Countdown to 'Hulk': Ang Lee's new green destiny

Thu, June 19th, 2003 at 12:00am PDT

TV/Film
Rob Worley, Columnist

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Fans were both

surprised and delighted to learn that director Ang Lee had been tapped by Marvel

and Universal Pictures to helm the big-screen adaptation of "The

Hulk." Lee had been known for smaller, human movies like "The Ice

Storm" and "Sense and Sensibility," until 2000 when he turned the

kung fu genre on it's ear with "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon."

On

Friday, Lee explores the "hidden dragon" in all of us in the F/X

powerhouse "The Hulk." Lee recently sat down with the press to talk

about the movie. At the roundtable interview, members of the press took turns

asking questions about the development of the film. Comics2Film/CBR News is

please to present this edited transcript of that interview.

WARNING: THIS TRANSCRIPT CONTAINS MINOR SPOILERS

Q: I was quite impressed by your performance as the Hulk this morning at the

ILM presentation. (An ILM video presentation showed footage of the director

acting out the transformation scene for animator reference).

Ang Lee (AL): You found it amusing?

Q: Well it was just a shock because we don't think directors can really act

but there you were giving quite a convincing performance and you're not fifteen

feet tall.

AL: And I didn't do the three miles jump either. I probably do everything

else. When you're desperate you can do anything.

Q: I've heard the comic fans will be upset by the changes to the story.

Can you talk about your concept for the Hulk and why you decided to make it

different?

AL: I don't think I changed the story. His father was always...one issue they

bring the father back. One issue they had the Hulk dogs. The father always see

the baby as a monster because he's a genetic experiment. That's all from the

book. Especially visually I honestly take it from the book.

Q: Did the father kill the mother in the comics?

AL: Yeah. Later issue. Back-story.

Q: I'm not familiar with the comics either. What were some of the

differences?

AL: Well there are hundreds of issues that are all over the places. I took

whatever I need. That fan probably see one issue, this see the other, maybe.

Q: What do you feel when you make a movie like this, knowing you've got this

huge fan base that are watching you? Do you worry about it or do you just make

your movie?

AL: I just make your movies. I work a little with Marvel. Anything jump out

and they'll let me know of it. They're very flexible.

The father is always very important, whether you take one form or another,

the father is always a big shadow. That's part of the reason he is the Hulk.

Avi was there. The staff is there.

Q: You said when you are desperate you can do anything. Why were you so

desperate?

AL: I'm not desperate. I just like to do it. After the fortunate success of

"Crouching Tiger"...

Q: ...you could do anything.

AL: Yeah, and that's what I chose. It's wild, this hidden psychology

of...it's a comic book like pulp fiction with martial arts in China, the hidden

pleasure. It shows a lot of psychology. It's good material for

psychodrama.

They were good to do all those wonderful, visual things. If it can hold it to

a dramatic content, that's the biggest challenge I can think of for the moment.

Some of the story elements broke my heart.

"Hulk" to me is the new "Hidden Dragon" for me. An

American version of "Hidden Dragon."

Q: In what way?

AL: It's the subconsciousness. It's not guarded by our consciousness or

behavior or rationale or social code or morality. It's there. It's four-fifth of

our being and we cover it up with the scheme of brain activities...when it has

a physical manifestation due to the catalyst of anger...you see the

aggression, the true self, the "hidden dragon," I kept calling

it.

That's great material. That's a big movie without using a movie star to

draw in the first group of audience.

To me, at that time, it was a dream project.

Q: Can you talk about what it's like jumping in to the new technology and

being very hands-on with ILM and working with something you're not really noted

for?

AL: No, I wasn't familiar with that at all. I just had that desire to cast

the big, green guy as a member of the cast.

Q: But on a personal level, what is it like for you?

AL: I had to learn how to do it. Before I jump in I had to check the ways and

means of doing it. So two summers ago Larry Franco, the line producer, who just

come off of "Jurassic Park," went through "Jurassic Park

III" with me. "How we do this. How we do that. This is CG. That's

animatronic. That's real something. That's a model. That's composite. This is a

real shoot."

I think anyone can pick that up in two hours.

Then I had a tour of ILM. "What they can do these days. If we're doing

this, what can we offer you. The next two or three generations we can do this

and that and add complexity, all the promises, although there's not really a

test yet."

So, those ways and means. I think it's a will to try to make it work. Then,

of course, at one point you all find out that it's not that easy. Actually skin

color's easier. Once you pour the color green, it's not real. What do you do?

You take side-by-side with the actors he has more detail than the actor. You put

the green on he's not real. How do you deal with that? How do you break it out?

And then moist and the hair. Everything he touches. So there we got scared

and work around it and work to overcome it. One or two years to make that movie

gradually, gradually the way you light it. Shot-by-shot...it's a fashion of hand

craft. It's not like push-button, "There's a way to do it. I see it, I know

I can do it." It's a learning process for both me and them.

Q: Can you talk about why you cast Eric Bana in the lead?

AL: He was brought to my attention through casting director. I saw the movie

"Chopper." I was looking for someone not only look like Bruce Banner,

but who could play the Hulk, himself too.

Q: Bruce Banner of the comics.

AL: The comic he was a wimp. Nobody care. [laughs]

You can not do that in motion picture because it is photography, not drawing.

So I was looking for a combination, a person carries both demeanors and can

play both the hidden...naturally he doesn't have to play...he has to look like

he has the potential. So looking at "Chopper" I had no doubt for him.

Then I met him. He's a very nice gentleman. We hit it off and then we worked

together.

Q: Sam Elliott said you made a change just two days ago. What was the scene?

AL: That's timing. No, the picture was locked for quite a while. Just

tweaking sight and sound.

Q: After watching the ILM presentation this morning, all this incredibly

detailed and expensive work to create the Hulk. Why couldn't you do it with a

big actor?

AL: The bone structure, the shape is different. Acting is different, of

course and the way he can do things is different.

Believe me, a body builder is a lot cheaper than a green guy. They know that.

He does better.

Q: Is it almost compulsory for a director to work with big CGI effects on a

summer movie?

AL: No. It's not like CG work...it's not like in music you have to put

electronic beat to hip it up. It's nothing like that.

It's: CGI gives the best result. You get a big body builder; he's clumsy. He

can not do what [Hulk] does. The facial structure is different. The

proportion...if you put in some suit it's "Godzilla", the Japanese

"Godzilla."

That's really the easy answer. If you want to do it you have to go CG.

Q: I noticed in your technique you have almost comic book-like panels. Was

than an homage to the comics medium?

AL: Yeah. Of course. Also doing comic book give me a good excuse to try

something I always wanted to try without distracting, without being distracting.

I think time is right, especially for kids, growing up with today's television,

cartoons and internet video games. It'll be easier for the younger generation.

I

think on big screen it's different because your eyes don't have the simple grasp

of the picture. You have to really direct them. That principal is very similar

to when you open up a page of comic book, your eyes go somewhere and you choose

what you see, not necessarily like regular movie viewing experience which the

filmmaker edited, mandating you to watch in a certain way. You get a choice. You

can go back and forth.

So it's very much by the comic book, particularly the

American comic book, not so much Japanese. They don't do that.

Q: It reminded

me of "Thomas Crown."

AL: Yeah, the seventies. It was fashionable.

They do it as a display. I like to go further and choreograph them as part of

the film language, not just as transitional or display, which I did sometimes.

Sometimes I used them to precede a scene, make it tighter, more exciting.

Q: I

read somewhere that you wanted to do more of that, but actually cut back a bit.

AL:

Yes, I think it's probably the first time in a movie I don't have references. I

would do this and that, and then some of them would be distracting. This movie's

not tested because we're always in the process of filling the picture.

So

I would guess some resistance from the editor or people work around me. If they

found it distracting I'd have to think twice about it. If they got excited I

know it's a good idea.

So it was a trial and error kind of thing. So you end

up there are moments more dramatic if you decide not to do it. I think three

years from now it could be a different story, because people will have different

viewing habits.

What might be a problem today won't be a problem three

years from now. I think it's an ongoing experiment of film language. For now

this is probably the best way where we start.

Q: You've traveled all over the

world and I wonder if you've ever taken a trip where you've finished, went back

home and said to yourself, "I'm looking at the world in a different way

because of what I've just experienced in my trip.'

AL: Yeah. There's somewhere

you get to know them by the real texture and to be away from somewhere and

coming home makes you look at it as a whole, with accuracy.

Q: Can you

think of a specific place you've gone where you felt it had a dramatic impact on

you?

AL: Yeah, like Jerusalem, if I go there, I'd never imagined a world like

that. I'd always known about Jerusalem, there is a city there, this and that.

But to actually see it is just totally bizarre to me. All kinds of different

temples and religions. One holy site will be carved up by different religions or

branches of religions. It just fascinates me. It tells me so much about the

world and who we are as human beings.

Q: Are you contracted to do a sequel to

"The Hulk"?

AL: I don't know. Right now I cannot think of anything.

It's like going into the Trojan war.

Q: Would you want to do another one?

AL:

I don't know. It has to be something that excites me. Right now I don't have

anything in my head. I'm kind of drained.

Q: Were you familiar with the comic books growing up?

AL: No. Not this one. I'm not familiar with American comic books.

Q: But you read Chinese comics?

AL: Chinese. Translated Japanese.

Q: And you wanted Lou Ferrigno in "The Hulk" as an homage to the

old TV show?

AL: Yeah, sure. Why not? It should be. That's how I know the character. From

him. Not from the comic books.

Q: Did you watch the TV show?

AL: Yeah. Not all of them but a lot of them.

Q: As a kid or recently, as research?

AL: No. Growing up.

Q: Why do you think the Hulk has become such an icon?

AL: Aggression. You wish you could do what he does. He smashes things. He do

things for you. You wish you could be him and smash anything that gets in your

way. We all feel frustration and rage in life and we have to repress that. We

have to come to terms with people.

But I think that type of layer, which is the deepest layer in your head has

no such moral sense. Sometimes you just want to Hulk out and, what the hell.

I think he does that to you.

Q: The actors have talked about how you articulated this sense of the Hulk

inside all of us. Were they interested in all about the CG technology and

representation of Hulk?

AL: That's the last result. I think as you look at him, one of the most

difficult parts for me, other than keeping balance is, you follow this guy,

you're now thinking one CG shot after another CG shot. You have to follow him

like an actor, so that's the hardest part for me.

So that's the physical rendering of the Hulk. But when I work with actors

they have nothing to look at, even when they're looking at him, they're not

looking at him, so they're doing their own performances. So on that level, when

I deal with him I would tell them, they're like me. They're all part of the

Hulk. The whole movie is the Hulk, the whole Hulk experience.

When they look at the Hulk they're dealing with their inner demon.

Sam [Elliott], for example, the man has a lot of complex feelings. He has to

hunt this guy. He has jealousy. He hates Bruce Banner and has guilt to this kid.

He hates his father and he has to hunt down this big green guy who smashed his

daughter. So all of that thing has to play. That's his Hulk.

So everybody I would try to find a darker side, when they're confronting the

Hulk.

Jennifer [Connelly] for example: this guy doesn't open up. Sometimes she'd

rather...she's like the father, rather him Hulk out then be a battle of

boyfriend.

So all of them they have to deal with that Hulk level. That's how I invited

them to be part of the movie. The whole movie is the Hulk.

Q: When is the last time you had to Hulk out? You seem so calm and centered.

AL: Oh, you have no idea.

I don't do that. I don't Hulk out that way. I think the Hulk and rage is just

part of the ingredient. It's the catalyst.

The idea of the Hulk is the thing of hiding the negative zones. I did have a

taste of that. My Hulk out is making this movie. The big I-don't-know-what. Now

I have to talk my way out of it. I'm de-Hulking into Bruce Banner again.

But the whole experience adds a lot. But I did lose it a couple times. Not in

front of anybody. A lot of pressure.

Q: Did you worry about the ratings?

AL: A little bit. We modified the climax scene. Make the shots longer and

defuse it a little bit. The dog fight: they gave a PG before it's finished and

wanted to see it after it was done. That was OK. We got a PG-13.

We don't know. We were more concerned about the dramatic scenes. The dog

fight...Larry went through "Jurassic Park," [it all] depends on how

they [the MPAA] feel.

We do have thoughts about it but there's no telling with that system. You

just have to send in and see what they do.

Q: Do you see the Hulk as a superhero?

AL: No.

Q: He's kind of a green King Kong, right?

AL: He's more monster. More monster of a horror picture than superhero,

although he does save a bridge and all that, but I never see him as a superhero.

 
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