Taiwanese director Ang Lee has been rising up in the filmmaking ranks for more than two decades to become one of the greats of contemporary cinema. He first caught attention with the art house entry "The Wedding Banquet," went wider with "Eat Drink Man Woman," entered Jane Austen territory with his first English-language film "Sense and Sensibility" (which won a gaggle of Oscars), then got so adventurous, he made films ranging from "Hulk" to "Brokeback Mountain" to "Life of Pi." It was that 2012 film that won Lee a Best Director Oscar and got him experimenting with new technologies, like lots of CGI work. His new one, "Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk," the story of what happens when a heroic soldier in the Iraq War briefly returns home as part of a "victory tour," goes even further out on the technology spectrum. Though it will be presented in traditional 2D format in most theaters, some will be set up in the way Lee is guessing films will eventually be made and shown: In 3D with high resolution and at 120 frames per second, rather than the usual 24 frames per second, ensuring crystal clarity of visuals. Shot digitally, the film will look great wherever and however it's projected, but at a recent interview in New York, the genial Lee got wrapped up in talking about his new toys, as well as what the film is about.
Q: So is "Billy Lynn" the future of cinema?
A: It's one future. Twenty-four frames a second and a flat image has been around for a long time, for 100 years. We've created great formal art and great movies, so it's not that. But with digital cinema, I feel the urge to see dimension and when I see dimension, 24 frames is not sufficient for the reality and information. And digital cinema is like how our eyes see. So this seems to be the logical next step for me.
Q: Do you think these new techniques would have worked in any of your earlier films?
A: Maybe for a few shots in "Hulk," when there were close-ups of Hulk's head. A close-up of a person's face and Hulk's head is the same. So I wish I had 3D for that so you could see the big head and that there was a big separation of eyeballs and he would see people as puny humans.
Q: The film has some very strong political statements about the emotional toll that war takes. What were your motivations for making it?
A: As a dramatist I want to stay in neutral. Ben Fountain (who wrote the novel) gave us great setups then I put those beliefs together with the characters and let them play out. I tried not to have a political agenda. I think what drama should be doing is studying human beings in given situations and conflict. I just tried to do justice to it in a movie kind of way.
Q: Did you do much research as far as how real soldiers would react in similar situations?
A: I think we're at a point where we need to understand soldiers. Since the Vietnam War, there's been no draft. We're detached from soldiers. They've become a class of their own. It's like us against them, and it drives them crazy. And every war is very specific. The Iraq War experience was different from the Vietnam War and the Second World War. But we still treat the soldiers the same. When I did research for the film, I talked to soldiers who have been there doing those things, and they helped us staging the scenes. I also talked to the refugees who escaped from that life, who had to live between dictatorship and chaos.
Q: So even though most of the film takes place at a football stadium in America, were you trying to make it feel what war was really like when it shifted to the battle scenes?
A: In a way, yes. I did military service. I grew up in Taiwan during the Cold War era, so all the boys had to do that. I went through the training but I was lucky that I never engaged in any fire fight. I didn't get messed up, I just got trained to be tougher. But in a way, by making this movie, I can associate with those soldiers in some way, even though I'm not one of them.
-- Ed Symkus covers movies for More Content Now.