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Ang Lee: A Chinese Take On The Taiwanese Master's Latest Movie Feature

Life of Pi shows the Taiwan-born Lee in total command of his storytelling talents.

Ang Lee: A Chinese Take On The Taiwanese Master's Latest Movie Feature
Mu Weier

LONDON – Taiwanese-born director Ang Lee continues to build his film legend. His latest film, “Life of Pi,” made its U.S. and Chinese debut during Thanksgiving weekend. In both countries it was met with universal acclaim.

American film critic Roger Ebert called it “a miraculous achievement of storytelling and a landmark of visual mastery,” saying it was “one of the best films of the year.” Its rating soared on Douban.com, a Chinese social networking service for books, movies and music – making it a box office hit.

Ang Lee started his cinematographic career with three Taiwanese films: "Pushing Hands," "The Wedding Banquet" and "Eat Drink Man Woman." They all addressed the issue of cultural and intergenerational relationships, and conflicts. Ang Lee then made the switch to British and American films, with historical and societal movies: "Sense and Sensibility," "The Ice Storm" and “Ride with the Devil."

After that, he turned to action films with "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" and “Hulk” both very different in style. The former, a Chinese-style wuxia (a film genre concerning martial arts), won the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film, as well as being a worldwide hit, but the latter, his first big-budget movie, wasn’t as popular, earning mixed reviews.

Lee’s more recent works include "Brokeback Mountain" and "Lust, Caution." In both films, he showcased his piercing analysis of inner emotion.

With “Taking Woodstock” and “Life of Pi,” Ang Lee turned to an ingenious method of storytelling though flashbacks and repetitions.

A storytelling master

However, Ang Lee hasn’t escaped criticism. “Taking Woodstock” was mostly criticized for the fact that none of the musical aspect of the historic music festival were actually featured. Instead of showing the music and the sense of utopia, the movie chose to show the young hero’s LSD trip and psychedelic hallucinations. As someone who was not at the actual event, Ang Lee shot the film from an interesting angle. It’s as if he was saying: If the movie-going public wants to see the festival, they should just watch a documentary.

Besides, it was simply impossible for Lee to recreate such a festival, not even with the help of digital techniques. The legendary concert is, therefore, left to the imagination of the audience.

“Life of Pi” is no exception. It shows the story in an alternative manner. It’s only after a while that the viewers suddenly realize what they had seen earlier was probably an illusion. The film director chose to hide the truth and the full picture from his audience. What is real, and what is not, is an important theme of the movie.

With Pi, Lee chose a theme that is not your usual Hollywood blockbuster fodder. As Lee had previously stated, "Don’t work with kids, don’t work with animals, and don’t work with water," because these themes aren’t as appealing for an audience. Lee tried his best to contradict this adage while at the same time being thought provoking. The filmmaker has successfully managed to share Pi’s inner world with the audience, a talent that few in his generation share, the voice of a true storytelling master.

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