Life of Pi

Yann Martel’s ponderous adventure novel gets the big-screen treatment with this Fox 2000 adaptation helmed by director Ang Le… Read More


This week, Ang Lee’s “Life of Pi,” based on the best-selling novel by Yann Martel, is unleashed, nationwide. The film is something of a masterpiece. It’s also a curious anomaly — a wildly expensive mainstream Hollywood movie with a deeply soulful meditation on the nature of faith and humanity.

Lee has always been a restless creative spirit, pin-balling from one genre to the next while maintaining a set of thematic concerns and a commitment to breathtaking, occasionally groundbreaking technical proficiency (but never at the cost of the story). If anything, “Life of Pi” is the culmination of his life’s work — a movie that dazzles the eye in profound new ways while tugging violently at the heartstrings.

In honor of “Pi,” we’ve collected ten of our favorite Ang Lee shots that work on a similar level. Prepared to be dazzled again (or anew).


  • ‘Brokeback Mountain’ – The Jacket

    The tear-jerking, Oscar-nominated “Brokeback Mountain” is filled with shots of vast western landscapes that play up its connection to the western genre (it was adapted by Larry McMurtry and Diana Ossana from a Annie Proulx short story for crying out loud). But it’s most beautiful shot is one of the simplest. It’s a long shot of Heath Ledger finding and then hugging his dead lover’s jacket, totally dialogue-free, but universally relatable. Even watching it out of context will make you choke up.

  • ‘The Ice Storm’ – Walk & Talk

    Set during the sexually restless seventies in tony Fairfield County, Connecticut (where this writer currently resides), “The Ice Storm” is a big movie stuffed with wonderful characters and intimate moments. One of the best is a lengthy single shot where Kevin Kline explains to his daughter, Christina Ricci, about his relationship with her mother (and his lover), seen briefly in this trailer.

  • ‘Lust, Caution’ – An Imperfect Murder

    Most remember (if it’s remembered at all) for its NC-17-worthy sex scenes, but the real centerpiece of “Lust, Caution,” Lee’s brilliant World War II spy thriller set in Japanese-occupied Shanghai, is a nail-biting, utterly realistic murder sequence, richly metaphoric and (as always) beautifully shot (unfortunately, the scene is not online, so we’ve embedded the trailer, at right).

  • ‘Ride with the Devil’ – Into Battle

    Another unfairly marginalized Lee film that was somewhat miscast (um, Jewel?), heavily edited right before its release, and poorly marketed, it’s full of some of Lee’s most gorgeous cinematography and is genuinely stirring. (Seek out the recent Criterion edition, which restored the lost footage.) Shots from the final battle, in which Lee gets close to the action and then cranes overhead (seen in this trailer) are reason enough to watch this forgotten gem.

  • ‘Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon’ – Bamboo You

    In a movie filled with unforgettable moments, the bamboo fight is the most indelible. Choosing a single moment from the fight is tough, although we love the elegance and simplicity of the moment, early on (before they even reach the forest), when Chow Yun-Fat goes after Zhang Ziyi, touching down on twice in a vast, open courtyard.

  • ‘Taking Woodstock’ – The Long Ride

    One of Lee’s best and most frequently overlooked films (bafflingly), “Taking Woodstock” is a brilliant coming-of-age story wrapped inside a terrific historical and cultural moment. In one of the most arresting shots, Demitri Martin gets a ride from a police officer to the Woodstock stage, going through a sea of stalled cars and posturing hippies, in a single, unbroken take, with bonus points awarded for mimicking the footage from the original documentary perfectly.

  • BMW’s ‘The Hire’ – ‘Chosen’

    “The Hire,” an ambitious series of BMW commercials masquerading as arty short films, was spearheaded by David Fincher and frequently brilliant. Lee’s contribution, “Chosen,” concerned a small Asian boy who was being chased by mysterious villains. It showcased Lee’s incredible eye and breathless staging of action sequences, in this case a series of harrowing chases.

  • ‘Hulk’ – Boundin’

    Unfairly dismissed at the time of the release, “Hulk” is the superhero movie as an auteur-driven Greek tragedy. But that sounds oppressively dull, which “Hulk” is not, particularly when Lee is playfully manipulating the frame to look like a comic book. In this moment, the monstrous Hulk leaps through three separate “panels” while evading military pursuers.

  • ‘Life of Pi’ – The Book Cover

    Lee loves to monkey around with aspect ratios — it’s one of his more charming stylistic tics — and there’s an overhead shot of the boat in “Life of Pi” that inexplicably shifts to a squared-off 4:3 aspect ratio. When asked why he made this (gorgeous) shot so blocky, he said, “Because I wanted a shot that looked <a href=””>like the cover of the book</a>.” Game, set, and match.

  • ‘Life of Pi’ – The Abyss Stares Back

    The whole of “Life of Pi” will leave your jaw on the floor, but if there’s one moment we had to single out, it would be a psychedelic journey into the ocean’s depths, courtesy of both our hero Pi (newcomer Suraj Sharma) and the tiger he shares a lifeboat with, Richard Parker. It’s a shot that’s beautiful, profound, and very nearly hallucinogenic.