There are biographical films made about influential filmmakers and more often than not they happen to be focused on directors. One of the world's most renowned cinematographers, Mark Lee Ping-Bin, is the subject of this documentary which in itself is rare for its examination into the craftsmanship behind lensing a film, and of its celebrated practitioner that we'll get to know more about through an intimate portrait painted by the directors Kwan Pung-Leung and Chiang Hsiu-Chiung, who take on the conventional route initially with a walk down memory lane during the early apprenticeship days of Taiwan cinema, before packing in a wallop of a surprise with a very human, and down to earth look at the life of Mark Lee.
Mark Lee cuts a gruff figure with his stature, which comes with that bearded look and bellowing voice (which director Chiang Hsiu-Chiung, in attendance today, had mentioned in real life he doesn't sound that baritone) that may intimidate some. But through the course of the documentary, you'd come to know a lot more about the cinematographer, his dedication and professionalism to his craft that made him one of the most sought after both East and West, and his extremely down to earth, personable nature, being unselfish in imparting his knowledge to the next generation.
And this documentary shows two broad facets of his life, that of his body of work, in which being on set with Taiwanese auteur Hou Hsaio-Hsien, with plenty of soundbites from the director, provided us a glimpse behind the scenes of a few movies that got highlighted, and one gets easily mesmerized by the seductive moving images tht has become the staple of any film lensed by the cinematographer, better known for his frequent collaboration with the likes of Hou, and Wong Kar-wai. Standard documentary coverage includes the many interviews with film stars, and directors with whom Mark had worked with, to show the different sides of the man when he's on, and off set.
But what struck me the most here is the man's very honest assessment of himself, his work and his life, where he readily admits, and we see, the struggles he has to put up to try and achieve some semblance of a work life balance, where work will bring him to different parts of the world depending on the film project, and home being in LA with his wife (absent from this documentary due to her very private nature, and a schedule that didn't work out, as revealed by director Chiang Hsiu-Chiung), and aged mother in Taiwan, which basicaly means his heart is straddled between opposite sides of the planet.
While we learn more of his approach to his craft, his philosophy behind his method and techniques, and to listen in on peers who have much positive things to say about the professional, what's even more admirable is his filial piety toward his mom. While his mom probably couldn't appreciate the intricacies of her son's craft, you cannot help but to notice the sense of pride, as a mom, when many in the industry, from audiences to peers, recognize the great work that he had done for his professional, both at home and abroad, honed from more than 50 films being lensed by the cinematographer, ranging from action films in the early days like Wing Chun and Tiger Cage 2, to the more recent works from around the world such as In The Mood for Love, Three Times, Air Doll, Secret, Claustrophobia and The Sun Also Rises, most of which are in my personal favourites list.
Let the Wind Carry Me is more than the celebration of Mark Lee's achievements, that look behind the scenes, and the requisite talking heads interviews. It peers deep down into the man,just like any other, who share common concerns and worries, over work, friends and family. And that gripping emotional finale really made my hair stand on ends for minutes, only to let out a sigh of relief when things didn't turn out as expected. That I have to credit the filmmakers for achieving, together with compelling me to watch Hou's Flowers of Shanghai as soon as possible. Highly recommended!
In the meantime, Mark Lee Ping-Bin, cheers to you!
P.S. for those who had missed the screening today, you may be glad to know the DVD of the film is already out in the stores, overseas that is. There's a slight different between the Hong Kong and Taiwan version with the latter having a few minutes snipped off due to exclusion of an intervier. Just so you know.
One of the two directors of Let the Wind Carry Me, Ms Chiang Hsiu-Chiung, was present to engage the audience in a post screening discussion, moderated by David Lee of SFS. Session is in Mandarin and captured in its entirety, split into four parts, where she shared valuable insights into the making of the film, the interviews with the many filmmakers as well as how the interview with Mrs Mark Lee didn't manage to materialize for the documentary.
Part 1 of 4
Part 2 of 4
Part 3 of 4
Part 4 of 4