Russell Baillie

Russell Baillie is the Herald’s entertainment editor

From Pi to pies: film man's NZ break

Oscar-winning director starts a fortnight-long Kiwi holiday after promoting the 'unfilmable' best seller Life of Pi.

The sea played an important part in Ang Lee's life for two years as he worked on Life of Pi. Photo / Brett Phibbs
The sea played an important part in Ang Lee's life for two years as he worked on Life of Pi. Photo / Brett Phibbs

As he sat on a wharf bollard to have his photo taken, Ang Lee eyed the Waitemata below with a slight grin.

Maybe it was because the Oscar-winning director, who was in Auckland yesterday, has spent a good deal of the past few years at sea - or in a giant wave tank replicating it - as he filmed Life of Pi.

The movie is a spectacular 3D adaptation of the supposedly unfilmable Yann Martell bestseller which tells of the adventures of a teenage Indian castaway sharing a lifeboat with a tiger named Richard Parker.

The acclaim for it could well give the Taiwan-born American-based film-maker an addition to a trophy cabinet which includes a Best Director Academy Award for Brokeback Mountain and Best Foreign Language Film for Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.

Life of Pi further proves that when it comes to adapting novels, Lee, whose first non-Chinese film was the 1995 version of Jane Austen's Sense and Sensibility, is a master.

Quite aside from Pi's technical hurdles, Lee said, telling its mystical story on screen had its own challenges.

"This is a book about ideas, It's not about emotion. It's not particularly film friendly, and people project different ideas into it. It's a beloved book for millions of different reasons.

"There is no way you can make everybody happy or fit it into their imaginations. So at some point, so long as the essence is loyal to the book I have to honestly take you on my own tour.

"There is no reason and no way you can translate literature into cinema. There is no point in doing that. There are some books I would say that are better staying literature."

Yesterday was Lee's last day on the international promotional trail for the movie as it opened in various parts of the world.

Its release dates were brought forward in some areas to avoid competition with The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey.

Lee laughed that Peter Jackson's film and his have been vying for the top Taiwanese box office spot on recent weekends. He also laughed when it was suggested he was to his home country what Jackson was to New Zealand.

"I wish I could do what he did. Give Taiwan a studio and everything. I couldn't do that."

Life of Pi has grossed nearly US$205 million ($244 million), after costing about US$120 million to make.

Which means that today, after attending an Auckland screening last night with a question-and-answer session for fans, Lee will be relaxing on a Kiwi holiday for a couple of weeks before the awards season starts in Hollywood.


The Life of Pi opens in New Zealand on January 1

- NZ Herald

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