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09 January 2013

Life of Pi (Review): "A Visual Feast from Ang Lee"

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Ang Lee’s “Life of Pi” is a visually stunning film that successfully captures the richness of Yann Martel’s 2001 novel.  Lee is known for being a master of control and minimalist approach to directing.  Every visual stimulus is necessary and helps propel the story or reveal a character’s inner working.  One classic example is in “Brokeback Mountain.” Heath Ledger took an iconic pose of an American cowboy with a Fourth July firework display on the background after his character beat up noisy spectators.  Michelle Williams’ character frightfully carried her children away in the distance.  This specific detail is not in the original short story by Annie Proulx.

Another example is in “Sense and Sensibility.” Elinor’s mother (Gemma Jones) closes the atlas box after Elinor (Emma Thompson) told her that in love, “it is best to use one’s head.” The two characters are seen through a narrow door emphasizing the confinement of the women.  Who can also forget Michelle Yeoh and Chow Yun Fat’s loaded concise conversation in “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon?” The two characters’ subtle speeches reveal so much about each other’s feelings than any lengthy wordy dialogues. 

Lee is also a master of using topography as a tool for storytelling.  He does not just shoot mountains or confined rooms, he is highlighting a message or leading us in another direction. To reveal too much of his approach is to lessen the pleasure of enjoying an Ang Lee film.  In “Life of Pi,” Lee is in his elements.

Best examples of Lee's visual mastery.
Above: "Brokeback Mountain."
Below: "Sense and Sensibility."
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The film is not Lee’s best but it is certainly his most visual film so far.  The movie is more of a feast to the senses than anything else.  
The performance of Indian actor Irrfan Khan, who plays the grown up Pi, is a standout. He was able to pull in the sympathy of the audience. His performance made it easy for me to believe the genuine change in his faith in God. Nineteen-year old Suraj Sharm, who plays the young Pi for most of the film, is a promising actor. He falters at some scenes, but still, carrying the entire film on your shoulders is not an easy task.  Perhaps, my expectation for an actor in an Ang Lee film was too high. Lee has been responsible for bringing out the best performances from young actors in recent years. Some of the best examples were Heath Ledger, Jake Gyllenhaal, Anne Hathaway and Michelle Williams in “Brokeback Mountain,” and Chinese actress Tang Wei in “Lust, Caution.” 

Lee worked with a script that is more cut-and-dried than ambiguous like in the original text. Nevertheless, he still manages to capture the essence of the book, and improve on it. Despite my personal pet peeves about the movie’s minor flaws, “Life of Pi” is truly impressive and it is a must-see. (First Published in "The Chair" Blog)

REVIEWER'S NOTE: Skip the 3D version of movie in SM North the Block. I watch both 2D and 3D and the colors and effects of the 2D version is more vivid. The 3D effects, at least in SM North, muted the colors.  Unfortunately, the 3D is not in IMAX and in my opinion, if the 3D is not in IMAX, why bother. It is just a waste of money.


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