Thursday, February 7, 2013

Ang Lee: Life of Pi

Washing across the screen and touching spectator's hearts with a force uncommon these days, while challenging minds and expectations, master Ang Lee's newest work, adapted from Yann Martel's wildly popular recent novel, is crystalline, artful, and finally, breathtaking.

Adept at immersing himself entirely in every genre and subject, Lee's strength lies equally in locating the heart of the matter, and visualizing these worlds with a gleam that goes hand in hand. From his earliest breakthroughs, the Taiwanese domestic dramas The Wedding Banquet and Eat Drink Man Woman, it was clear that Lee had a precious gift for sharp composition and depth-of-character. Those light enchantments gave way to his highly-anticipated English-language debut, his masterwork Sense and Sensibility, to my mind the greatest filmization of Jane Austen's literature ever made. He nailed the intricate world of early 19th century British life, the delicacy of its comedies and horrors, and the palpable impact of unrequited love.

With his American debut, the even better The Ice Storm, he perfected his portrait of 1970s American family life. With each subsequent work, he has modeled the correct way to bring literary creations to the screen with heart intact, whilst making each picture wholly personal and wrenching. Tackling the Civil War ( the dense, flawed but fascinating Ride with the Devil), martial-arts fantasy (the intoxicatingly graceful Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon), comic book superhero (the underrated, majestic Hulk), 20th century Western ( his third true masterpiece and possibly greatest achievement, the guttural Brokeback Mountain), and most recently, his minor works (still stylistically and thematically arresting and better than most other director's best films) Lust, Caution and Taking Woodstock, it has always been obvious that Lee is a cinematic renaissance man.

Notwithstanding his detractors cries of indifference and zero integrity, Ang Lee is one of our international-cum-American masters. Life of Pi belongs with his great films, if not the masterpieces. A rich, complex and subsuming work, there is nothing quite like it you've seen before. In lead actor Suraj Sharma's handsome intensity, Lee has coached an impressive breakthrough performance. In David Magee's jaggedly harmonious script, Lee has his blueprint for the hallucinatory story he will hypnotize us all with.His crew works in unison, crafting one of this or any year's most technically impressive blossomings.

Claudio Miranda's camera work is nothing short of magic; each bewitching sequence transitions into the next immaculately; dissolves have never been so subtly shamanistic. His control of 3-D is masterly; he and Lee employ the recently popular gimmick better than any live-action film this side of Cameron's Avatar, only Lee's is the far better film. Tim Squyres' editing is work of wonder; his technique bolsters the cinematography, birthing a breathtaking sorcery hard to forget. It's quite simply the best editing all year, if not in years. The CGI employed is staggering in its believability.

The flashback structure and high symbolism work on many levels; literal and figurative, its an adventure tale for the ages. Although I did not care for the ending, I understood Lee stayed faithful to the novel, and in my mind, surpassed it. Mychael Danna's score incorporates the characters' ethnic milieu and indigenous instrumentation into his lush compositions, crafting not only one of the best music scores of the year, but also one of the maestro's career best works.

Fantastic, phantasmagoric, and stunning, Lee's accomplishment here is nothing short of the most technologically accomplished film in his ouevre. One of the great movie going experiences of the year, Lee's magical opus will take your breath away!

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