Taiwanese director Ang Lee would be the first to admit he was a leftfield choice to direct comic book adaptation "Hulk". The 48-year-old, best known for 2001 crossover hit "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon", discusses his decision to go for the green...
Is "Hulk" the most pressure you've ever been under while shooting a movie?
Well, it's bigger, to say the least [laughs]. But I think it's a natural path for me. I'm learning how to make a movie on a bigger canvas. But I'm still able to do my thing. I don't want to make a big movie where I cannot do my thing, so I need to build it around me and keep my personal touch. It's part of learning and directing at the same time. This film is part of my personal path as a film student, each period of time has something different that I can learn from. I'll forever be a film student.
Why take on a summer blockbuster? It's not the kind of thing you'd expect...
I really wanted to prove that a big summer blockbuster doesn't have to be simple. I hope there's room for a lot of things. Summer blockbusters are very expensive to make. They have things that have to be expensive, such as 600 effects shots or CG characters that have to go a certain way, or a film design that is different but expensive. And all these areas are a logical extension for me, I was craving those things. But I don't want to lose the so-called Ang Lee touch, the dramatic touch, the sense of relationship and emotion.
Were you worried that the studio would put pressure on you to deliver a standard blockbuster, that they might obliterate the 'Ang Lee touch'?
I wasn't thinking about it like a real battle, the pressure has really come from the discipline of money and time. But I designed the movie so that, from the very beginning, it's not 'formula'. And that movie got greenlit. I think only at the end, in the last month or so, I've been feeling the need to be more audience-friendly. But we're not compromising the essence of the film.
Did you read comic books as a kid?
No. I did see a little bit of the TV series [The Incredible Hulk] in the late 70s, but I didn't pay any particular attention to it. But then when I came to the States, I found that there was such a character in the comic books. Then when I saw the big green guy it clicked right away. I saw it as a psychodrama.
And it features a very strong father/son relationship, which many of your films do...
Yes. This one is a little different. More violent [laughs]. We had tried several drafts of the screenplay, but it didn't quite work - I didn't really know what I wanted to do yet. And then one day James [Schamus, co-writer] brought to my attention that in one issue of Hulk they brought the father back, and then an idea hit me. But at the same time I thought, Oh no, not the father/son thing again! But I wouldn't have done it unless I felt that it was bringing something fresh.
What were your filmic inspirations? Stan Lee always mentions "Frankenstein", and "Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde"...
I think mostly it was "Frankenstein". I think thematically it's probably closest to "Frankenstein" and then a little Jekyll and Hyde, since he can change back and forth - he is a dual personality. And also in the movie "Jekyll and Hyde", the first time he changes there's an expression of pleasure on his face. He's enjoying it. That I took in wholeheartedly. "King Kong" also in terms of the military and everybody chasing after him.
What have been the difficulties of putting the Hulk himself on screen?
It's colour and weight. Because he's green, he sometimes looks like a toy - the greener he looks, the harder it is to make him look real. And then you have to make him look heavy. It's easier to do a good expression in close-up than it is to do a full body shot in a realistic environment. So everything's been tried. They asked if he could have more body hair, but he doesn't have any. Making him look real has been a constant battle.
What attracted you to Eric Bana as Dr Bruce Banner?
I think it was important to make the character in the movie better than the character in the comic book. He's kind of a loser wimp. You spend a lot of the story waiting for him to Hulk-out. So I was trying to cast someone who had the sympathetic demeanour - a nice guy demeanour but at the same time has that potential Hulk in him. Photogenically, you have to believe that he's carrying the Hulk in him. Eric has that quality. If you've seen "Chopper", you can see that he definitely has that.
Have you been worried about upsetting the fans?
I really didn't know how seriously they took all this. The way they would start to talk about it on the internet... I tried not to touch it at all. If I did, I'd go so crazy I couldn't make the movie. I'd be so scared. The bottom line is that at the end of the day, this may not please one per cent of the global audience. I have to make a good movie for a broader audience than that. Another thing is that I've tried to bring in the comic book as much as I can, I can only give it my best shot. But in terms of the fans, well, they're opinionated but they're different from one another in their opinions - there's no point in trying to make their movie.
What's been the most frustrating aspect of making "Hulk"?
It's been the same kind of frustrations I had when making "Crouching Tiger", only with a bigger movie so the problems are bigger. It's the difficulty of mixing genres, of blending a comic book world with realistic drama and emotions. That's been hard - where do you keep the balance? There are difficulties with judging the dialogue, having actors say those lines, trying to make it work... actors can be opinionated, that's the most frustrating part. In terms of the visual art, I had a blast.