I’d like it known now I can admit on the rare occasion when I am wrong. Usually I am right. But I can admit when I am wrong, which in intself makes me right on those occasions when I am wrong. Ang Lee proved this theory. A theory I came up with. Because I am usually right. Thus proving my theory. Which was right. Allow me to elaborate.
When it was announced in 2001 that a new Hulk movie was being made and then in the same breath heard it was being directed by Ang Lee I reacted like a kid being told he was getting a new bicycle (yaaaayyyy!!) stand (awwwwwww!!) for Christmas. Not even a post-Chopper-Eric-Bana-as-Hulk announcement could make the news more palatable.
Don’t get me wrong, it was not for a lack of affinity for Lee’s previous movies; I loved Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. The Ice Storm ignited my love of Art House cinema, and introduced me to the weird notions of swinging and angry car sex. I even thought Sense and Sensibility was, as a 17 year old with a semi-permanent trouser bulge and 3 second attention span, a pretty enjoyable experience, despite it’s lack of swinging or angry horse and carriage sex. No it was in fact because of my love for Ang Lee’s style of film making that I groaned. But maybe I would be proven wrong. Maybe Lee’s sense of slow burning character development, complex relationships and lingering eye for brushstroke visuals was just what the franchise needed.
Nope. It was shit. Uninspiring actions sequences, poorly developed relationships and plodding pace. It was the kind of reaction that could have killed Lee in Hollywood. Thankfully for him two gay cowboys, an Oscar, the immortal line “I wish I knew how to quit you” and a budget to box office ratio of +500% put him back on the straight and narrow. I loved Brokeback Mountain for all the reasons I loved The Ice Storm. Dark, brooding, uncomfortable (particularly when watching them getting wrestley in tent whilst on a plane from LA to Heathrow sat next to some old dear who wont stop looking over at my screen), well paced and beautifully shot.
So when I heard Ang Lee was directing Life of Pi I had an inverse reaction to Hulk. I went Ang Lee (yaaaayyyy!!) $100 million budget (awww!!!). Nooooooooooooooooooooo, Ang Lee doesn’t know what to do with $100m! Plus, how in Hell do you make an unfilmable book about a boy stuck in a boat with a bengal tiger whose central theme is understanding the philosophy of God and Religion into an exciting 100 minute cinematic experience? The entire second half of the story is Pi…on his own….in a boat. With a tiger. That doesn’t speak. BECAUSE HE’S A TIGER! It’s Cast Away, in a boat, with a large cat and no Tom Hanks to make you think about all the great films Tom Hanks had done up until that point. I nearly wept into the unopened copy of Life of Pi on my bookshelf that I had been meaning to read because everyone told me how great it was an could never be made into a film. I vowed it would be terrible and would never see it and then watched Big.
Then I heard the rumours surface on the internet…
“Apparently the boy playing Pi, Suraj Sharma, is a revelation. He’d never acted before but he is making people on set weep” the internet told me. “Meh” I retorted “I’ve heard it all before. Everyone thought Jonathan Lipnicki tore it up in Jerry Maguire, but he wasn’t what made the film great. Unless the Tiger is shouting “SHOW ME THE MONKEY” I am not interested”.
“But wait, there more. The CGI bengal tiger is phenomenal and ground breaking in it’s realism. It’s seamless between the real tiger and the fake one” it tried to convince me. “Well…..maybe that could be ok if the kid and the tiger are both good………No, I am still not convinced Ang Lee can make a boy in a boat with a tiger for 50 minutes gripping. Next.” And so I stubbornly sat for a few more months awaiting the nugget of argument to convince me otherwise
A short time later I went to the cinema to see something I can’t remember. The reason I can’t remember what it was is because 10 minutes before hand I saw a trailer for Life of Pi and for the remainder of whatever movie I was there to see I kept thinking about Life of Pi. The visuals looked painted on. The tiger looked like it wanted to eat my face. There was a ship-in-a-storm moment that looked like it had been crafted by Wolfgang Petersen and Suraj Sharma did indeed look fantastic. It even had Rafe Spall in it. I love Rafe Spall!! He was my second favourite Hot Fuzz character and the only person in Prometheus (urrghh you better believe there is a blog coming about all the reasons I hate THAT movie) I didn’t want to die immediately upon meeting them.
So on 3rd January when the wife and I decided to go see something at the local house of cine I immediately shouted “LIFE OF PI” to which she responded “Okay, calm down Captain Shouty, I’m standing right here. We’ll go see Life of Pi.”
And there it was, as I settled into my free premium upgrade seat, belly full of Chiquitos Mexican chicken and pork, breath stinking of garlic (apologies guy next to me in seat D12), that I experienced a film that finally balanced Ang Lee’s heartbreaking sense of loss, love and tests of faith (a recurring theme in a lot his movies I only realised recently) with the most breathtaking visuals and colours. At times I could swear Empire Cinema were employing Oompa Loompas to stand behind the screen and paint the scenes directly to canvas. But, most crucially, it passed the real test in that for the whole 50 to 60 minutes Pi was stranded on his own in the boat I was never once bored. Never once found myself distracted (well actually that’s not strictly true, some bunch of middle aged douche monkeys acting like kids and talking the whole way through was a little distracting but I plan on covering that and other breaches of cine-etiquette in another blog). And there was more than one moment when the relationship that Lee had orchestrated between Pi and Richard Parker (the tiger’s name if you didn’t already know) made me well up like a hormonal leaking tap. This, to be honest, was as much testament to the fantastic natural acting talent of Suraj Sharma than anything else. That boy has talent. I hope he has an agent who will steer him right and not let him act in an M. Night Shyamalamadingdong movie.
In short I was never bored, endlessly entertained and nothing short of breathless at the scenes presented to me on occasion.
So it was as a I left the cinema with a grin that I began to think once again about Hulk. Maybe I misjudged it. Maybe now I am older, wiser, more adept at understanding the nuances of Bruce Banner’s struggle with his modern day Jekyll and Hyde story, I can’t better understand Lee’s intentions. I love Eric Banana (I think if I were his friend he’d let me call him Eric Banana), so that’s a plus, right? Was I wrong? Had Ang Lee actually made one of the most underrated action hero movies of recent times? No. it’s still shit. Not Batman and Robin nipples on the suit shit, but shit. However, it did give me hope that it was a case of wrong character wrong time rather than lack of ability that led to that particular turd being coiled on the screen.
Ang Lee has nothing listed in the pipeline, but I am hoping for a yaaaayyyyyyyyy with no caveats when his next project is announced.