It sounds like quite the challenge for any director to tell the story about an Indian boy and a Bengal tiger drifting across the Pacific Ocean after a shipwreck. At least thematically, this type of story has a long and overwhelming western literary tradition, from Noah’s Ark to Shakespeare’s “The Tempest”; Coleridge’s “The Ancient Mariner”; “Robinson Crusoe”; “Moby Dick”; “The Old Man and the Sea” by Hemingway—and you can also add in a few other references like Kipling’s “The Jungle Book.” To turn that kind of story into a 3D arthouse movie with a budget of US$100 million is a challenge to anyone; but to hand it to Taiwan-born Asian director, Ang Lee, is like throwing an iron gauntlet down in front of James Cameron, the box office guru who invented a technologically-new cinematic art form with “Avatar.” But with “Life of Pi,” Ang Lee has chosen a different path to pursue this challenge—the exploration of oriental philosophy. The patriotic Oscar-winning director chose to build a set in Taichung, where he mobilized a 150-strong foreign crew to unleash their imaginations in a former airport turned into a gigantic water tank. Lee is struggling hard not to repeat clichés in his film. For example, the Disney-indoctrinated American mass audience would expect an eye-moistening moment when the starving tiger bids goodbye to the Indian teenage hero—a scene as ancient as the ending of “E.T.”and the only alternative would be the they-live-happily-ever-after-together ending where the tiger becomes a family pet settled in a house somewhere in America. But Lee’s handling of the tiger’s final fate here takes neither path. “Life of Pi” is a cinematic buffet of delicacies from the east and west, with Hinduism and Buddhism dominating the dining table. The young Indian sailor, coming from an English school in an Indian city, when deserted atop surging seas, prays from time to time to the Christian God, so even this religious side-dish should cheer up many of Mitt Romney’s disgruntled voters. The capsized cargo ship is a Japanese vessel. French is briefly spoken with a guest appearance from Gerard Depardieu. There are plenty of other global elements—Pi’s boat reached Mexico before being transferred to Canada, where he is interviewed by two Japanese insurance brokers. A hat is tipped to almost every nation in the world except, as Lee’s ethnicity suggests, the most self-important market with the biggest population in the world. But what blasphemy that there is simply not a place for the vaguest honorable mention of such a proud nation. An Ang Lee watcher wouldn’t be surprised by his revenge of silence. He was punished by Beijing when his “Lust, Caution” was suspended from public screening on grounds that it had a “treacherous” theme a few years ago. But this is probably an over-reading of the situation, as China does not normally like attending any global banquet of love, harmony and beauty anyway. Chip Tsao is a best-selling author, columnist and a former producer for the BBC. His columns have also appeared in Apple Daily, Next Magazine and CUP Magazine, among others.