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Ang Lee’s not one to back down from a challenge. Having caught the world’s attention defying the laws of physics in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, he didn’t let go when Jake Gyllenhaal and Heath Ledger ‘went fishing’ in Brokeback Mountain. Now he’s taken on Yann Martel’s epic and frankly daunting novel about a shipwrecked boy adrift in the Pacific with a Bengal tiger. One should never work with children, animals and probably the ocean (Waterworld anyone?) but being Ang Lee, he’s taken on all three and against the odds, made this magic realist fable about perseverance, religion and redemption work.

Consider that the tiger is all but completely digital and Suraj Sharma, the 17 year old who plays Pi, couldn’t swim and had never acted, much less act against nothing more than a green-screen and you've some powerful forces that would undo most directors. Yet Lee has some extraordinary help in cinematographer Claudio Miranda (Fight Club) whose magical and frequently surreal 3D vision is nothing short of breathtaking. Scene after luminescent scene radiates such warmth and texture that the location becomes a character in itself.

Told in flashback, the elder Pi (Irffan Kahn) is relating his tale to a hopeful writer (Rafe Spall) from the safety of America. Life of Pi is a religious allegory tied to tragedy: teenage Pi's family drown when a boat carrying their zoo sinks during a storm, leaving him, a lifeboat and the tiger, Richard Parker, alone in the middle of the Pacific. As said, filming the novel was a daunting prospect.

While the flashback mechanism provoke occasional speed calmers that unsettle some of the film's poetic aesthetic, it also saves audiences from overdosing on the sugary rush of Miranda's colourfully, hyper realistic vision. Along with Sharma's thrilling debut performance and the mesmerising Parker, they serve to hold our hand as opaque themes and Martel's obscure narrative markers slowly reveal themselves. Amid scenes of exhilarating action (Parker's encounter with flying fish for one), patience is rewarded.

Brave choices abound, but having the courage of his conviction has paid handsome dividends for Lee. 'I have decided it is one of the best films of the year' said film critic guru Roger Ebert. Total Film concurred, enthusing that 'Ang Lee's adaption radiates spirituality. A riot of saturated colour and delirious imagination'.

There's little argument with that.


Previewed at Events Cinemas, Fox Studios, Sydney on Tuesday 13 November 2012
moviereview colin fraser film movie australia review critic flicks

Life of Pi (2012) on IMDb

Suraj Sharma
Irffan Kahn
Rafe Spall
Aldi Hussain

Ang Lee

David Margee

USA / Taiwan

PG / 127 minutes

January 2, 2012
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