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Ang Lee talks his high-tech Billy Lynn and why he’s not doing Mulan

Photo: Ethan Miller/Getty Images
Photo: Ethan Miller/Getty Images

The morning before the New York Film Festival premiere of his latest film, Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk, Ang Lee sat before a group of reporters at a breakfast and ventured to explain just what ground he’s breaking this time. Billy Lynn was adapted from a novel by Ben Fountain about a young soldier home from Iraq at a Thanksgiving football game, and, boldly, was filmed in 3-D with 4K resolution at a rate of 120 frames per second (most are 24 frames per second). “I think it’s important for the viewer—I would urge them to think about this as a new medium,” Lee said.

The conversation framed Billy Lynn’s technology as an outgrowth of what Lee began exploring on his Oscar-winning film Life Of Pi, and it’s still in a phase of experimentation. “It is an evolution, what you’re going to see, it’s in process,” producer Marc Platt explained. “And [we] watch[ed] Ang actually journey in that evolution in the making of the movie, because one of the things you discover at such a high frame rate with such sophisticated 3-D is that the film doesn’t allow for artifice.” Lee couldn’t put makeup on the actors, nor could he fake cold weather; he even had to scrap a shot that occurred when it was 80 degrees, but was supposed to take place in November.

But the 3-D, he said, allowed him to get inside the head of 19-year-old Billy, played in the film by Joe Alwyn, the way the novel does. “That’s literature, this indirect medium,” Lee said, adding that in film “you don’t have that perspective, but 3-D in this way allows that to happen.” As for the film’s political relevancy, in a brief conversation with The A.V. Club after the talk, Lee said that he doesn’t think it’s “anti-war” film. “The main point is how a soldier experiences it,” he said. He continued: “It’s neutral on a bad war.”

So what’s next for Lee now that’s he’s embarked on this innovation? Not Disney’s upcoming live action Mulan, which he reportedly turned down. “I’m the best person to do that, [aren’t I]?” he said, laughing. “But I have movies I’m interested in doing. That is a poetry we’ve been taught when we’re young. I’m sure Disney has their way of making that exciting, but right now I have my plans. My heart is in a boxing movie right now. I wish them good luck. It’s a very encouraging movie for the girls, if not everybody.” Lee’s name has long been attached to a project about the Muhammed Ali and Joe Frazier “Thrilla In Manila” match. Regardless, the director intends to keep moving the needle forward. “One answer I’ve found opened up 10 more questions,” he said. “If I’m allowed to keep doing it, I’ll keep doing it for a while.”

Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk opens on November 11. Though all theaters, Platt said, will show the film with a high frame rate, but the elements will be “blended down” to accommodate differing equipment.

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