THE BLOG
03/18/2013 09:22 am ET | Updated May 18, 2013

The Life of Pi As a Dream of Taiwan

I'm guessing that Ang Lee's movie, The Life of Pi, is more than what he intended it to be. I'm guessing that, intentionally or not, the director has captured the myth of the Chinese exiles, who lost the Chinese Civil War in 1949, crossed the Taiwan Strait in leaky, floundering ships and now find themselves alone with a tiger (China). Their former enemies, the Chinese Communists, that once tried to exterminate families like Ang Lee's and their civilization, the dynastic China that believed in fate and divine benevolence, have now risen to power, surpassing the survivors of the Civil War, who initially fled to Taiwan.

The Life of Pi, in my interpretation, is a dream that Ang Lee has created about his own family's mythic past. He "lost everything," the main character says in fleeing from the shipwreck. Ang Lee's people, the landlords and culture bearers of China, lost everything when the Communists, led by Mao Zedong, began killing off millions of landlords, the only ones with enough land, meaning capital, time, resources, to educate a son to carry on the ancient traditions.

Like the main character in The Life of Pi, Ang Lee, I am guessing, "lost everything" in that catastrophe. The Nationalist regime, which nominally represented the ruling class, was on the run for years. Some crossed the Taiwan Strait in old American landing crafts that collapsed as men rushed towards a single hole in the ramp to defecate - the ramp fell into the sea and the ship moved on. Eventually, these two million survivors found Taiwan, an island with headhunters that would eventually threaten to consume their identity. Sound familiar?

When the main character in The Life of Pi chooses to leave the magical but corrosive island, "for the real world," it parallels -- I am guessing -- Ang Lee's choice as a director, and personally, to leave Taiwan, to understand that it was only a temporary stopping base for the exiles. He understood, like the Taiwanese/Chinese who chose to find means to take another risk and come to America and the broader world, in his case, of New York and now India, that Taiwan was carnivorous but life-saving.

Thus, the film, at a mythic level, for the director, I'm guessing, is part of his love-hate yearning for the temporary home his people found in Taiwan. The false emotions they felt for the tiger (reflected in his eye), are analogous to the yearning Chinese exiles now feel for the rise of "Communist" China. They fell they must tame the beast, yet know it is impossible in the end.

The Life of Pi, as a movie, is ultimately more optimistic, I am guessing, than Ang Lee himself. I am guessing that he worries about the future of his Chinese civilization that found a home on Taiwan. The Life of Pi ends in India. The future of Taiwan, Ang Lee's erstwhile home, is not so certain.

In his acceptance speech for best director, Ang Lee made sure to thank the people of Taiwan. I am guessing he is still trying to defend them, perhaps even unconsciously, by expressing his anxieties about them through their myths, in film.

Taiwan faces an uncertain future. According to western scholars, Taiwan is becoming increasingly bound to China economically, its businesses dependent on the policies of the mainland. At the same time, the island of 23 million is still a security outpost for the U.S., and is nominally protected by American military might.

Taiwanese officials counter that the mainland itself is dependent on the U.S. market, thus making it vulnerable as well. But privately they concede that Taiwan sooner or later will be swallowed up by China. Nothing wrong with China -- except it's got a lot of pollution and a few other minor problems right now.

I'm guessing Ang Lee knows all this.

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