On October 29, 2010, Oscar-winning director and one of my personal all-time favorite filmmakers, Ang Lee, gave a press conference in Taipei, Taiwan, to formally announce the pre-production phase of his upcoming 3-D cinematic adaptation of the novel The Life of Pi.
Ang Lee directing the movie-version of The Life of Pi has been percolating for some time, and almost got derailed earlier in the summer when his budget appeared to spiral out of control. Thank the stars whatever caused the budget to blow up got resolved, because Ang Lee not being able to direct The Life of Pi would have been one the greatest travesties in the cinematic world.
The Life of Pi is one of the best modern novels I have ever read – occupying a space in the pantheon of stories that once read never leave your soul. Written by Yann Martel, this slim book carries within it a message and a vision so spare yet vivid, reading it your heart expands with the weight of the simplest of words.
The story is basically a boy, on a raft, in the middle of the ocean – just him and a Bengal Tiger for 2/3rds of the novel. Through a open casting call consisting of over 3,000 young men, Ang Lee chose 17 year old newcomer Suraj Sharma to carry an entire film on his shoulders. It’s a heavy load to bear, as Ang Lee so aptly compared him to Tom Hanks carrying Castaway by himself, plus a volley ball.
Ang Lee says:
There is no dialogue, and he is not Tom Hanks. The film is about humankind’s spiritual pursuit, and he must have an appealing temperament. He showed the storytelling ability, and you will believe this is a true story. I hope to take viewers to the sea so they can feel for themselves the relationship between humankind and their beliefs.
Principal filming will begin in January 2011, and take place in Taiwan and India. Ang Lee’s use of 3-D for this movie is not a gimmick or an attempt to bandwagon on the 3-D craze, but a thoughtful realization that the only way to tell THIS particular story is to bring the viewers into that ocean and travel the journey with Pi, who does not have a single line of dialogue except for the very beginning and very end of the novel. It’s ambitious, and I am dazzled by the prospect of what Ang Lee could do to this story.
This is the man who understands how to bring inner emotions to a cinematic medium, and his Brokeback Mountain and Eat Drink Man Woman ranks among the best movies of all time (I liked Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon but I prefer Ang Lee’s more introspective works). I have a feeling The Life of Pi may join that pantheon of great Ang Lee movies.