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Entertainment behind the scenes

Taiwan prays for redemption from “Life of Pi” movie

November 10, 2010

Ang LeeAbout the only thing Taiwanese in Yann Martel’s cultish epic novel “Life of Pi” is the captain of the ship that sinks, yet celebrated director Ang Lee has chosen Taiwan as the place to make a 3D film version of the award-winning book.

Much like the novel’s hero, a boy named Pi, Taiwan has something of a second chance  at making itself shine after years of diplomatic isolation that has kept its global economic competitiveness clinging to a life vest. It gets that chance when audiences see the movie, now scheduled for release in 2012. But Taiwan has a long way to go as China has stolen its spotlight with a rapid economic ascent since the 1990s. For long-standing political reasons, Beijing actively squelches its offshore neighbor’s international profile.

In the book, a freighter taking Indian boy Piscine Molitor “Pi” Patel, his family and a zoo of wild animals sinks while steaming from India across the Pacific Ocean to North America. Pi is left stranded on a lifeboat with a Bengal tiger. He and the tiger survive 227 days at sea despite a natural distrust of each other as the boy gives the animal its space along with a sense of who’s boss.

About three quarters of the film will be shot on the beaches of Taiwan’s south coast and at a new studio fashioned from an old airport in the central Taiwan city Taichung, a publicist for 20th Century Fox Taiwan said. The other 25 percent takes place in India, and 17-year-old Indian-born actor Suraj Sharma, who was chosen from 3,000 applicants, will play Pi.

Lee, best known for “Brokeback Mountain” and “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon,” last shot a film in Taiwan in 1994 with “Eat Drink Man Woman.” He chose the island this time as a “beautiful place for the story,” the publicist said.

Still, things could go wrong for Lee (and Taiwan), the director hinted to reporters at a recent news conference. That’s because filming includes what Lee called three of the most unpredictable elements in making a movie: water, children and animals.

“I hope this will be a breakthrough,” the director said. “We have been through some struggles but we still have a long way ahead…I hope everyone enjoys the process.”

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