When LIFE OF PI hits theatres on November 21st it will add a fascinating new dimension to the already extraordinary career of director Ang Lee. Born in Taiwan in 1954, Ang Lee developed a passion for drama and the arts early on, and it was his love of the theatre in particular that brought him to the United States in 1979 where he began his degree in theatre at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Following his graduation the following year, Lee enrolled at the Tisch School of the Arts of New York University, where he eventually received his MFA (he graduated in the same year as his friend Spike Lee). His own thesis work, a 43-minute drama, Fine Line (1984), won NYU’s Wasserman Award for Outstanding Direction and was later selected for the Public Broadcasting Service. It was this film that caught the attention of mega talent and literary representative agency William Morris. However, the agency had little luck in finding Lee any work, and for the next 6 years Lee remained an unemployed house-husband.
Lee’s wife Jane Lin, a molecular biologist, was the sole breadwinner for the family of four during these years. This arrangement, usually an embarrassment in Taiwanese culture, put enormous pressure on the couple, but with Lin’s support and understanding, Lee did not abandon his career in films but continued to generate new ideas from movies and performances. He also wrote several screenplays during this time. In 1990, Lee submitted two screenplays, Pushing Hands and The Wedding Banquet, to a competition sponsored by the Republic of China’s Government Information Office, and they came in first and second respectively. The winning screenplays brought Lee to the attention of Li-Kong Hsu, a recently promoted senior manager in a major studio who had strong interests in Lee’s unique style and freshness. Hsu, a first-time producer, invited Lee to direct Pushing Hands, a full-length feature that debuted in 1991.
Hsu and Lee teamed up once again for The Wedding Banquet (1993), which became a darling of the film festival circuit, and brought Lee a huge amount of international attention. The film eventually earned nominations for Best Foreign Language Film in both the Golden Globe and the Academy Awards. This recognition brought Lee a huge amount of opportunity. In 1995 Lee and Hsu partnered once again for the critically acclaimed film Eat Drink Man Woman, and for a second year in a row Lee received the Best Foreign Language Film nomination in both the Golden Globe and Academy Awards, as well as the BAFTAs.
Since then Ang Lee has become a hugely influential creative force in cinema with films such as Sense and Sensibility; The Ice Storm; Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon; Hulk; and Lust, Caution. But it was Brokeback Mountain, the groundbreaking 2005 movie about the forbidden love between two Wyoming sheepherders, that won him the Oscar for Best Director and the unbridled admiration of millions of people worldwide for his powerful and unique sensibility in bringing hugely complex issues and emotions to life on screen in a way no one else can.
It makes perfect sense that Ang Lee would be the director who masterfully transformed author Yann Martel‘s award-winning 2001 novel LIFE OF PI into what the majority of top critics are calling a cinematic masterpiece. For years the book was considered to be completely “unfilmable” due to the challenging narrative and technical problems the project posed. But considering the overwhelmingly ebullient critical response the film has received in recent months, it looks as if Ang Lee has once again defied expectations by achieving what most had considered to be impossible, further expanding the limits and the art of cinematic storytelling in the process. LIFE OF PI opens November 21st, and to read more about the film CLICK HERE as well as visit LIFEOFPI.com.