Ang Lee’s passion
With Billy Lynn’ s Long Half time Walk, made using frontier technology, Ang Lee is entering uncharted territory. Xu Fan reports.
The director promotes Billy Lynn’ s Long Half time Walk
Ang Lee is reigniting China’s passion and respect for movies. From Sunday to Tuesday, the Oscarwinning director toured Beijing and Shanghai and spoke more than he has in public for the past four years.
“Movies are my religion, a harbor for my soul. I don’t see filmmaking as a job, but as a way for me to be innovative and to keep my blood flowing,” says the director, who took home the best director Oscar for Brokeback Mountain in 2006 and Life of Pi in 2013.
Lee’s tour was to promote Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk, his feature that is shot in 3-D, 4-K resolution and at 120 frames per second — five times the pace of a regular movie.
In cinema history spanning 120 years, the film is the first feature-length, globally-released title to use such boundary-pushing technology.
Only five cinemas in the world — two of which are in Beijing and Shanghai, respectively — can screen the highest resolution version of the cinematic adaptation of Ben Fountain’s best-selling, award-winning novel.
The film, about the 19-yearold American soldier Billy Lynn, played by British newbie Joe Alwyn, chronicles the soldier’s return from the Iraq battlefield to take part in a Thanksgiving Day National Football League game in Texas.
The film is not an ode to a war hero, or a simple anti-war movie. But through the film, Lee expects audiences to ponder about humanity.
Revealing that he was drawn to the novel by its elements that could be filmed at 120 frames per second, Lee says he regards facial expressions as being among the most suited material for 3-D on the big screen.
“A human face contains a lot of information. And when you see it as clearly as possible, you can capture the inner emotions and struggles,” says Lee.
In his pursuit of reality, Lee sent some actors, including his sonMason Lee (who plays a soldier), to be intensively trained by American troops and told the cast to perform without makeup.
“Heavy cosmetics would shield the performance that came from the soul,” says Lee.
Meanwhile, despite the high ticket prices, ranging from 180 yuan ($27) to 320 yuan, many times the cost of a regular movie ticket, many fans are enthusiastically discussing online if they should travel to Shanghai or Beijing to see the film, reminding industry watchers of James Cameron’s Avatar.
Then, when the alienthemed epic — best viewed in 3-D Imax — was released on the Chinese mainland in 2010, China has 28,000 screens but only 12 have Imax facility, and 800, which can screen films in the 3-D format, says Bona Film Group’s CEO Yu Dong.
Avatar then earned 1.3 billion yuan, ushering in a cinematic revolution.
Now, China has 21,000 screens, or 55 percent of the total in the country, capable of screening films in the 3-D format.
Also, an overwhelming number of blockbusters, which have played a pivotal role in making China the world’s second-largest movie market, are screened in the 3-D format.
As for Lee, despite his film’s technological breakthrough making headlines, the director— in his trademark modest style — seems a bit apprehensive about how the movie will be received.
“I’m very nervous. I don’t know if I have done a good job or a bad one,” says the lowprofile director.
The film will be simultaneously released on Nov 11 in both China and the United States.
The 62-year-old director received a Confucian-style education in Taiwan and polished his cinematic skills in the US. To that extent, very few directors have been able to bridge East and West so well.
But interestingly, while the film has been praised in China, reaction in the West has been tepid.
As for the Ang Lee’s reaction,
I don’t see filmmaking as a job, but as a way for me to be innovative and to keep my blood flowing.” Oscar-winning director
he says: “For me, there is no separation between format and content. I know that this film is experimental, somewhat ahead of its time. But it could in the future change the way films are made and watched.”
Feng Xiaogang, one of China’s most commercially successful directors, admires Lee, 62, for having the courage to venture into unknown territory.
In a conversation with Lee at Tsinghua University on Monday night, Feng said Lee is always trying to surprise the audience.
“All that a director wants to do is to express himself… and for filmmakers, the happiest thing is that every day is a new journey. We’re learning, but not repeating during filming,” says Feng.
Although it is tough to predict how Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk will influence the movie industry, the film will definitely spark change, whether it’s a flop or a hit, film movie critics agree.
Top and left:
British actor Joe Alwyn stars as the American soldier Billy Lynn in Ang Lee’s new film BillyLynn’sLongHalftime Walk, to be released on Friday. Below: Lee and British actor Joe Alwyn at another Beijing event. Below left: Director Feng Xiaogang has a conversation with Ang Lee at Tsinghua University on Monday.