The Hulk: Ang Lee's Transformation (綠巨人浩克: 李安的變革)
Ang Lee's Transformation
Whether Ang Lee was directing adulterous suburbanites, Southern racists, crouching tigers or hidden dragons, his diverse characters all had something in common: They were living, breathing, multimillion-dollar-check- cashing actors.
But "The Hulk," opening June 20, is a different beast. The veteran filmmaker is making the leap from flesh-and-blood dramas to special-effects blockbuster -- without so much as a fake explosion for a transition.
Lee admits that, when it came to special effects, he had "no idea what I was talking about" as early as last year, when he started filming in the Bay Area.
"In some ways my innocence helped bring freshness (to the movie)," Lee said during an an interview earlier this month.﹛"I think it's good I wasn't scared that the movie relied on (computer-generated) characters. I didn't know enough to be scared."
Lee's decision to direct "The Hulk" surprised fans of comic books -- along with fans of his movies.
His previous films include "Sense and Sensibility," "The Ice Storm" and "Eat Drink Man Woman," which were as far away from gamma rays and rampaging green behemoths as cinematically possible. "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" in 2000 proved that Lee could film action, but the movie's wire stunts and blue- screen backgrounds involved few modern special effects.
But Lee says his latest job made sense to him, with "Crouching Tiger" serving as a transition to "The Hulk." The filmmaker was drawn to the project at first by his comic-reading school-age sons, later realizing that there was a surprisingly complex character in the middle of the pulp action.
"That grabbed me right away," Lee said. "I was on the way to doing something like that in 'Crouching Tiger,' to mix serious drama with pop art. I got a taste of that and thought I could do that bigger."
Once the director was onboard, "The Hulk" needed a location. In the comics and TV show, the monster is born on a desert base in the Southwest, where Bruce Banner (Eric Bana in the movie) is exposed to gamma radiation.
New Mexico was changed to UC Berkeley to get Hulk near a big city, a move that Lee was happy about.
San Francisco "is one of my favorite cities in the world," Lee said. "I would probably rank it at the top or near the top. It's small but very photogenic and has layers. It's like New York. You never have problems finding great angles that people have never done."
Locations for "The Hulk" include Berkeley, Treasure Island and Telegraph Hill in San Francisco. Filming for the most part was kept secret, but an extended trailer displayed for some journalists and exhibitors shows that the Bay Area is used to the fullest.
Lee seems particularly fond of helicopter shots looking down on the city streets, where the Hulk wrecks at least one cable car.
Although Lee put his own mark on the film, most of the main plot points in "The Hulk" mirror the comic. Bana plays Banner, a student who gets a dose of gamma radiation while working on a secret military project. As a result, whenever he gets mad, he mutates into a huge green creature. ("You wouldn't like me when I'm angry.'')
Jennifer Connelly, Sam Elliott and Nick Nolte round out the cast, while television Hulk actor Lou Ferrigno has a cameo.
Unlike the comic and the TV show, the lead character in "The Hulk" is more than twice the height of a normal human. The computer-generated Hulk wasn't created until the filming sequences were over -- when Lee settled into an office across the street from Industrial Light & Magic in San Rafael.
Lee describes his education at ILM with wonder, like a parent who goes to a rock concert and discovers that his kid's favorite band actually has good musicians.
"This is the best part of making the movie, I think -- making the movie at ILM. It was pretty much a contrast to what I expected it to be," Lee said. "They call it Industrial Light & Magic, but there's no feeling of industry. It feels totally handcraft. Every individual artist who works on the shots -- it's very hands on."
Colin Brady, an animation director at ILM, said the animators who worked on "The Hulk" were thrilled with Lee's constant presence for the effects work.
"It's pretty much unheard of," Brady said. "(But) the Hulk has such a strong acting role in the movie that I think it did require that Ang was here."
Brady said much of the finished product for the character came from Lee's own movements.
"There's a lot of Ang in the Hulk," Brady said. "Ang would have no problem getting up and acting out exactly what he was looking for. It's a wonderful contrast to see this very soft-spoken guy launch into this very broad action. Next thing you know, he's biting my arm or getting me in a headlock or something."
[Editor's Note: No kidding. And not just psychological either. Look at Ang Lee's face. Now look at the Hulk's face. I'm referring to the CG face, not the real life face of Hulk star Eric Bana. Notice the resemblance? It would seem the ILM animators have a wry sense of humor. I am assuming of course the subtle incorporation of Lee's facial features into the final CGI version of the Hulk happened unconconsciously, which is entirely possible.]
Holing up with ILM made it easier for Lee to ignore outspoken fans of the comic book, who have criticized everything from the creature's look (they say he appears too much like the lead character in "Shrek") to the inclusion of mutated "Hulk dogs" in the movie.
Lee said he was influenced by the first "Frankenstein" movie more than any comic films such as "X-Men" or "Spider-Man."
[Editor's Note: This should come as no surprise to the director's fans. Lest we forget, the book on which the popular film Lee is referring to was penned by famed English novelist Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley, wife of famed English poet Percy Bysshe Shelley. Lee may have "gone Hollywood," but he has obviously lost neither his sense nor sensibility. ]
"I would like to think that the fans, as loud and earnest as they can be, I hope they make up, like, 0.1 percent of the audience," Lee said. "I wanted to embrace (the comic), but I also wanted to feel free to create my episode of the Hulk. If I got opinions from other places, I would be very distracted."
Lee said Marvel gave him only two mandates -- telling him that the Hulk couldn't be too intelligent and that he had to save a child at the beginning of the movie.
Avi Arad, the Marvel Comics executive in charge of the films, said fans will appreciate Lee's work after they see the film.
"He understood the psychodrama and the deep study it takes to get the Hulk, " Arad said. "The thing he loves the most is the study of the soul. And he delivered that."
Lee joins Brian Singer and Sam Raimi as Oscar-nominated filmmakers who took on blockbuster comic-book films. Arad said the material needed a director who could concentrate on the performances, and Universal Pictures and Marvel were fortunate to get Lee.
"He could have done anything he wanted," Arad said. "And lucky us, he picked The Hulk."
Lee, who was finishing up special-effects shots and adding the music in early May, said he hasn't thought about his next move.
"Honestly, I really don't know what I'll do next," he said. "I'm having a blast here at ILM."
Lee said he may do a destruction-free drama first, but he hasn't ruled out another special-effects movie.
"The experience is definitely much better than I expected. It's artwork, not what I thought special effects are," Lee said. "I came from a dramatic background, and this is very good training for me. It really broadened my tools for making movies. I think it was a great experience for me as a filmmaker."
When it was first announced that Ang Lee would direct "Sense and Sensibility," and again when he would direct "The Ice Storm," many shook their heads in disbelief. How on earth could a Chinese director from Taiwan, whose first language was not even English, and who did not grow up in either England or the United States, do justice to sexually repressed English society in the 1790s or sexually liberated American society in the 1970s?
Lee answered this question in an interview with Salon magazine, entitled "Stranger in a Strange Land."
"Gradually I got tuned into the world -- that happens on every movie. I did a women's movie, and I'm not a woman. I did a gay movie, and I'm not gay. I learned as I went along."
As Marvel executive Avi Arad put it, "[Everything Lee] does is thought-provoking, no matter what language it's in... He shows it in the characters' emotions and gestures. Don't forget: The Hulk can't speak, it's all about emotions and gestures."
When Wired magazine asked Ang Lee "Why is the face of the Hulk so human-looking?" Lee replied "The Hulk may be a monster but he is a very human monster. He is the embodiment of something deep within Bruce Banner, in fact something deep within all of us."
In other words, what empowers an artist engaged in the cultural creative industries, what allows him to appeal to the widest possible audience, is not some narrow-minded, exclusionary preoccupation with "identity," but the exact opposite. What empowers an artist is a heightened awareness of his underlying humanity, of what he shares with every other human being on the planet, regardless of gender, sexual orientation, ethnic origin, political allegiance. This broad-minded, inclusive humanism is what enables the artist to touch the hearts of audiences everywhere.
Finally, on a lighter note, let's answer a question you may have been afraid to ask. The Incredible Hulk is not the Jolly Green Giant! The Hulk is the Hulk. The Green Giant is the Green Giant. Both the Hulk and the Green Giant are superhuman giants, meaning they are "larger than life." Both the Hulk and the Green Giant have green skin, signifying that they represent the green life force of Nature. But there the similarities end. The Hulk is the personification of the dark, pent-up, primordial rage that cannot be contained beneath modern man's veneer of civilization, and literally bursts out when least expected. The Hulk may be green, and he may be a giant, but he's anything but jolly.
-- Bevin Chu
Explanation: Director happily jumped into the foreign world of special effects for 'The Hulk'
Illustration(s): The Hulk, The Hulk, The Hulk, The Green Giant, The Green Giant, Ang Lee, The Hulk, The Hulk.
Author(s): Peter Hartlaub
Affiliation: San Francisco Chronicle Staff Writer
Publication Date: Sunday, May 18, 2003
Original Language: English
Editor: Bevin Chu, Registered Architect