Last time I saw master auteur Ang Lee was around three years ago, when he was promoting the first high-frame-rate film Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk in a Beijing premiere.
It was my first time to clearly understand what a film shot in 3D, 4K at 120 frames per second would look like. When I was putting on the glasses, the screen was quite bright, much clearer than a normal 3D movie displays. It felt like I was watching a high-definition live broadcast of a real event, despite the fact that the characters and story are actual fictional.
To diehard fans of the iconic director who won Oscars three times, it makes sense that he has been dabbling in new technology which may revolutionize the world's film industry for at least five years. Now, he again deployed this technology to shoot his latest film, Gemini Man.
Even though Billy Lynn didn't perform well at the box office, Lee, now 65 years old, has persisted in experimenting how far he could go in the cinematic world.
Starring Will Smith, one of Hollywood's highest-paid actors, the tale is about a retiring killer who finds that he is chased by another younger assassin, who turns out to be a clone of himself.
The screenplay has a long history in Hollywood. Originally written by Darren Lemke, the tale has been kicking around Hollywood for around 20 years, waiting for the tech to catch up to its biggest challenge: how to convincingly show an aging character and a younger version of him onscreen.
At different times, Harrison Ford, Jon Voight and Mel Gibson were expected to star, and Disney did some promising experiments with digital facial technology in the early 2000s before abruptly aborting the project.
Ang Lee has led the entire project to a quite different direction. After successfully creating CGI animals in Life of Pi and exploring the 120 fps (frame per second) photography, Lee was hooked by the project over the possibility that he could use today's most advanced technology to examine an enduring philosophical question: "What has time done to us?"
So, he created an "actor", literally. It was done in that way. First, Will Smith wore a performance-capture headset and had his neck specked by tracing dots to capture his every nuanced emotion. The visceral action scenarios were performed by stuntmen. Then, just by clicks of the mouse by visual effect artists from Peter Jackson's Weta Digital, a 23-year-old "actor" — combining the face of Smith and body of stuntmen — was born, making him the most expensive ever actor in Hollywood.