Ang Lee is no stranger to Hollywood
success. His previous films include the much-acclaimed adaptation of Jane Austen's Sense and Sensibility, for
which he was nominated for seven Academy Awards, and Brokeback Mountain,
for which he picked up an Academy Award for Best Director.
Yet the Taiwanese-born director faced an
unusual struggle with his latest film, The Life of Pi. Completely devoid
of beloved Austen characters or American cowboys, Lee has had to make an art house film about an Indian boy who drifts off to sea along with a Bengal tiger and a hyena appeal to a wider audience.
‘As an art house film, you can explore the
philosophical issues,’ Lee said at a press conference. ‘But for a popular film,
we also need to make the audience feel touched, and that was the difficult
The film, based on Yann Martel’s Man Booker
Prize winning novel of the same name, has certainly caught the eye of Hollywood. Titanic director
James Cameron, a renowned 3D guru, has been raving about the film’s visuals.
Pi breaks the paradigm that 3D has to be some big, action fantasy
spectacle, superhero movie,’ Cameron told The Times of India. ‘The movie is visually amazing,
inventive, and it works on you in ways you're not really aware of. It takes you
on a journey, and unless you've read the book — which I hadn't — you have no
idea where that journey is going. It does
what good 3D is supposed to do, which is, it allows you to forget you're
watching a 3D movie.’
In fact, the decision to shoot the film in
3D was one of the ways Lee believes the art house film will appeal to a Hollywood audience.
‘As a new technology, 3D gives the film
additional appeal,’ he said.
Consciously choosing to avoid filming the
movie in Hollywood, Lee decided to shoot the
majority of the film in his native Taiwan.
‘The movie couldn't have been shot if it
hadn't been in Taiwan... it
couldn't have been done in Los Angeles,’
the director said. ‘If we had been in Hollywood,
the tech team would probably think they were know-it-alls but in Taiwan they
didn't and they were exploring from the start.’
Lee also praised the performance of his
leading actor, 17-year-old Indian actor Suraj Sharma, who plays the role of Pi
‘The movie depends on Suraj. I would not
shoot the film if it weren't for this person and his talent,’ Lee said. ‘He is
very spirited... I was moved by his sincerity.’
Ultimately, Lee’s string of decisions to
keep the film appealing to the general audience appear to be paying off. Its
initial screenings have garnered largely positive reviews from critics, and the
film has already been tipped as a potential Oscar contender.
Life of Pi opens in cinemas in the US
on 21 November. It opens in Australia
on 1 January 2013.