Academy Award-winning director Ang Lee's new visual feast "Life of Pi" hits Chinese cinemas today, but its IMAX version is only set to run for a week.
"Life of Pi," the critically-acclaimed 3D film based on the 2001 brain-twisting novel of the same title by Yann Martel, tells the story of Pi, a 16-year-old Indian boy and the sole survivor of a sinking freighter, who finds himself on a lifeboat for a 227-day epic adventure with a Bengal tiger named Richard Parker.
Armed with "Avatar" director James Cameron's 3D camera, the Taiwan-born American director, who can boast "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" and "Brokeback Mountain" on his resume, entered a new era for his own career, and presented a film that was once deemed "unfilmable" as it involves water, animals, children, hope, belief and philosophy -- all elements said to be the hardest parts to do in filmmaking history.
"If you put everything together, it was simply too expensive to make," the Oscar winner explained during his Beijing press conference earlier this month. "It was just like the number pi, irrational. This is by far the most difficult movie I've ever shot."
"'Life of Pi' breaks through the paradigm that a 3D flick has to be some big, action-packed fantasy spectacle or superhero movie. The movie is visually amazing, inventive, and it gets to you in ways you are not really aware of," James Cameron said in praise of the 3D film in a video released by 20th Century Fox Film Corporation.
"It takes you on a journey, and unless you have read the book prior to watching it, which I had not, you have no idea where that journey is going. It does what any good 3D is supposed to do, which is basically allowing you to forget you are watching a 3D movie," Cameron added.
Ang Lee opens the film slowly, telling the background story of Pi Patel before the perfect storm enters his life, as this China.org.cn reporter observed at a special screening held for the media on Thursday. But when the storm hits, the film goes into full gear and reaches a climax like a condensed version of "Titanic."
After the storm, Pi regains consciousness and finds himself in a small lifeboat accompanied by a Bengal tiger, a hyena, a zebra and an orangutan. During the aftermath, when hunger strikes all victims, killings happen and Pi and tiger become the last two standing.
The tiger still cannot be tamed. Pi tries to find a way to co-exist with the beast on the vast ocean. They fight with each other, they encounter flying fishes and another storm, and then land on a magical carnivorous island where they meet countless meerkats. In the end they decide to leave and eventually reach the shores of Mexico.
The time they spent drifting around on the ocean certainly makes for the most interesting and inspiring part of this cast-away story. Some of the most beautiful, dreamy scenes ever created on screen, such as the illuminant jellyfishes and whale, the starry sky and its reflection on the endless peaceful ocean, paired with 3D and IMAX technology ensure the movie's beauty and excitement.
But "Life of Pi" is more than merely a visual spectacle.
Suraj Sharma, who plays Pi in the film after Lee picked him from 3,000 auditioners, is a newbie without much acting experience. But he gives a very strong performance in the film that can easily stand alongside the most famous acting veterans.
"He is such a rare talent. He was like a little living Buddha, who needed awakening," Lee said.
The core of story is about belief. When the journey ends, two Japanese officials from the Maritime Department try to investigate the truth behind the ship wreck, but don't believe the story of Pi and the animals. Pi then gives them another, crueler, version that seems more real. This is the point where audiences have to rethink the whole story and find the deeper spiritual meaning that hides within.
"I would love to see audiences viewing this film as a mind game, and as a universal film with thoughts which can spark discussion within families," Lee said earlier this month. "I was the one to share the story and I feel fulfilled, I hope people will be enlightened by its ending and I wish to convey more thoughts and emotions to all of you."
"Life of Pi" is set for release on Nov. 21, 2012, across North America, and Nov. 22 on the Chinese mainland. However, its compelling IMAX version will only have a short 7-day run in China, due to the theater arrangements for Feng Xiaogang's historical epic "Back to 1942," which will also have an IMAX version available and is expected to dominate the Chinese film market from Nov. 29 onwards.