With Gemini Man, Ang Lee wants to change the way we look at movies
ang Lee has built his career defying conventions — and with Gemini Man, his 14th film in nearly three decades as a director — he’s hoping to do it again by reinventing how film audiences look at movies. after helming his Father Knows Best trilogy in the early ‘90s (Pushing Hands, The Wedding Banquet and Eat Drink Man Woman), the taiwanese-born filmmaker recreated Jane austen’s england for Sense and Sensibility in 1995. Next, he jumped from suburban malaise (1997’s The Ice Storm) to a Western (1999’s Ride With the Devil) to martial arts (2000’s Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon) to comic books (2003’s Hulk) to doomed romance (2005’s Brokeback Mountain) and erotic espionage (2007’s Lust, Caution). but after adapting yann Martel’s acclaimed novel Life of Pi in 2012, the three-time Oscarwinning director found a new passion paved by that film’s use of digital technology and 3d. “digital is really a legitimate tool of art,” he says over a cup of tea in a suite at toronto’s Shangri-la Hotel. “I was a really low-tech person, but I had a taste of that. Hulk was the beginning of my experimentation and I found myself with unfinished business so I continued with Life of Pi. but
I still had unfinished business, so here we are with Gemini Man.”
co-written by Game of Thrones cocreator david benioff, Gemini Man features Will Smith as a retired assassin who is marked for death by a younger clone of himself. Like Lee’s last film, the 2016 war drama Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk, the hitman thriller is shot with an ultra-clear high frame rate (120 frames-per-second as opposed to conventional movies that are shot at 24-frames-per-second) and in 3d.
the technology is so advanced that only 14 theatres in the u.s. can show the film in 120fps (the closest you’ll get in canada is seeing the finished product in 60fps). but Lee says that he hopes more filmmakers join him in utilizing the technology because he thinks that, in the future, this is how audiences will watch movies.
Lee is not alone in embracing highframe rate filmmaking. Peter Jackson shot his Hobbit trilogy in 48fps and James cameron is lensing his Avatar sequels using HFR cameras. “to me, it’s the logical next step,” Lee says. “as a movie watcher, I want to see dimension. Once we saw black and white, silent films, we wanted to see colour and hear sound. three dimension is closer to real life. So, to me, it’s natural ... that (high) frame rate is normal. Most movies are too dark. but,” he says pausing for emphasis, “maybe my eyes are somewhat different.”
as he gets set to turn 65 later this month, Lee says he was convinced the technology could help chart a new film language after Billy Lynn. Gemini Man helps build on that thanks to its crisply shot action sequences and a digitally de-aged version of a younger Will Smith. but the process, Lee says, wasn’t a smooth one. “We don’t have enough data or feedback, yet, to tell us what to do or know what’s right or wrong,” he laughs. “It’s a strange place ... the people who are paying for this want to outdo what 2d movies do ... but the group (working in this format) is small. It’s a strange place.”
Getting Smith to sign on to his vision was a challenge, especially because the actor didn’t know how it would turn out. Smith plays both roles with the younger clone being rendered digitally. but it still packs an emotional punch, Lee says. “Will understands what the audience expects and he feels obliged to provide us with a good time,” he says. “but he’s a better actor now than he was 20 years ago. His age and his career have done certain things to him that have made him wiser ... It’s a genuine artistic effort from him and Will gives a really soulful performance.”
Lee takes time to note how good Smith is at playing the younger role. “In those scenes, he has to be more innocent and vulnerable than he was in his early 20s because when he was that age he was already famous ... I think he wanted to show us he’s a better actor now.”
While the film’s immersive hyperrealism is a big technological leap, Lee doesn’t see himself as a pioneer charting a new course for moviemakers. but he thinks it’s the wave of the future. “I refuse to think of myself as some sort of leader. It’s just this type of filmmaking is the new norm for me now. this isn’t futuristic. It’s just our knowledge hasn’t really accommodated this type of filmmaking yet ... I don’t know if I’m crazy or I’m normal. but I’m not a pioneer. that,” he says as his lips curl into a smile, “is too scary a thought.”
Ang Lee and Will Smith on the set of Gemini Man, about a hitman who faces off against his cloned younger self.