Pi Patel (Irrfan Khan) is being interviewed by a journalist (Rafe Spall) for a possible book based on his life, so he has invited the man around to cook him lunch and discuss the project. As the meal is prepared, they get to talking and Pi starts by telling him of how he got his name, which is a shortened form of Piscine, after a French swimming pool a close family friend fell in love with. This gave Pi a lot of trouble at school, because his classmates were less than entranced by his exotic moniker and tended to call him Pissing instead, that was until he performed an incredible feat...
That feat is hard to believe if you're of a sceptical bent, but makes perfect sense if you're willing both trust the storyteller and maybe trust in something more. Life of Pi was a bestselling novel by Yann Martel before it was a movie, and took quite some time to get to the screen, passing through the hands of a number of creative types until director Ang Lee thought he had material he could successfully make a production out of. Good for him that he did, winning a clutch of awards, including the Oscar for Best Direction, and there were a number of audiences who didn't have a problem with that as it won many fans.
However, there were those wondering what the fuss was about, some of whom had read the book and preferred it, and others who found its philosophical musings harder to swallow for whatever reasons of their own. Certainly on a visual level it was very nice to look at, in 3D if you had that available to you, though it didn't really come into its own as far as the imagery went until the main section half an hour in when Pi wound up stranded: it sounded like the start of a joke, did you hear the one about the boy on the boat with the tiger, but it provided the basis for the kind of adventure which harkened back pleasingly to the sort of effort Sabu might have starred in during his heyday.
But was it any more than a colourful adventure or did its spiritual musings hold water? That was an issue, for no matter how it made an impression on the page, as a film it did appear relentlessly middlebrow, nothing wrong with that in principle but lacking when Pi claims at the beginning of his tale that it will make you believe in God. What that almost invariably meant was it would confirm your belief in the Almighty if you already held such faith, yet atheists would stand firm with a wry "Nice story!" and dismiss what they regarded as a simple trick. As for the agnostics, they could see either side, and be amused that this debate was still going on with neither convincing the other to a conclusion.
Set that aside and you had, after a long introduction where the young Pi struggles with which religion to opt for, a rattling good yarn which might have been more satisfying without making its pretensions to depth of meaning so overt. For a film which all but states that God moves in mysterious ways and you have to be patient to notice the details of the miracle of life and how they affected you, the bright palette and determination to dazzle the audience tended to move in the opposite direction, fair enough it was a self-confessed good story we were watching, but the strokes it was painted in were broad, verging on the gaudy. This was at its best when Pi was stuck in that lifeboat with his tiger, fighting for survival and finding meaning by helping the wild animal, transported on the wrecked ship for a zoo, live on as well. You can't beat a solid yarn about enduring against the odds, and that provided it; it was when it reached for a too cute resolution, whichever way that would go, that it faltered. Music by Mychael Danna.
Taiwanese director who can handle emotional drama as effectively as action. The Wedding Banquet and Eat Drink Man Woman secured him international attention, and Jane Austen adaptation Sense and Sensibility and 1970s-set The Ice Storm were also well received. Epic western Ride with the Devil was a disappointment, but Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon won four Oscars, including best foreign language film, and led him to direct flop blockbuster Hulk.
"Gay cowboy" yarn Brokeback Mountain proved there was a large market for gay films among straight audiences as well as homosexual, Lust, Caution pushed sexual barriers in the Chinese market, and he won his Oscar for the adaptation of the supposedly unfilmable Life of Pi. He began pushing at the boundaries of technology with Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk and sci-fi actioner Gemini Man, but they were not hits.