A perilous journey for 'Life of Pi' director Ang Lee

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Ang Lee

"Life of Pi" director Ang Lee. (E. Jason Wambsgans/Chicago Tribune / November 16, 2012)

His approach to 3-D was "gentle" in that he didn't use the technique to overwhelm or to send things hurtling toward the audience, though the movie's visuals are dazzling, and he finds the 2-D version underwhelming by comparison. He was more concerned with "mise en scene, just where you put things. It's like staging more than montage."

Although he also acknowledged its limitations — having confidence in the images as they're being shot, giving the scenes enough light — he was enamored enough of the process that he'd like to use it again, even in a straightforward drama.

"(With) 2-D maybe after the '70s, nothing really new happens," he said. "We know everything. And 3-D we're just in the beginning, so you can explore something new."

He shot the ocean scenes in a giant wave tank built in an abandoned Taiwanese airport. The crew filmed in Taiwan for 51/2 months, then went to India and Montreal for more. Initially he shot all of the Canadian scenes between Irrfan Khan, who plays the adult Pi, and Tobey Maguire, who was first cast as the writer who hears Pi's story; but, Lee said, test audiences were so distracted seeing a movie star doing nothing but listening that the filmmaker re-shot all of those scenes with British actor Rafe Spall as the writer.

"I feel bad (for) Tobey," Lee said with a rueful laugh about Maguire, who starred in Lee's "Ice Storm" and "Ride with the Devil." "We're good friends. But he's very nice about it."

In the end, Lee said, "Life of Pi" was a stretch, but not too drastic a departure.

"You still have to connect yourself with the audience," he said. "So in that sense I didn't go very far. I still describe human condition, spirituality. ... I have my limitations of who I am, what I am, what I'm made of, what I care about the most. I don't think I could make a Quentin Tarantino movie (laughs). Maybe a scene or two, but it's a different mindset."

And, truth be told, the massive challenge presented by "Life of Pi" was also a big part of the attraction.

"Yeah, we live for that kind of thing," he said, adding with a laugh: "We're filmmakers."

mcaro@tribune.com

Twitter @MarkCaro

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