For someone who has made films like Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, Hulk and Lust, Caution, Ang Lee comes across as nothing less than a monk. His voice is essentially low but clear and his thoughts are enlightening. In Mumbai for the promotions of his film based on Yann Martel’s Life of Pi, the Oscar-winning director shared his views on cinema, influences, Irrfan and lot more.
What’s your motivation behind making films?
This is the only thing I ever wanted to do. In fact, the only thing I’m good at! To me, filmmaking started off with curiosity and gradually moved towards ambition and as of today, it’s about sharing a story with others. Or should I say, sharing an illusion.
Speaking of illusions, what was the toughest part about your forthcoming film?
To maintain that illusion for a long period of time… because we dealt with water, 3D and lots of other technical details on a large scale while making this specific movie. And it wasn’t going to be an easy ride and I didn’t know what I was getting myself into (laughs). Perhaps that’s the beauty of cinema.
Your film deals with faith too. Do you believe in God?
I don’t know for sure but I’m certainly not religious. We humans have this void in us, which we try to manifest through some external elements. It could be anything. In this story too, Pi encounters several circumstances where he understands the innate relationship between faith, nature and God.
The Taiwanese claim you as their own, the Chinese and the Americans do the same. Who do you claim to be?
(Pauses) I’ll be safe here and go with my passport. It says Taiwan-Communist Republic of China! (Laughs again) I grew up in Taiwan and stayed there till I was 23. Today I’m based in New York and people who once saw me as an Asian Indie filmmaker are warming up and calling me an American director.
Who are the filmmakers who inspire you?
I’m hugely influenced by post-War Italian cinema and you can see that in my work. When it comes to vision, I look up to Stanley Kubrick. I go with Billy Wilder for comedy, Ingmar Bergman for philosophy and Alfred Hitchcock for perverse topic. There are so many of them.
How was Irrfan to direct?
He’s a very peculiar actor and definitely one of the finest. Interestingly, he sometimes finds simple things difficult, which others might find easier to enact. For instance, narration of scripts... On the other hand, he emotes expressions with such ease and command something others would find difficult.
Why do you think Hollywood is looking elsewhere for material?
It currently lacks freshness in a way. That explains why remakes and repetitive franchise sequels are being made. Earlier, Hollywood used to look towards Europe. Now it’s exploring other parts of the world.
Have you forgiven the Academy for overlooking Brokeback Mountain?
(Laughs) All I can say is I’ve moved on in life. Of course, when you’re at the Oscars, you want your film to win the Best Picture Award but then awards are not just statuette because they represent something more. They represent moments.