Ang Lee's Oscar shows Asian cinema has come of age

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 27 February, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 27 February, 2013, 4:55am

A story about an Indian boy cast away at sea accompanied by a starving tiger has cemented Ang Lee as one of the world's master film directors.

The Taiwanese filmmaker competed against the likes of Steven Spielberg and won his second Oscar for best director for Life of Pi. While he was not the hands-down favourite, his victory was not a complete surprise, either. With Lee, Asian cinema has come of age.

Based on the best-selling book of the same name, the movie exploited the most advanced visual technology to recreate a fantastic fable that digitalised into existence a zebra, an orang-utan, a hyena, phosphorescent jellyfish and a fusillade of flying fish. There were awesome three-dimensional scenes in which the hero and his tiger look suspended in horizonless infinities, a haunting visualisation of the book's deep spiritual message. Here is that rare work that uses technology to carry a message, rather than overwhelm it. The Oscar judges clearly recognised Lee not just for the film's technical virtuosity but for that most elemental of craft - storytelling.

It's significant that Lee, in his acceptance speech, thanked the city of Taichung for subsidising the movie. That was an acknowledgement of what strategic official backing can sometimes achieve and deliver for the artistic community.

Movies from Asia have increasingly made headway in the international market. Hong Kong, too, has its film fund, which has bankrolled several international award-winning movies, though none has been comparable with Lee's achievement. We have yet to recover our cinematic glory of the 1980s and 1990s, but we certainly have the talent and potential. Our government can't do it for us, but it can help facilitate an arts-friendly environment for a world-class city like Hong Kong.

With an oeuvre that spans across historical times, genres and cultures, Lee shows what a cosmopolitan Chinese, deeply rooted in his own culture yet attuned to today's highly connected globe, can achieve on the world stage.