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Ang Lee Discusses Making the Unfilmable 'Life of Pi'

Written By King on Wednesday, November 21, 2012 | 2:10 AM

Many critics have given positive early reviews for Ang Lee's "Life of Pi". Despite the growing chorus of critical praises, director Lee opened up that the film was actually something he refused to direct at first. The Taiwan-born filmmaker used to think that Yann Martel's "mind-boggling" novel was too unfilmable.

"For what it was, it was way too expensive to make, if it was filmable at all," so the Oscar winner told USA Today. "Everything put together, it was like the number pi, irrational. If you know the business, there were a lot of no-nos."

The project once went to director M. Night Shyamalan before going back to Lee in 2008. Aside from the difficulties in bringing every element in the book to the big screen, Lee found it hard to find the right Indian actor to portray the titular character Pi Patel. After testing 3,000 aspiring actors, Lee picked Suraj Sharma who basically had no acting experience at all.

"Suraj has the most compelling face," the director said. "When I met him for the first time, I began to see the movie. When you see him you see Pi. (He) is such rare talent. Even though he has never acted before. It's like little Buddha. His previous lives have been doing this all along. I just reminded him."

Another challenge was to make the movie in 3D format in order to reach a broader audience. Besides, Lee has never made any 3D pics previously. "I said 2-D, even though it's cheaper, it is maybe a bad idea. 3-D is a risk," Lee opened up. "But there was an upside to it. I imagined the audience would give it more of a chance."

Lee additionally said that creating the Bengal tiger, Richard Parker, was painstaking work. "It's still handcraft. There's no button to push, " he shared. "There's not a program to make an animal look real. Every frame is a labor of love. Some shots took three months, some six months."

As if it's not enough, Lee also opened up about the difficulty in making the ocean scenes, which involved the largest self-generating wave tank ever designed and built for a movie. Lee wanted the scene to look perfect, so he's "imitating the open ocean, and the whole second act is on the water." He added, "Obviously we're not going out to the ocean."

The ocean shot itself was very challenging to Lee as he faced some of the most frustrating days in his movie career when his 3D equipment became fogged up late into a night shoot during the making of a sequence called "Storm of God". He recalled, "It was the first time in my career nothing got done in 12 hours."

"You look up at God and say: 'How does this work? Show me! Give me a sign or something'," he continued. " 'I did this. I did that. What more do you want?' I think everyone has those moments in their lives."

After wrapping the long and tiring production, Lee admitted that he suffered from physical illness for a while. "I started to feel this aching in my bones," he said. "I didn't feel like celebrating, but I should have. Give everyone a big hug and smile. But nothing."

Lee went on saying that he's proud of the final result of his hard work. "The movie looks pretty great; I am very proud of it," he gushed. "There's no doubt there's a labor of love. People put their heart and soul into it. I'd like to see some of us get noticed. That would great."

The critically-acclaimed "Life of Pi" will make its way out onto the U.S. cinemas on November 21. The story follows a young man who survives a tragic disaster at sea and is hurtled into an epic journey of adventure and discovery. While marooned on a lifeboat, he forms an amazing and unexpected connection with the ship's only other survivor - a fearsome Bengal tiger.
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