MANILA, Philippines-Chinese-American filmmaker Ang Lee is planning a movie in the Philippines. The multi-Oscar awardee announced this Thursday night when he faced an awed crowd of admirers, Filipino movie directors and journalists in an open forum at an upscale mall cineplex.
Lee did not give details, but a source said it could be a boxing feature in 3-D.
Considered the most successful Asian director-with 12 Academy Awards (including two for best achievement in directing), nine Golden Globes (from the Hollywood foreign press) and other major citations from prestigious tribute groups around the world-Lee is in the country for the first time. He is the focus of the Taipei Economic and Cultural Office (Teco) in the Philippines' two-day homage event, "A Salute to Ang Lee."
The director of such landmark productions as "Life of Pi" in 2012, "Brokeback Mountain" in 2005, "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" in 2000, and "Sense and Sensibility" in 1995 was born and raised in Taiwan.
First for Teco
"Salute," being held at SM Aura in Bonifacio Global City, is likewise a first for Teco, whose officials feel that Lee's acceptance of the invitation to Manila was a coup.
"We are very lucky," Jack Pan, executive assistant to Ambassador Raymond Wang, told the Inquirer. "We have not attempted anything like this until now. We invited him in February and he confirmed in late March."
Speaking softly and looking thoughtful, almost shy, Lee fielded questions that ranged from the future of independent movies and his experiences as an Asian artist in Hollywood.
Present at the open forum were Wang and his staff, Filipino filmmakers Tikoy Aguiluz and Brillante Mendoza. The Q&A followed an invitational screening of his latest big production, "Life of Pi," reportedly produced at a staggering US$120 million.
The movie went on to generate critical and commercial success. At the time of its triumph at the Oscars early this year, it was said to have grossed nearly $600 million.
"Ang Lee has an impressive body of work from which we could have chosen any title," Pan said. "'Life of Pi' was the one recommended by (distributor) 20th Century Fox."
Fox is coorganizer of the event, along with the Film Development Council of the Philippines.
At Thursday's screening, reception to the film, described by the late eminent US critic Roger Ebert as "a miraculous achievement of storytelling and of visual mastery," was still very enthusiastic.
"Life of Pi" is based on a novel by Canadian author Yann Martel about a shipwrecked teen who spends 227 days on a lifeboat with a Bengal tiger.
Before Lee took on the project, it was deemed "unfilmable."
Apart from best director, it won best cinematography, visual effects, and musical score at this year's Oscars. Lee is the first filmmaker to score an Oscar for helming a 3-D movie.
The director, whose movies are known for their complex themes and characters and, often, a spiritual bent, had flown in from Taipei, where he headed the jury for the Taiwan Film Festival, considered the Asian Oscars.
"Iloilo," a drama feature about a nanny from central Philippines, directed by Singaporean director Anthony Chen, won in a three-way tie for best picture at the festival.
During the open forum, Lee was asked what he had previously heard about the Philippines.
"Quite a lot," he said. "In fact, Manila was mentioned twice in 'Life of Pi.' I'm glad I made it here at last."
Lee's position in global cinema is such, that his life, times and works are extensively discussed in numerous online sites.
Finding his voice
His parents were Chinese immigrants from the mainland. In previous interviews he described himself as "artistically repressed" in childhood. It took him more than 30 years, he said, to find his voice and express himself-as a filmmaker.
His first movie was "Pushing Hands," in 1992.
"I'm happily married," he has been quoted as saying. "I love my children, but eventually you have to deal with only yourself."
When he talks about Taiwan, it is in nearly poetic terms. "My floating island," he famously calls it.
He has intermittently pointed to a kinship with Pi. "Like him, I have been adrift all my life."
Though the United States is home now, he has said, "Everywhere can be home and everywhere is not home. I trust the elusive world created by movies more than anything else. I'm very happy when I'm making a movie. Every movie I make, that's my hideout, the place I don't quite understand, but feel most at home in."
Lee, 59, has been married since 1983 to Jane Lin, a microbiologist. They have two sons-Haan, born 1984, a graphic artist (who helped out in "Life of Pi"); and Mason, born 1990, an actor.
Teco is hosting a formal dinner Friday night for its guest of honour. Lee leaves Saturday, but not before he promised Filipino fans, "We will have more communication in the near future."