An interview with Ang Lee – Director, Life of Pi
ABOUT LIFE OF PI:
Based on the best-selling novel by Yann Martel and directed by Ang Lee. A young man survives a disaster at sea and is hurtled into an epic journey of adventure and discovery. While cast away, he forms an amazing and unexpected connection with another survivor – a fearsome Bengal tiger. From the Director of Brokeback Mountain, Crouching Tiger and Hidden Dragon. The film stars Suraj Sharma, Irrfan Khan, Tobey Maguire, Tabu, Adil Hussain, Ayush Tandon, Gerard Depardieu and Rafe Spall.
Q1) Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, Brokeback Mountain, Hulk and now Life of Pi. Every movie of yours has been different. What inspires you to explore and direct so many different stories?
Culture is texture — it’s an interesting colour for me. It’s how we associate our crowd, our environment. It makes for good material in a film. However, there’s no real effort to offer that kind of a subtext in a story – it finds its own way. At the heart of every movie I make there has to be a universal emotion – it has to always be about human conditions. How we deal with spirit, or God, our sanity, our sense of security, our emotions; how we deal with ourselves. Our cultures are a big part of our lives. We have to live with a group to be supported, be reliable, and to not feel lonely. We have to be agreeable. That’s the important part. But essentially, that’s not the core of what I do. It’s storytelling at the end of the day.
Q2) What made you take up Life of Pi?
It is a thought provoking novel. When you make a movie from a book it is important you should not get the language and words same. It is all about showing cinematic vision. Life Of Pi is a philosophical book. For the West, India is spiritually inspiring. Everyone comes here to find their God. The book in many ways describes the power of our imagination, faith; what we call God. It starts in India, but really it’s the middle path, where the nationality of the character ceases to exist, which is what the story is all about. It’s where the character’s faith is tested. That aspect of the story appealed to me. The other big reason was 3D. No one’s used 3D in cinema in an artistic form yet. It’s still a new technology. But it’s still not a regular part of artistic expression. When I chose the medium, there was no one to teach me how to use it. Where do you place things? What’s the movie language you adapt? May be three years from now, all this will seem obvious. But right now, it’s a challenge. And that excited me.
Q3) Hulk failed to make an impression at the box office. Then you made Brokeback Mountain that was a runaway success. How did you get through those difficult times?
Hulk was a very violent film. Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon just before that, and then Hulk were action-oriented films that were also psychologically deep. It took a lot out of me. Not just physically, I was also mentally exhausted. Its failure made me angry and indignant. I decided to never make a movie again. My father asked me if I wanted to retire, and I replied in the negative.
He said, “Go ahead and make another movie then. Giving up like this would not set a good example for your kids”. About six months after that, he passed away. I decided to make a small film about a family, about love. I decided to make it independently, to go back to my roots. I was pretty certain that would be my last film. And that was Brokeback Mountain.
Q4) Who are the people that have influenced you in movie making?
I’m hugely influenced by post-War Italian cinema and you can see that in my work. When it comes to vision, I look up to Stanley Kubrick. I go with Billy Wilder for comedy, Ingmar Bergman for philosophy and Alfred Hitchcock for perverse topic. There are so many of them.