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.

China Daily (USA) - - FRONT PAGE - Con­tact the writer at xu­fan@chi­nadaily.com.cn

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.

Ang Lee,

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:

PHOTOS PRO­VIDED TO CHINA DAILY FENG YONGBIN / CHINA DAILY

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.

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