Storytelling from Taiwan: Ang Lee’s Life of Pi

Having relocated to the north-east coast of Taiwan only a matter of weeks ago, my partner and I ventured out to the cinemas of Taiwan for the first time. With some shoddy directions we stumbled down a dead-end road where five Taiwanese children were out playing on the street. After giggling at our white faces, they called out their father from inside of his duvet-cleaning (or something of the like) shop. With a map of our own neighbourhood in hand, we ambled through Luodong night market.

After finding a one-screen cinema which wasn’t showing Life of Pi, we were directed back outside, round the corner, left at the toyshop and boom. Left at the toyshop, it transpires, led to a dank, dark backstreet alley where some locals were heaving sacks of who knows what off the back of a van. If being in Taiwan for the past four weeks had taught us anything, it’s that being skeptical about dimly lit backstreet alleys will get you nowhere. So on we went and two hundred metres later, lo-and-behold, a cinema!

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Since his digression from his Taiwanese roots towards the realm of the blockbuster, director Ang Lee has become a household name in the West as well as the East. His versatile, transnational style lends itself well to creating spectacular and quirky mainstream films; his most recent addition being an adaptation of Yann Martel’s novel, Life of Pi.

Life of Pi tells the story of Pi Patel (Suraj Sharma), a boy from Pondicherry, India, who survives a shipwreck. Lost out in the Pacific Ocean, Pi finds himself sharing a small lifeboat with a zebra, a hyena, an orangutan and a Bengal tiger.

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Lee creates a landscape of fantastical magic realism through captivating, majestic scenes. However, when Pi discovers an island of carnivorous algae, despite the fantastic special effects, it ends up looking like an advertising stunt for comparethemarket.com with meerkats galore.

The ideas are bold and the visuals are incredible. Problematically though, Life of Pi is surrealism which is all too Hollywoody.

 

Life of Pi, dir. Ang Lee (2012, USA)

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