience. His films don’t seem to be “tested” or “screened” in the modern sense.

    As someone who came of age in the ’70s I was lucky to have pre-dated the test-screening way of making movies. I always think that if Chinatown were made now Faye Dunaway’s character would have to survive; that Michael Corleone would forgive Fredo; and Howard Beale would be a ratings champ and be picked up for another season.

    All this to say that I appreciate that Ang Lee doesn’t pander to his audience, but rather takes them on a journey that is sometimes sad but always wonderful.

  5. steve50
    November 21, 2012

    “If you think you know it, then that’s not God. ”

    That pretty much sums it up. Somebody should get word out to all the zealots in this world and remind them that they are making fools of themselves.

    Anyway – Really loved the interview, Sasha. A bit rattled by the clips “visit with Jack’s parents” and “happy tears”, though – thanks for that, now they’ll be repeating on me throughout the day. I’ll probably get pulled over for sobbing behind the wheel.

    Joeyhegele – migod, I hadn’t even noticed that! Ang Lee is the first person of color to win BD.

  6. Luke
    November 21, 2012

    True example of a man who lets all of his work do the talking.

  7. November 21, 2012

    Joyous! I can barely wait to see this film, but I just will. It’s not out in the UK until late December, but to see it in 3D will surely be magnificent!

    I love reading your articles, Sasha, when you’re this incandescent.

  8. murtaza
    November 21, 2012

    comparing crouching tiger, hidden dragon to brokeback is kind of lame. Brokeback stands as Lee’s finest and his masterpiece and yes it should’ve won best picture (even though i loved Crash also) but crouching tiger was simply a beautiful film and yes by all means a fresh experience.

    i loved soderbergh’s win that year, very deserving and for a terrific movie i still watch whenever it’s on, in all aspects it was a very powerful drama as compared to crouching tiger which stands out in its action choreography, cinematography and maybe score.

    whenever i watch crouching tiger, i strongly feel the desire for some strong dramatic element which the movie clearly lacks, what i’m left with in the end is with action scenes and scenery. i also always stay unsatisfied with its way too simple story which is unable to at least hold my attention but again thanks to its martial arts content and picturesque landcapes.

    p.s. i know a lot of people hate gladiator but there was something in the movie which made it a clear frontrunner that year, winning golden globe, PGA, BFCA and BAFTA. i kind of enjoyed its win.

  9. Oliver Hsu
    November 21, 2012

    Thank you for the report Sasha.
    As a Taiwanese, Ang is our proud and I am proud of you for writing such a beautiful review.
    As Ang Lee said, you must have been Taiwanese too.

  10. edkargir
    November 21, 2012

    Comment

  11. Jerry
    November 21, 2012

    Thanks for this Sasha. Ang Lee is one of my favorite directors ever. He has yet to fail me (Hulk movie included).

  12. d2
    November 21, 2012

    Beautiful article Sasha. This is by far the best read I’ve ever had of yours. Ang Lee has always perplexed me. He’s turned out some beautiful films in both English and his native language. Upon first viewing, Crouching Tiger was pure spectacle for me. Upon first viewing, Brokeback Mountain was pure message for me. Upon first viewing, those two elements – story and spectacle – came together in the most brilliant of ways in Life of Pi. The beautiful imagery was grounded in something seemingly unfamiliar – yet not.

    The image of the lifeboat in night as if it is floating among the stars is to me perfection. This single image pretty much summed up the film for me. We may feel lost…we may be lost…but someone is always looking (out) for us. As a young boy, I would spend hours upon hours laying out in my yard looking up at the night sky. Looking for…something, yet I would rarely find that special something. That is until a shooting star came flying past or I saw the slow twinkle of a satellite floating by. “There you are,” I would say to myself. “There you are.”

    In high school, I frequently felt out of my place. One among many. One alone. Anonymous yet known. Similar yet all too different. Unremarkable yet so very…special.

    For all this,

    Thank You Ang Lee. Thank you.

  13. James
    November 21, 2012

    Ang Lee is great, but sure as hell doesn’t rank among the most influential filmmakers of our time. On what evidence is that statement based on Sasha? People like Lynch, Haneke, Tarantino (more in the 90′s), Nolan, Fincher sure.. You can see other directors steal from them, but I don’t see many Ang Lee wannabes out there. I can name at least 15 movies being influenced by Christopher Nolan in the last 6-7 years, none by Ang Lee.

  14. November 21, 2012

    Yeah, I’m sooo tweeting this article. Great job Sasha, pretty much the reason why AD is one of my top places to visit is because of your unrestrained style of writing. I may not agree with you on some issues, but I’ll always admire (and defend) your style.

    That said, I’m completely with you on Life of Pi. Visual effects and 3D have rarely been used to create such magic. Worth every cent of its crazy budget, and that’s increasingly rare in Hollywood.

  15. unlikely hood
    November 21, 2012

    Sometimes I think it’s annoying when critics want to assign directors a running theme throughout their films, just to make them into auteurs. But when I recently read someone write, about Ang Lee, “Still waters run deep,” I thought OH yeah that’s perfect.

    No clip from Eat Drink Man Woman? Or Wedding Banquet? Great films.

  16. steve50
    November 21, 2012

    “You can see other directors steal from them, but I don’t see many Ang Lee wannabes out there.”

    Well, James, that’s because you can copy style, but you can’t steal heart.

  17. Houstonrufus
    November 21, 2012

    What a lovely experience for you, Sasha. Thank you for being so open and honest about it. Ang Lee is certainly one of my favorite directors. Crouching Tiger and Brokeback Mountain both should have won best picture, in my opinion. They are two of my favorite films of all time. I can’t wait to see Life of Pi.

  18. Reno
    November 21, 2012

    I’ve seen 10 of his films, this is how I rank them:
    (first 7 are great ones, not too fond of the last 3)

    1. Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon
    2. Sense & Sensibility
    3. Brokeback Mountain
    4. Eat Drink Man Woman
    5. The Wedding Banquet
    6. Lust, Caution
    7. The Ice Storm

    8. Hulk
    9. Ride with the Devil
    10. Taking Woodstock

  19. James
    November 21, 2012

    Re-read my comment, and it sounded more negative/dismissive than I intended. Sorry about that:-)

    It was a delightful piece

  20. Chung
    November 21, 2012

    Great post, Sasha. I just got back from the film today, and I was absolutely stunned by its combination of visual spectacle and emotion, and its meanings. It is wonderful to see Ang Lee getting involved from so many crews from his native Taiwan as well, I couldn’t help certain pride being from Taiwan while viewing the film, but my sentiment aside, this film is a powerful visual and emotional journey, I hope it gets major recognition in best picture and directing category which I think it will.

  21. AdamA
    November 21, 2012

    @James, leaving aside the claim that Lee doesn’t have disciples, is that the only rubric for measuring influence?

  22. rufussondheim
    November 21, 2012

    A few notes about Ang Lee, then a couple of more about this film. The film comments will be spoilery.

    The thing I find most impressive about Ang Lee is that if you saw a new film of his and wasn’t told he was the director, you’d never know he directed it. He doesn’t have a signature style or technique. Given the immense quality of many of his films, I find this to be a great compliment. Instead of asking “How can I tell this story?” he asks himself “How should this story be told?”

    I don’t find very many false notes in his films. The characters are always well-defined and the action and events all flow from the characters. He doesn’t let technique get in the way of what he’s trying to do. The characters, the story are his prime motivation. At a time when everyone wants to be an auteur, he’d prefer to be a storyteller.

    The Life of Pi won’t be my favorite film of the year, but it might turn out to he the one I respect the most. It’s an impossibly ambitious film. I found the message to be a little too straightforward (We believe in God because it’s more comforting than the alternative) but, damn, I couldn’t tell what was real and what was CGI. The effects are completely seemless. Outside the boat crash (which was kinda cheesy) everything looked amazing. When it was Pi and Richard Parker adrift, it was dreamlike, perfect. The scenes when there were multiple animals on the lifeboat were perfectly done from an effects standpoint. I’ve never seen a movie look this good.

    One thing I’m interested in with this one is how people of different spiritual beliefs respond to what’s presented here. As an atheist who’s always wished he could find faith, I found this film to be straightforward. WHen Pi asks the writer “Which story do you want to believe is true?” it summed up the movie a little too easily. To me, the more realistic story is the one I don’t want to believe in, but I know it’s the one that happened. I don’t understand why Pi would choose to tell the alternate story. I guess that’s the mystery I’m left on the sidelines to watch. That’s why I’m so interested in what others have to say about this film.

  23. AdamA
    November 21, 2012

    This is anecdotal, but I was a closeted high school kid* when I saw CTHD in the theater with some guy friends. I’d already seen (and loved) Sense & Sensibility and The Ice Storm (didn’t have the nerve to sneak a peak at The Wedding Banquet), and I’d already picked up an inkling of the films’ shared focus on the push and pull between self and society, pleasure and obligation, etc. This was a year before I came out and five years before Brokeback, but while I watched CTHD, I spent the whole time thinking about that same push and pull when it came to being closeted. (I knew.) In CTHD, the stakes of denying yourself the life you really want are the same as the stakes of satisfying your every impulse: hurting people, hurting yourself, losing some of both. It took every fiber of willpower to make it home and cry.

    To have conveyed, in just three films (that I had seen), a philosophical proposition for a whole viewership–balance your appreciation for sense with that for sensibility, your need to be fulfilled with your need to fulfill obligations, your belief in honor with respect for your desires–and to have it resonate? Nothing short of astounding. Again, this is anecdotal, but I think a case could be built for a cultural influence that surpasses many directors whose craft and aesthetic are mimicked a thousand times over.

    *I was nearly outed when I won a gift certificate for correctly answering a pre-previews trivia question about Sense & Sensibility ;)

  24. desmond
    November 21, 2012

    As a Chinese from HONG KONG , I am proud of ANG LEE too !

  25. rufussondheim
    November 21, 2012

    Beautiful observations, AdamA.

  26. November 21, 2012

    *** SPOILER SPOILER SPOILER ***

    I don’t understand why Pi would choose to tell the alternate story. I guess that’s the mystery I’m left on the sidelines to watch.

    rufussondheim, if I say, “with due respect,” you know I mean that sincerely.

    I’ll ask you with sincere respect, are Pi’s reasons for telling his story in a way that lessens his pain that much different than Max’s adventure in Where the Wild Things Are? Is the rationale behind Pi’s tale harder to accept than the stories Briony writes in Atonement?

    Those examples are not direct parallels but you can see the similarity in how people cope with emotional trauma, right? — especially traumatized young people.

    What did you think of Tarsem Singh’s The Fall? How about Pan’s Labyrinth?

    More broadly, what novel is not an alternate version of its author’s reality? What movie isn’t a waking dream of worlds that don’t exist?

    Buddha says we create our own reality moment by moment, and everything we think we know is an illusion.

    Are you going to bogart that joint all night or pass it around?

  27. Buzz
    November 21, 2012

    Excellent article Sasha,

    God what i would give to spend five minutes talking with that man about his movies let alone hours upon hours of talking to him about movies in general. His visual style is all his own and just the range of his flms is astounding to me. The fact that he’s able to dip into so many genres and do them so brilliantly well is a mark of a true genius. Sense and Sensiblity, The Ice Storm, and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon rank, to me, as some of the best films ever made. One would be amazed to even know that all three were done by the same director! And Life of Pi deservedly ranks up there with them. Beautifully told with exceptional special effects that were only enhanced greatly in 3D, I came out of that film with just a love and appreciation for the medium of film. And you can think about this movie for hours and hours about its many facets and thats when you just know you saw a great movie. I hope people and the Academy fall for this film just as much as I did because with Life of Pi, Lincoln, Argo, and Silver Linings, its such a great moment to watch the movies.

  28. Matt
    November 21, 2012

    Thank you for this. I am often a purveyor of Meyers Briggs types, and perhaps I am presuptive, and as a P vs a J I am hesitant to go here, but I definitely find you an ISFJ, introverts have much to say in writing, sensing as not being as apt to use intution in movies yet seen, definitely one to judge situations and call what you see, but also certainly a person of feeling. But thank you. Personally I am a proud INFP, but I digress. This is a wonderful slice of honesty and insightfulness. I especially liked the thing about grays and weather. I always prefer gray days, I mean I would take half and half, but its hardly ever cloudy and gray, even over here way outside of California, but people cannot seem to abide by gray days.

    Anyways, honestly the force and compulsion of my reply is to declare to you that God indeed does exist. His existence has nothing to do with mine or your willingness to believe in him. He is. But I don’t wish to write in a mode of convincing, although I certainly want you also to believe. I would be a no good son of a bitch if I didn’t for reasons that may become apparent. Truly the best argument for my being a no good son of a bitch, and perhaps therefore the best argument for my reasoning is the fact that most of the time I am pretty apathetic whether anyone else also believes. But here it is. You seem to have a sense of justice. The liberal movement often has a strong sense and desire for justice. Women and minorities have often been suppressed and oppressed by those in power. Your anger and frustration and cause of righting the wrongs is very fundamental. Yet, is it the wrath of Blogs or tweets the real solution? Or the wrath and justice of God against injustice? Perhaps I skip… Forward. But allow me to skip forward a little bit more. In addition, I also offer to you something more controversial. It is not only those in positions of power who are to blame, but all. Indeed the fact that we see that those in positions of power are the ones often who abuse it is a check mate argument for the fact that it is pretty much there to be abused by whomever will abuse it. Therefore it is a problem that vexes us all. So I come to the heart of the matter. This I believe is the crux of what many cannot accept of Christianity but only due to the inability to look at it directly and honestly. 1. Justice is needed, but utter and full justice, not based upon our own limited, finite criterion, but robust, full justice. Real justice. 2. All of us are equally guilty. It is only situation that determines our difference of action. But it is by the grace of God that any of us act differently. But this is the heart of the fearfulness of our situation. The justice and anger we bear towards any others. Any others. We must bear to ourselves

    But this is not what is convincing and compelling about Christianity alone. What is compelling about Christianity and the Christian God alone is the difference with all other religions. All other religions see a situation similar to what I have described, yet then attempt to appease God, to work off that guilt, to mire oneself in guilt and self punishment. Christianity alone offers the remarkable fact of God, the one who is utterly perfect, demanding of perfect justice, who takes justice on himself. You are not stunned perhaps. I have not quite defined it well enough, because it is so utterly stunning. God, who is perfectly just and demands justice because of perfection takes the punishment for injustice and rebellion and evil and allows others who deserve only wrath themselves the ability to be perfect. Whatever you wish to respond. And I know the audience. I love movies so much and I am aware that those who love movies like I do think so very differently than I do. Respond as you will…. But this compels me. I have grown in may ways very different from my parents. This is not just a passing on, a conditioning. I am an intelligent, thinking, feeling person and this compels me. I hope it compels you too, because you like me ony deserve justice.

  29. alan of montreal
    November 21, 2012

    There’s something about The Ice Storm that has always stayed with me since I saw it in the theatre in the 90s. That film in many ways is perfection to me–from the art direction to the pacing to the cinematography to the dialogue to the performances. The Wedding Banquet was also a very important film to me because it was the first film I saw about someone who was gay and Asian, and it reflected much about what I was feeling and experiencing in my own life then, and continued to resonate as I matured through my 20s and 30s. I’ve enjoyed many of his other works (and admittedly I haven’t seen them all. I’ve missed Eat Drink Man Woman–shamefully–Pushing Hands, Lust, Caution, Taking Woodstock, The Hulk, and Ride with the Devil), but it’s those two films that have stood the test of time for me. I initially loved Crouching Tiger, too, but after having had conversations with so many friends who were born and raised in China and Hong Kong who knew their martial arts films inside out and have said that Lee’s film was just average, my enthusiasm for the film has been tempered somewhat.

  30. rufussondheim
    November 21, 2012

    Thanks, Ryan. It seems blatantly obvious now that you point it out, but that’s a problem I often have. I tend to think I am a cold-hearted realist (but maybe that’s just a coping mechanism.)

    This is where I have to toss in the underseen Mysterious Skin (spoilers follow) where the non-Joseph Gordon Leavitt kid copes with the sexual abuse by believing he was abducted by aliens. I find Mysterious Skin to be an immensely powerful film, one of the truly great films (having just rewatched it, I am confidant in my assessment.)

    I’m touched by the different reactions the two kids have to be sexually abused. The Gordon Leavitt character practically embraces it and lets it define his self worth and who he is and how he proceeds through life. While the other is mystified by what happened and locks away those experiences. The ending of the film, the one learns what happened to him and he breaks down while Gordon Leavitt comforts him.

    And such is my approach. I don’t think we can recover and move on unless we face the cold hard facts. And this is why I am an atheist. And this is why I don’t totally grasp Pi’s choices in this film. In other words, I don’t feel a powerful connection to his journey.

    But one aspect I find quite touching in retrospect is his reaction to Richard Parker going quietly into the jungle. It’s a powerful personal realization on his part, that his daily purpose for living has just abandoned him, leaving him find a new way to cope with his new and surely uncertain future. Seeing Pi’s family at the end is a powerful way to end the film, to know he’s moved on.

    It’s really quite a good film. The more I think about it, the more I want to experience it again.

    Thanks for putting up with my ramblings.

  31. steve50
    November 21, 2012

    Well said, AdamA – very nice post.

    Rufussondheim, I agree that Lee doesn’t let technique or style get in the way is true – you never see the seams. His visual composition is second to nobody, however, and I think that is his signature. Everything he puts onscreen propels the viewer through the story and somehow conveys to the audience better than anyone else what his characters are seeing and feeling, all without calling attention to himself or to any moral, spiritual or political judgements.

    Adolescent angst during a suburban Connecticut ice storm in the morally ambiguous 70s, romantic desperation due to the confines of 18th century British social structure in the midst of expansive estates and neverending countryside, the gorgeous freedom of the open range on horseback where two characters are in knots over their own nature, the insidious presence of poison in a world based in bravery, action and heroism – Lee’s films are about these people in these situations, only. He leaves any other connections to be made by the viewers who, because he’s such an artist at recreating these very different situations in disparate environments, find that invisible door he’s provided for them to walk through, on their own.

    That’s a real storyteller.

    Seeing Pi this weekend and can’t wait.

  32. rufussondheim
    November 21, 2012

    I can say with 100% confidence that you will love it. And like someone said above, do see it in 3D, preferably in IMAX if you have that option. I know that is counter to what you prefer.

    And you will be astounded by some of the scenic compositions in this film. I think my favorite comes during the boat crash. You get a brief shot of it in the trailer I believe, but when you see it on the big screen in 3D and you get the full emotional heft of what is occurring.And he holds it for the proper amount of time, allowing the audience to savor it. And we do, and it’s breathtaking.

  33. Rich
    November 21, 2012

    Ang Lee is a fascinating director, he managed to make comic book films into an art form (I don’t care what people say about Hulk, Ang Lee made the superhero genre into a deep emotional and thematic art form rarely seen in this genre, at least until Nolan came in). With the Ice Storm, he was able to take a simple melodrama into a deep and emotional story. With Brokeback Mountain he was able to tell a beautiful love story about two men that transcended orientation and genres. I can’t wait to see Life of Pi and see what he can do next. Lee is a true auteur, taking any genre and making it his own. I would love to see him do a horror film one day.

  34. Terometer
    November 21, 2012

    He should’ve won his oscar director award for Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.

  35. Logan
    November 21, 2012

    Beautiful story, Sasha, and beautiful movie–although for me, nowhere as moving as Brokeback Mountain.

  36. November 21, 2012

    You get a brief shot of it in the trailer I believe, but when you see it on the big screen in 3D and you get the full emotional heft of what is occurring.And he holds it for the proper amount of time, allowing the audience to savor it. And we do, and it’s breathtaking.

    Oh yes. I remember exactly the moment you’re referring to and it’s one of the best shots in the whole film.

  37. chloe
    November 21, 2012

    Life of Pi has to be the most gorgeous movie I’ve ever seen. All of it was absolutely beautiful, including the acting, themes, messages, and visual effects. Ang Lee is a genius!

  38. KK
    November 21, 2012

    He better win a lot of awards for Life of Pi because what a beautiful piece of story telling.

  39. ChrisD
    November 21, 2012

    A beautiful piece. I’m seeing a preview of the film in the UK on December 10th and am now looking forward to it even more. Ang Lee has done some magnificent work – Sense & Sensibility and Brokeback Mountain both rank in my favourite films. The scene with Elinor’s emotional outburst is one of my favourite of all time so I can well imagine your meeting Sasha!

  40. Tony
    November 22, 2012

    Beautiful piece, thank you, Sasha.

  41. Tony
    November 22, 2012

    I saw “Life of Pi” yesterday. In recent years, it seems like the applause (or lack thereof) at the end of movies has been a good indicator of Oscar success. If that holds true again, the news is good for “Argo” and “Lincoln,” not so much for “Silver Linings Playbook,” “Life of Pi,” “The Master” and “Beasts.”

  42. Jo
    November 22, 2012

    When I first saw the poster for Life of Pi, I was like what the hell is this? After seeing the trailers and now the film, I can say that it’s the best 3D I’ve seen. The hype surrounding the film is totally deserved. It actually puts James Cameron’s Avatar to shame. This is what you call genius film making. Ang Lee is a masterful filmmaker. I think this film is up for best picture right next to Argo. Lincoln, The Master, Silver Linings, and Les Miserables come after.

  43. julian the emperor
    November 22, 2012

    The Ice Storm is one of the best movies of the 90s (actually I placed it at number 8 on my all time list, when a friend asked me to make my personal list post-Sight & Sound poll). It is such a perfectly executed film. Lee finds a way of condensing and distilling the book (which is anything but flawless, but still a good read) and really making the story much more simple (in a good way) and much more concise .

    Even though I like CT,HD and BM I prefer his movies from the 90s. His Sense and Sensibility is by far the best Austen adaptation out there. To me that remains the perfect snaphots of three great actors, Winslet, Thompson and Rickman. That’s how I think of them, really.

    Looking forward to LoP, not so much because of the Martel book (which, for long stretches, I found an excruciatingly dull and preposterous read), but because of Lee’s masterful command of everything he does. He must be the most effortlessly versatile director working today. Which is saying a lot, obviously.
    Even though the visuals (based on the trailer) are too close to Lovely Bones-territory for my instant liking. Still excited, though. All because of the name of the director.

  44. Mustafa
    November 22, 2012

    I read Life of Pi over three years back (i was still in grade 7 when it came out) and the moment i read it, i knew how deeply imaginative and magical a human mind can be, how it can make the most improbable situations seem so realistic. It was like waking up from a dream. And i think that’s why Ang Lee seems to be the only person who can translate this piece of fiction into a masterpiece.
    Life of Pi opens next week and i’m gonna be there in the lines to watch it.

  45. drake
    November 22, 2012

    he’s an unquestionably great director. i can’t find enough common elements in his body of work to put him up there with the most elite of modern day directors though.

  46. rufussondheim
    November 22, 2012

    but, drake, isn’t that what makes him great? That he doesn’t rely on the same old stuff. As much as I like Altman, in a film of his that doesn’t work, his tecnique just comes off as pretentious, and Woody Allens bad films just seem self-serving. And Fincher just looks like a hired hack who got a shot because he once directed a great music video.

    The great techniques some directors are often associated with often seem like a crutch to me. Kind of like a music band puts out the same album every year because they don’t want to lose their fans. Kind of like an aging starlet who doesn’t change her hairstyle because she doesn’t want to go unrecognized. Yes, I just equated Christopher Nolan to Carol Channing.

    It sounds like I’m joking, but I’m not really. Yes, it’s great that directors have a viewpoint, a style that works for them. But I think great directors should also be judged by their versatility. How many films have they directed that aren’t in their wheelhouse?

    If you go by that, I’m not sure any contemporary director, save Scorcese, could surpass Ang Lee (yeah, I know some would argue Spielberg too, but I’m not going there.) So many of the other directors people love around here, like PT Anderson, David Fincher and Christopher Nolan, haven’t really haven’t shown much, if any, versatility.

  47. steve50
    November 22, 2012

    Not sure what you mean by “common elements”, drake. Is it the diversity of subject matter in his body of work or style you’re referring to?

  48. steve50
    November 22, 2012

    We’re not ganging up on you, Drake – honest.

    Scorsese is the only director that’s as diverse as Lee. Match Alice with Raging Bull, Good Fellas with Age of Innocence, or Hugo with Taxi Driver – that’s diversity in style and content.

    Lee’s smaller body of work indicates that he’s capable of the same skill of telling his story with the most effective technique. Very few directors would even attempt such a thing for fear of failure (and Lee has stumbled a couple of times, badly).

  49. Reno
    November 22, 2012

    HAPPY THANKSGIVING!!!

  50. steve50
    November 22, 2012

    Sorry – can’t let this go: rufus – really? Nolan = Carol Channing? Fincher = hack?

    Before the mob replies, both have shown diversity, although not consistently. Memento is light years in style from the Batman trilogy and The Social Network/Zodiac/Fight Club are executed very differently.

    The Altman and Allen comments I can live with, though.

  51. rufussondheim
    November 22, 2012

    I am not a fan of Christopher Nolan by any stretch of the imagination. While he has made some good films, he seems to me a victim of his own success (not unlike Carol Channing). After the promise of Memento, I think he’s been a huge disappointment. Yes, he’s grown (just a little) but I think he’s so caught up in being edgy and exciting and vexing that he forgets the fundamentals, and by that I mean story and character.

    As for Fincher, I really liked The Social Network and thought that was a vast improvement over his early work so the jury is still out on him. But, to me, he’s not even in the realm of great contemporary directors at this point. I thought Fight Club was embarrassingly bad and many of his films since really were nothing but competently directed suspense dramas, Zodiac being the best of the lot (with The Game and Panic Room being pretty damn boring). But I don’t think Zodiac is any great film, although it’s better than Summer of Sam, I think parts of Summer of Sam are better than anything in Zodiac (but I digress) I admit not seeing Ben Button nor Dragon Tattoo, so his recent stuff may still be quite good.

    But I love The Social Network. In that film, he finally finds a story and characters worthy of his talents. From the get go on that one it clicks extremely well, from that marvellous date/opening scene and then the walk home to that great Reznor score and so forth. There’s not a false note in the film. It’s not 100% perfect, but it’s definitely a high-quality piece of work.

    My current two favorite directors that have exhibited a singular style are McQueen and Reichardt. So far both are so far outside of mainstream success that they never get included in the Fincher/Tarantino/Nolan/Anderson discussion. Now those are four directors that are definitely unique and unto their own, but I don’t look forward to their works like I am looking forward to Reichardt’s or McQueen’s.

  52. Mel
    November 22, 2012

    So many of the other directors people love around here, like PT Anderson, David Fincher and Christopher Nolan, haven’t really haven’t shown much, if any, versatility.

    You don’t see any diversity between things like Fight Club, Ben Button, Social Network, Zodiac….I mean I feel like I could name all his movies and they are unique…..and all good. There is not a single Fincher film that is not both entertaining and beautiful.

    I’m not a huge Nolan fan. So I can’t really comment on him. But PT Anderson seems very diverse as well….thinking about Boogie Nights, Magnolia, The Master…..they are all very different films.

    Though it is true that no one else seems to really mix it up like Ang Lee. He is fearless.

  53. November 22, 2012

    What I’m wondering is why diversity is used to measure the qualities of any filmmaker? Take a glance at the list of directors other filmmakers admire the most and you’ll see unwavering styles in each of them. Kubrick, Ozu, Kurosawa, Hitchcock, Dreyer, Tarkovsky … all had their signatures that made them who they are. Where they were diverse (most of them) was in tackling genres. Kubrick was the master of that of course, from comedy to horror, war and sci-fi, period films etc. But you’d walk into a film and from the opening credits almost know that you’re watching a Kubrick film. I find that to be an advantage rather than a crutch when it comes to a handful of filmmakers that stand above the crowd.

    What makes a director stand out and climb up to that mantle above the rest is, in my opinion, by using their signature styles in order to make a story wholly cinematic. P.T.Anderson, Darren Aronofsky and other contemporary filmmakers are on their way to getting up on that mantle, just by zoning in on a unique style that’s all their own and telling a story like no one else could.

    Nothing against Ang Lee, who is a fantastic director and sounds like a golden human being. But I guess I’m more impressed by a filmmaker who can keep true to his style so much that his/her films start to define cinema in a different way than we’ve seen before, adding more to the language and not just being a part of it.

  54. Mel
    November 22, 2012

    But I guess I’m more impressed by a filmmaker who can keep true to his style so much that his/her films start to define cinema in a different way than we’ve seen before, adding more to the language and not just being a part of it.

    I feel this way too….and when thinking like this you can’t leave out Wes Anderson. Though I do admire how Ang Lee approaches each film from a different angle and I think that takes as much courage as making each film somehow yours. Does that make sense?

  55. Jeremy
    November 22, 2012

    “yeah, I know some would argue Spielberg too, but I’m not going there.”

    Of course. It’s much easier to be taken seriously as a Knowledgeable Cinephile if you profess your love for Scorsese then Spielberg.

  56. murtaza
    November 22, 2012

    there is one more director who is versatile as hell…. SAM MENDES. One of the best active directors of our time.

  57. November 22, 2012

    What makes a director stand out and climb up to that mantle above the rest is, in my opinion, by using their signature styles in order to make a story wholly cinematic.

    I think that’s why Sasha’s headline says Ang Lee’s genius is more “elusive.”

    Signature visual style is readily recognized. Signature temperament is more subtle.

    Sure, it’s fun for film geeks to pick up on bold strokes of stylistic flair and be able to identify the handwriting.

    But what’s Coppola’s signature style? What’s the giveaway in a Polanski movie?

    There’s more to being a great director than leaving your fingerprints all over a scene. Ang Lee leaves his definitive traces on all his films. But it’s not a fingerprint smudge. It’s in the DNA.

    What I’m wondering is why diversity is used to measure the qualities of any filmmaker?

    I’m not disagreeing with you, Nik. Obviously you’re right that dozens of auteur directors earned their pedestal in the Pantheon largely on the basis of inventing a style and owning that style. That’s one way to measure quality.

    I think we’re only saying that the ability to be a convincing chameleon is another way to measure quality, equally valid.

    On the flip side, we could name lots of directors whose signature style sucks ass, right? But let’s not. It’s Thanksgiving, for Pete’s sake.

    All I mean is, signature style is indeed one measure of quality. But great movies don’t require a signature style, nor is signature style an assurance of quality, right?

    (Tyler Perry’s signature style easier to recognize than Ridley Scott’s signature style, yes?)

  58. steve50
    November 22, 2012

    Nik G – Versatility is only the ability to use other “voices” to tell the story. It doesn’t make Lee superior to Kubrick or Kurosawa, but it is one skill of many that should be considered when measuring greatness.

    Keeping true to one’s own style wouldn’t work for Lee’s approach. Frankly, it can sometimes backfire and sabotage the viewer by taking them out of the story. Hitchcock waddling thru the shot with a dog, for instance, is fun, but doesn’t help concentration. Kubrick’s precise shots and timing are fascinating but can sometimes come off as cold and alienating. That’s their “thing”. Lee’s thing is to bundle the whole work in its own unique package, and he’s incredibly good at that.

  59. November 22, 2012

    Frankly, it can sometimes backfire and sabotage the viewer by taking them out of the story.

    Frankly, Tarantino’s signature style is anachronistic when applied to historical subjects. It’s self-aware to such a degree, his style is louder than the story. That’s ok. That’s actually what we pay to see. But I’m glad David Lean didn’t direct Lawrence of Arabia with the same orchestrations he used for Blithe Spirit.

  60. November 22, 2012

    There’s more to being a great director than leaving your fingerprints all over a scene. Ang Lee leaves his definitive traces on all his films. But it’s not a fingerprint smudge. It’s in the DNA.

    Nicely said. I guess it comes down to technique (fingerprint smudge) vs. themes (DNA). Directors like Copolla, Polanski, Mendes, Lee and a whole slew of others leave their trace with the subject matters they choose, not specifically with the way they use cinema’s tools. And not because they use them badly, far from it, but they put less emphasis on mise-en-scene, camera movement etc.

    Whereas filmmakers like Kurosawa, Bergman etc. leave fingerprints (the perfectly shaped kind of fingerprint that reveals new curves every time you look at it) and DNA (the spirit, the theme, call it what you will). If a filmmaker does that successfully and consistently, that’s a filmmaker I’ll call truly great.

    If that makes semse

  61. November 22, 2012

    Nik G – Versatility is only the ability to use other “voices” to tell the story.

    Is it a visual vs verbal dichotomy, I wonder?

    Painters are praised for creating a unique styles. But many writers are praised for creating stories told convincingly in other voices. Subverting their own style in deference to their characters.

    iconoclastic creations: Starry Night, Guernica
    chameleon creations: Remains of the Day, Cloud Atlas

    Nobody would ever disregard Kazuo Ishiguro or David Mitchell because they failed to display a signature style in those novels.

    (Let’s gang up on Nik! )

    :)

  62. November 22, 2012

    All I mean is, signature style is indeed one measure of quality. But great movies don’t require a signature style, nor is signature style an assurance of quality, right?

    Right.

    Frankly, Tarantino’s signature style is anachronistic when applied to historical subjects. It’s self-aware to such a degree, his style is louder than the story. That’s ok. That’s actually what we pay to see.

    There’s no better example (except maybe Kevin Smith?) of a filmmaker who indulges too much with style, for the sake of content and story at times. One of the reasons why I just don’t like today’s Tarantino as opposed to the Pulp Fiction, Jackie Brown period where style and story went hand in hand perfectly. Style took over after Kill Bill.

    That’s their “thing”. Lee’s thing is to bundle the whole work in its own unique package, and he’s incredibly good at that.

    Totally agree with you steve. I’m being very frank when I say that the filmmakers who stick out in my mind are the ones that get the envelope pushed, don’t pander to the audience, try to create a new cinematic language (case in point, my favorite film of 2012 is Holy Motors) and so on. Having said that, there are filmmakers just like Lee, and movies just like his Life of Pi, that are so infused with a special kind of spirit they deserve to be mentioned among the best.

  63. November 22, 2012

    There’s no better example (except maybe Kevin Smith?) of a filmmaker who indulges too much with style, for the sake of content and story at times.

    Should we be concerned about Zack Snyder?

  64. November 22, 2012

    Should we be concerned about Zack Snyder?

    I’m not really concerned about Zack Snyder, in any way. Ditto Michael Bay :D

    Ah, you’re getting into painting and literature, very different spheres of art. I wish I had the time to get into this, what’s turning out to be a fascinating discussion, but I’m at work and my head might explode as if Michael Bay directed it.

  65. November 22, 2012

    Ah, you’re getting into painting and literature, very different spheres of art.

    I forgot to carry that thought through to its obvious conclusion. You opened the bridge to where I meant to go, Nik: Painting and literature are two different spheres. Movies exist on the tangent where they touch. Movies are written narratives told with pictures, populated with framed portraits that breathe and speak words.

    Sometimes the portraits all speak with the voice of Diablo Cody.

  66. rufussondheim
    November 22, 2012

    I am thankful that there are people smarter in the world than me. And that many of them post here. Great discussion.

    When it comes to movies, I will always fall more on the literature side than I do the painting side. Too many times I forget people want different things than I do.

    And that brings me back to The Perks of Being a Wallflower, a film I saw two days ago and one I fell in love with almost instantly. It’s the only film I know that was written and directed by the author of the book from which it was based. If I had to pick, I’d say the film’s closest relative is Curtis Armstrong’s Wonder Boys. James Leer (Tobey Maguire) can even be seen as Perk’s Charlie a few years later.

    It’s such a literary movie. And what’s even more impressive, the film is not a copy of the book, it has it’s own rhythms and style. Steve Chbosky clearly understands the strengths and weaknesses of each medium.

    I wish I had the ability to express what I loved about the movie so much. I was enjoying the movie too much to take figurative notes. But it almost feels like Ang Lee’s take on a John Hughes teen comedy. Can’t wait to see it again.

  67. steve50
    November 22, 2012

    “I’m glad David Lean didn’t direct Lawrence of Arabia with the same orchestrations he used for Blithe Spirit.”

    HA! Yeah, thank god (or whatever force prevented that)

    I think you have to add another dimension because there’s a third sphere in that tangent, Ryan, at least for modern film – sound/music. The symphonic sphere working in sync with the visual artistry allows the literary narrative to become less constrained and more fluid without losing its thread – that’s what (should) set cinema apart from other art forms.

    And thanks Nik for the stimulating discussion and for giving me a new word for a headache. Have to take some aspirin ”cause I’m getting a Michael Bay.

  68. November 22, 2012

    Love is in the web (I totally just thanked all of you in Sasha’s Thanksgiving post).

    Literature, painting, music. Cinema incorporates all of the major arts onto to itself, creating a whole new platform that’s unlike anything else. As much as I love a good book (and as a student of Literature, I loves me a good book), or seeing a masterpiece in a museum, nothing gets the cake and eats it too like cinema does. Barry Lyndon is a moving painting, a symphonic piece and a Victorian novel all wrapped up in one unforgettable cinematic experience.

    PS: rufus, you’ve completely convinced me to watch Perks of Being a Wallflower.

  69. rufussondheim
    November 22, 2012

    Hooray! It will be interesting to get your thoughts on it. After reading your review of SLP (amongst other things) you and I look for different things in a movie. But, yet, we often come to the same conclusion. Hope you enjoy it.

  70. Glenn UK
    November 23, 2012

    NEW JUST IN!!!!!!! PICKED THIS UP FROM GOOGLE TODAY RE LES MIZ!!!!!

    Baz Bamigboye of the UK Daily Mail shares what he could from the screening of Les Miserables that he has seen —

    http://www.dailymail.co.uk/tvshowbiz/article-2237100/Les-Miserables-Grippingly-emotional-film-adaptation-looks-like-real-joy-watch.html?ito=feeds-newsxml

    >>Hugh Jackman said the film of Les Miserables would revolutionise the way people viewed movie musicals.

    The actor plays Jean Valjean in Tom Hooper�s stirring film version of the award-winning musical by Claude-Michel Schonberg, Alain Boublil and Herbert Kretzmer.

    When I spoke to him, during filming at Pinewood Studios, he explained why. �We sing as we act, rather than lay down songs weeks in advance,� he said. �It makes it much more realistic � particularly with a gritty story like this.�

    People lucky enough to be invited to private screenings of Les Miserables this week told me that having the actors sing live, as it were, added a grippingly emotional intensity to the picture (which is already pretty emotional!).

    One showing yesterday in central London left the audience moved to tears.

    Viewers I spoke to praised the film�s �breathtaking� appearance, and the performance of stars, including Jackman and Anne Hathaway.

    They revealed that Russell Crowe, as Inspector Javert, had a scene-stealing moment halfway through which allowed cinema-goers to have a quiet sob.

    People who caught yesterday�s screening seemed equally impressed by the younger actors, mentioning Eddie Redmayne�s knockout Marius, Samantha Barks� moving Eponine, Amanda Seyfried�s touching Cosette, and Aaron Tveit�s enjoyable Enjolras.

    And Sacha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter bring the house down as the Thenardiers, unsurprisingly.

    I have seen Les Miserables, too, but I�m not allowed to write about it yet, alas.

    The fact it�s even ready this far ahead of its January 11 UK opening date (its world premiere is in London on December 5) is a tribute to director Hooper�s tenacity (and that of producers Eric Fellner, Tim Bevan, Cameron Mackintosh and Debra Hayward).

    Les Miserables will be a major Oscar and Bafta contender.<<<

  71. November 23, 2012

    Saw Life of Pi last night.

    It’s way way above Lincoln in my opinion as front runner for Best Picture.

  72. eurocheese
    November 23, 2012

    This makes me love Ang Lee even more.

  73. Sonja
    November 23, 2012

    I really loved the book (though I’ve read it nearly 10 years ago, but whatever), so I’m very excited to see the movie!
    And though I hated “Hulk” so much, Ang Lee can (almost) do no wrong.

  74. Jack Traven II
    November 23, 2012

    Wonderful piece, Sasha.

    Thinking about Ang Lee, I remember seeing Eat Drink Man Woman in the UK in 1995. It was the original version with English subtitles. In contrast to the others I went to see it with I think I was the only one who liked the film. And I was and still am somewhat proud of myself, to be able to like and enjoy films that are not mainstream and not from Hollywood.

  75. November 23, 2012

    That’s kinda cool that you didn’t get to interview him and just hung out instead. :)

    I saw LIFE OF PI today. I was pretty underwhelmed. Maybe it’s because of all the headlines I was reading yesterday that said “masterpiece”. And I suppose I shouldn’t have gone back to Brokeback last night either. It gives a film a lot to live up to. But I wasn’t feeling this one.

    I liked Irfan Kahn a lot. I thought he did a great job. I definitely consider myself a fan of Ang Lee but this was just one of those times I guess. I felt the film was lopsided. The set up to Pi getting to the boat was longer than I would have anticipated which is fine. But then that set me up to expect a bookend of reality on the other side. And that “ending” was super brief comparatively speaking. I didn’t like the writer guy at all. Not sure if I’ve seen him before but he did nothing for the film. Speaking of nothing, Depardieu. Why hire him for such a small role? That’s another lopsided thing. Hire a major star for a nothing role and then hire a nobody for a slightly less than nothing role. I dunno. I don’t get it.

    Anyway, I pretty much think the film is overpraised. I’ve got a litany of complaints unfortunately but that’s spoiler territory. Unlike rufus, I don’t understand why they decided to tell the other story. I will say that I was expecting some proclamation about God at the end based on what he told Nondescript Dude at the beginning. The film seemed to chicken out.

  76. matthew
    November 23, 2012

    I saw Life of Pi and the next day Lincoln…Life of Pi is certainly my favorite film of the year so far. Ang Lee continues to astonish me as a filmmaker. As stated prior, Lee’s signature is telling the story the best way possible by molding his technique to what serves the story. I get so excited every time Irrfan Kahn shows up in a film and his performance was so emotional and truthful I wish there was more talk about it.

    I almost wish there was a different title for Lincoln, due to the overwhelming ensemble nature of the film, which was a very pleasant surprise. It was a major step up from the terrible War Horse last year and what performances! DDL, Sally Field, TLJ, and James Spader in one heck a scene-stealing role. I know I’m leaving countless others out, but I could see Lincoln as a major contender for SAG ensemble.

  77. rufussondheim
    November 23, 2012

    Antoinette, keep thinking about the film, reread some of the stuff from above. My opinion of the film grows as time passes. I still don’t think it’s best of the year stuff, but I like the film now more than when I left the theater.

    Spoiler stuff…

    I’ve been concentrating on Pi’s relationship with the tiger. Or, more bluntly, how Pi sees himself in his struggle for survival. If you interpret the movie the way I do, Pi chose the tiger to represent himself in the analogous story we see onscreen, and then gives credit to the tiger for giving him the motivation to survive. This interplay with that dichotomy is interesting to me, even though it’s a bit muddled and I can’t make complete sense of it. A second viewing might help, or it might not if I’m reading more into it than I should. Either way, it’s making me think, and that’s what a good movie should do.

  78. November 23, 2012

    SPOILERS

    The part at the end with the idiot writer taking all that mystical stuff and saying this was this and that was that, pretty much knocked the stuffing out of the film. I don’t understand why that was necessary. If people want to interpret, they’ll interpret. If they wanted to leave it as a fantastical tale they should be allowed to do that. Since I have no choice now but to interpret it, I’d say the tiger was God/his father.

    It’s pretty much the same feeling I got from WATERWORLD and SAVING PRIVATE RYAN. You go through all that crap with the characters and then the whole journey was BS. If you don’t remember in WW Kostner spends the whole movie looking for land, then when he finds it, he’s like “I don’t belong here”. In SPR when they finally find him so he can go home, he doesn’t want to and wants to do his best to get killed instead. In all these cases the trip you went on is basically a waste of time.

  79. Tero Heikkinen
    November 24, 2012

    Finally seeing this next week.

    A double feature of Silver Linings Playbook, 15 minute break and then Life of Pi. SLP is going to suffer because of this. I expect Life of Pi entering my Top 10 of the whole year.

  80. Tero Heikkinen
    November 24, 2012

    Ang Lee Top 5:

    1. The Ice Storm
    2. Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon
    3. Brokeback Mountain
    4. The Wedding Banquet
    5. Sense and Sensibility

    I wonder if Life of Pi is able to sneak in here somewhere. High chance for that, I feel.

    The Ice Storm is something unique I can’t really put my finger on to explain what, but whoever said that Ang Lee has not been influential is wrong. I think if you make a film about American suburbia, The Ice Storm is your LESSON #1. And yeah, Lee’s not even American. Also, the 70′s feel was captured perfectly and the way the children try to imitate their mostly shallow parents’ behaviour that is borderline naive at times. Figures, when the political atmosphere in the country was just that. They all grow up too fast, these kids. Lee has a lot of heart in all of his films and The Ice Storm – in particular – feels very warm with all the characters being so cold. The ice storm phenomena itself is a good metaphor for that, and you know it’s gonna take its toll. Well-written honest depiction of melancholy with Mychael Danna’s haunting score attracts us Finns very very much. Weather aside, in a way the whole thing feels very Scandinavian to me. Why Academy ignored it? Who knows, but fuck them for that. Maybe it was the sex, or the fact that it was really found on video. It flopped in its initial limited theater run.

    Also, I’m not a huge 3D hater anymore (just a disliker), a couple of films have been done right. I see them in 3D in theaters, but then in 2D at home. 3D theaters are now ready for HFR 3D for The Hobbit. Seeing this early in the morning of December 10th. Will probably enjoy it.

  81. steve50
    November 24, 2012

    Antoinette and rufus – I hope you guys can maintain your enthusiasm on Pi until Monday, when I plan on seeing it. I could easily join the conversation now, having read the book a couple of times, but I need to see what Lee has done with it, to be fair to the film.

    Hold those thoughts, please!

  82. rufussondheim
    November 24, 2012

    Will do, Steve – Planning on Seeing Lincoln on Tuesday. So we can discuss all this mid-week.

  83. leaveacomment
    November 25, 2012

    Adam A — Great reading about how much Ang Lee means to you, about your coming out, about how your sexuality has something to do with your attitude about movies, etc.

    But do you think you might take an English class or do something about your poor spelling. You do not “sneak a peak” unless you are secretly trying to move the top of a mountain somewhere. The correct phrase is “sneak a peek”, as in, getting a glimpse of something secret. Peek, not peak. Please, for god’s sake, learn the difference…..

  84. November 26, 2012

    Great post, Sasha! The year of Crouching Tiger vs. Gladiator was one I vividly remember, and was also the year I started checking your site, and have since been addicted to the race….

    I think I would have started crying too if I met Mr. Lee. He seems like such a gentle and sweet man.

    Thanks a bunch,

    Aaron.

  85. steve50
    November 26, 2012

    Hate coming late to the party, but I finally caught Life of Pi and I have to say, Lee’s film shimmers with the hyperrealism intensity of selective memory, like the reflective surfaces in Richard Estes paintings. Gorgeous and moving, he did justice to the book and made an outstanding film.

    Now, to the “god” thing and the brief retelling of the story in the last act that seems to have caused some wincing.

    (I don’t believe in SPOILER ALERTS when the original material was published 5 years ago, or more, but if you do, consider one here)

    On a quick, personal note, having studied, even dabbled in, several belief systems in my life, I’m entirely empathetic to Pi’s spiritual hoarding, the scene that got the biggest smile from me was when the Buddhist sailor (literally and figuratively) showed up at the table last, just before Pi’s world changed in that horrendous storm.

    In the story, poor pantheistic Pi is told by his father, “If you believe in everything, you will end up not believing in anything at all.” About the film, NYT critic AO Scott said in his review, “the movie invites you to believe in all kinds of marvelous things, but it also may cause you to doubt what you see with your own eyes.”

    Parallel statements, equally true, but used with a critical connotation when, in fact, they are positives – doubting is the very positive result of exposure and learning. Doubt is key to survival, much more so than doctrine, in that it causes us to make intelligent decisions based on nature, not dogma. In any standard religious belief, there is no room for doubt, which makes “god” a soothing panacea in a crisis, but doesn’t resolve the matter at hand. Nature will definitely resolve it, and this occurs over and over in the film, where hell has all the trappings of a paradise. It’s a place where the glorious breach of a whale in a night sea teeming with phosphoric algae becomes a destructive force, while the presence of a hungry and nervous Bengal tiger in the boat becomes the sole reason to stay alive.

    Which brings us to Richard Parker, and conflict between the “real” story (nature) and the “acceptable” story (doctrine).

    First clue: Yann Martel, the author of the book, chose the name “Richard Parker” because of the number of occurrences of people by that name who were shipwrecked, two of them (one real and one fiction) cannibalized by other survivors. So “Richard Parker” has a history of “becoming one”, as it were, with other castaways.

    Second clue: Trauma, hunger, thirst and solitude all impact our memory and perception of reality. That’s nature, dogma long flushed away.

    Third (and most important): Truth is always stranger than fiction because fiction can only be framed by the limits of our own beliefs while truth happens in the most chaotic and circumstantial ways.

    While the secondary version (at the end of the film) of the events is the more outwardly plausible and acceptable to society’s limited understanding of the way things are supposed to happen, it’s the first story that Pi has taken for himself. It’s his story of how he survived and how he continues to reconcile events in his own memory. It’s what happened to him.

    I love Richard Parker. I love the idea of him and the manifestation of him in Life of Pi. “Richard Parker” has saved my ass and helped me keep my wits on many occasions, and tending to his needs is what keeps me going. He’s unsentimental and always retreats to the jungle when he’s not needed. Is he “god?” No. Using that word means subscribing to the confines of something without scope, imagination or doubt, and Richard Parker is unrestricted by such things. But can he make you believe in god, as Pi says to the writer? He might, if you can drop the trappings of religion and use doubt to help you understand what you really see.

    Life of Pi moves to number one on my list this year.

  86. November 26, 2012

    steve50, that was truly wonderfully profound. I think we’ll feature your thoughts on the main page.

  87. steve50
    November 26, 2012

    Thanks, Ryan! Obviously my first 3D experience was a good one.

  88. Josh
    February 8, 2013

    It’s interesting that Lee made this because he is apparently agnostic or even athesit. He is not a religious person at all.

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