Two minutes with: Ang Lee

by Listener Archive / 03 January, 2013
The Oscar-winning director of <em>Brokeback Mountain</em> and <em>Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon</em> recently visited New Zealand to promote his latest epic, <em>The Life of Pi</em>.
Ang Lee
Ang Lee, photo Getty Images

How did you interpret The Life of Pi when you first read the book?
As a reading experience, it was fascinating, mind-boggling. The thing that impressed me the most is Pi kept telling you fantastical stuff he experienced – it seems to be unreal. But there’s some way he makes you believe. Then comes the last part. It turns out to be a really philosophical book. I thought it was very clever, very inspiring. I think it’s really about storytelling, about valuing the power of imagination. It seems to force you to take a position, whether you believe the first story or the second story. When I first read the book, I didn’t completely believe either of the stories.

What did you learn about tigers?
A lot. I learnt tigers don’t like open space. They’re loners, and they don’t like uncertain surfaces. And they have that thing where they turn around and pee. But the most important thing is a tiger can be trained, but not tamed. If you think they’re tameable, then you can get yourself killed.

Is movie-making an art or a science?
We would like to think it’s art, but you have to use some science. It’s an illusion that we’re creating, but the method is science. There are some people who can totally soak into the science part of it, but I like the artistic part of it. I just have to endure the science.

Which moviemaker do you most admire, and why?
There are so many, but at this point I will say Stanley Kubrick. For a big part of the movie I was thinking of doing something like 2001: A Space Odyssey because it is a pure visual experience. It’s very hard to articulate the work almost in the subconscious
level. That’s how it felt to me.

Do you think 3D will still be around in 10 years?
I think it’s a new cinematic language and we are just beginning to know it. There’s a chance in 10 years people will decide they don’t like the glasses and technically you can find a way not to have glasses. But I think more and more a new 3D language will be introduced to the audience. I think it will get better and cheaper and more filmmakers will put their hands on it and it could be more interesting.

How do you think your life might have turned out if you had stayed in Taiwan?
I couldn’t tell. I think I would still be a filmmaker, but I think it would be a very different career.

What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?
I’m just doing my thing; it’s hard to say. I am always taking a lot of advice. Recently a master filmmaker advised me after this movie maybe I should take a little break. We’ll see if that’s good advice.

What’s the most difficult decision you’ve ever had to make?
When I decided I wanted to try 3D on this project, that was probably the biggest decision I made in my life. Three or four years, and a lot of money would be spent and I’d get into Taiwan to do this thing. And I chose to work alone without James Schamus, my regular creative partner and producing partner.

Is there anything you particularly wanted to do in New Zealand?
I wanted to see the South Island because I wanted to take a break where there was not a lot of people.

What’s your next project?
That’s difficult because I haven’t figured that out yet. I’m waiting for things to hit me, but nothing grasps me yet.

What’s your favourite stretch of road?
I have a property in upstate New York that has a creek in it. I like to walk in the woods and follow the little creek and just see day to day how that water changes, and that’s my secret path.

The Life of Pi opened nationwide on January 1.

Helene Wong's film review of Life of Pi

Interview with Life of Pi scriptwriter David Magee

Letter from Barack Obama to Life of Pi author Yann Martel

Interviews with author Yann Martel
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