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Easy As Pi: on Ang Lee's Life of Pi

By Jack Aldane (Global Times)

10:04, November 27, 2012

Life of Pi had its box office potential quashed in China after being allocated a mere week-long run at IMAX cinemas. (Photo/Xinhua)

A day after its November 22 China premiere, director Ang Lee's Life of Pi drew a prolonged hush among its capacity audience at Wanda Plaza's IMAX Theater in Chaoyang district. Aside from the odd cinemagoer adjusting a pinching pair of 3D glasses, the theater's audience remained transfixed throughout the film, Lee's 13th, based on the 2002 Man Booker Prize-winning novel by Yann Martel.

The film has been given a fleeting week-long IMAX run in the country to ensure it doesn't steal the glory of domestic winter blockbusters. After this, it will screen for one more week in 3D at regular cinemas.

If the Chinese proverb "crouching tiger, hidden dragon" - the inspiration behind Lee's namesake 2000 wuxia blockbuster, meaning "undiscovered talent" - has any import with the demanding public, Life of Pi proves the Taiwan-born director has plenty of tricks still up his sleeve.

The opening credits present scenes of breathtaking wildlife, a theme running throughout much of the film in a disarmingly vivid array of colors.

Viewers' eyes already twinge before they properly enter Lee's world, which dwarfs what we thought we knew in a kaleidoscopic current towards disaster and exquisite wonder.

Pi, or Piscine Patel, an Indian youth played by newcomer Suraj Sharma, grows up in the French colony of Pondicherry believing in God yet seeking to know the soul of all living things. His open search for divine truth unsettles his reasoned father, a business-driven zoo owner.

Pi's spiritual quest is tested, however, when a Japanese freighter taking him and his family to Canada sinks, dragging all four along with the zoo into the Pacific Ocean. Pi eventually escapes in a lifeboat, together with a zebra, hyena and orangutan named Orange Juice.

The teenager soon discovers Richard Parker, a tiger, unexpectedly managed to stow aboard after the sinking.

By building tension between Pi and Richard Parker, Lee's use of the first-person viewpoint places viewers squarely in the young protagonist's shoes.

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