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The UKAsian Review: Ang Lee's 'Life of Pi' is a masterpiece

It is perhaps appropriate, at the outset, to reiterate - as countless others over the last two months - that Ang Lee's 'Life of Pi' is a masterpiece; an ingenious, evocative and life-affirming cinematic experience.

What makes it one of the most extraordinary motion pictures ever made however, is the fact that it delivers on so many different levels, particularly the manner in which such a widely loved story about an age-old dilemma has been made infinitely more beautiful and accessible.

Based on Yann Martell's best-selling novel of the same name, 'Life of Pi' tells the story of Piscine 'Pi' Molitor Patel (Suraj Sharma), a precocious young boy growing up in the south Indian French possession of Pondicherry, spending his days roaming through his father's zoo and fending off school bullies.

Inspired by the profusion of religion and religious symbolism  all around him, Pi devotes himself to exploring spirituality and God through the holy trinity of Hinduism, Christianity and Islam: performing Namaz, saying grace and going vegetarian.  

With the onset of Pondicherry's independence from the French however, Pi's family are forced to sell up their precious zoo and migrate to Canada, transporting the animals aboard a Japanese freighter, which sinks in a ferocious storm in the middle of the Pacific Ocean.  

Pi is left the sole survivor, stranded on a life boat alongside a fully-grown Bengal Tiger, a Hyena, a Zebra and an Orangutan.  

Despite Pi's best efforts, the natural food chain takes a toll inside the crammed life raft, leaving Pi alone with the tiger, charmingly named 'Richard Parker'.  

As the youngster tries to establish his authority over the hungry Bengal and survive the vast expanse of water, battling storms and a plethora of marine creatures, his faith in God is tested to the limit.

President Barack Obama once described 'Life of Pi' as "an elegant proof of God".

With the big screen adaptation of the book, it would not be amiss to believe that Ang Lee - creator of such iconic films as 'Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon' and 'Brokeback Mountain' - has indeed been touched by God Himself.

Whilst the average $100 million blockbuster is preoccupied with grandiosity, Lee's 'Life of Pi' is the polar opposite; each frame is painstakingly crafted, evoking the exquisite complexity of nature and reducing man to his profound insignificance in the grand scheme of all that surrounds us.

Three years after James Cameron's 'Avatar' provided a fillip to 3D filmmaking, it has finally taken Ang Lee to move the goal posts of what is technically and technologically possible.

The CGI and 3D effects are astonishing from the start; from the busy hummingbird that jumps out of the screen through the gigantic waves that seem to not only engulf the ship carrying Pi but the audience itself, and of course, the terrifically believable Richard Parker, the authenticity of this film will be not be matched for a very long time. 

Mychael Danna's lovely, soulful soundtrack merely adds to the sumptuous experience.  

The acting is largely good; Irrfan Khan, as the middle-aged Pi who narrates the story, gives a charming, understated performance.  Suraj Sharma, forced to carry one of the most eagerly anticipated films in recent memory in his first ever acting job, is competent in a complex role.  

If there is one glitch, it is a rather unexpected slowing of the narrative pace in the last half hour but that is a minor quibble, swiftly washed away by the director's ingenuity and imagination.

For, inspite of the expensive effects and embellishments Lee takes nothing away from what is an extremely compelling story of spirituality and the existence of God.

Rather, he uses the powerful visual imagery to help deliver the book's central message of man's eternal search for his place and purpose which drives his ability to overcome seemingly insurmountable obstacles.

'Life of Pi' is a classic example.

Creating one of the greatest films of all time out of a powerful and vivid story that many, for so long, thought unfilmable.

- Viji Alles

'Life of Pi' is released in the UK December 20

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