With his latest movie, "Life of Pi", Ang Lee further establishes himself as one of the greatest contemporary movie directors. Starting from his Taiwanese beginnings, and his highly enjoyable, family-harmonizing "Father Knows Best" trilogy (1992-1994), through his Academy Award winning works on gracefully choreographed, highly spiritualized Far East martial arts tour de force "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" (2000, best foreign-language film) and on an uncommon yet nostalgic portrayal of the Old West in "Brokeback Mountain" (2005, best director), to his other titles like "Sense and Sensibility" (1995), "The Ice Storm" (1997), and "Lust, Caution" (2007), quality and Kubrick-like versatility shown in his movies offer continuous attraction for wide audience of his admirers.
Lee's latest and, so far, easily, greatest movie, "Life of Pi" is based on a screenplay adapted from the acclaimed fictional adventure novel written by Canadian author Yann Martel.
Throughout his childhood, due to matching pronunciation of French word "piscine" (pool, swimming pool) and English word "pissing", Piscine Molitor Patel, named that way after later abandoned Parisian swimming pool, so predictably suffers from being nicknamed "Pissing Patel". In order to avoid it, once in high school he finally shortens his name to Pi Patel... Nowadays middle-aged Pi tells the story of his life to a visiting writer, apparently a book author Yan Martel's alter ego, who is seeking for the literal inspiration. Retrospectively, Pi divides his childhood and adolescence into three segments. In the first segment he gives shorter account of his life until the age of 16, describing his interaction with his family and schoolmates, in particular his relationship with his father and a girlfriend, concentrating on his exploits of God and spirituality, meandering between multitude of religious practices
while in the last one he briefs about his testimonial given to officials from the Japanese Ministry of Transport, investigating the reasons why the ship his family was relocating on from India to Canada sank. Most detailed, and therefore the longest, is recollection of his 227 days in a lifeboat, an extraordinary ordeal he went through after the ship has capsized and everybody else, crew and passengers, died
Well, everybody human, but not everybody living. Namely, a number of terrestrial animals from their discontinued family zoo, offered for sale and brought along with other family belongings, have survived, too. But, not for long, because, while confined in the most limited space as they were, surrounded by vastness of the ocean, the law of the "survival of the fittest" prevails, takes its tall, and pretty soon Pi finds himself in a company of a single one topping the food-chain, a Bengal tiger curiously named Richard Parker.
Not to reveal the story further, it is with greatest pleasure to inform that cinematic excellence has been achieved in several categories: in an engaging tale—whether allegory or depiction of realistic, believable events, filled with protagonist's rarely matched curiosity, imagination and his often reasonably unanswered doubts, encouraging the same in viewers—of an uncommon character, indeed, brought to on-screen life by outstanding performances from two contributing leads, remarkably presented via ubiquitous, yet inconspicuous animation, exceptional, CGI aided visuals and superb usage of 3D photography, all along complemented with an uplifting score. All these assets work seamlessly together in unfolding an intense relationship between Pi and Richard Parker, complex yet basic, difficult yet simple, initially charged with Pi's dreadful fear, swiftly shifting to respectful care, instantly boosting his never overbearing confidence and relentlessly improving his survival skills. Wholesome artistic experience reaches and maintains its pinnacle particularly in clever tactics and constructive survival techniques 16-year old Pi uses—amply benefiting from his instructive lifestyle of a zoo owner's attentive son, certainly well acquainted with animal psychology—to suppress the fear and convincingly impose himself as an equal to the one of the most elaborate "killing machines" among mammals, desperately striving for his own survival, nevertheless, generously, for survival of his seemingly sufficiently tamed companion, but still, initially and ultimately, magnificent adversary, Richard Parker, as well.
"Life of Pi" is, certainly, one of the most impressive movies of 2012, year that has just come to a close.
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