Full-speed ahead

Lee Ang’s Iraq War-inspired film has a better reception in China


Stewart: stars in Lee Ang’s Iraq war retrospective

Lee Ang’s new film Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk was controversial even before it was released. The movie tells the story of a young soldier suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder after the war in Iraq (he’s played by newcomer Joe Alwyn, and Kristen Stewart plays his anti-war sister, pictured right). But what is making headlines is that it was shot at 120 frames per second, five times the speed of a standard format. The accelerated speed delivers ultra-high definition, making the images on screen eye-poppingly vivid. “As a viewer, it felt like reading a book in which all the commas and periods had been put in bold and underlined,” explains Daniel Engber in Slate.

Reviewers say that Lee used the technology to capture the full humanity of the film’s characters. He also explained the style as a “new aesthetic” ahead of the first screenings in Hollywood last month.

The technique is so revolutionary, in fact, that most cinemas aren’t equipped to show films in the format. Only a handful of theatres in the United States can manage it. Some of the critics weren’t very accommodating either, calling it “unwatchable” and “visually overwhelming to the point of distraction”. (A standard version has also been released to allow the majority of cinemas to screen it.)

Lee – best known for his films Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and Life of Pi – has found a more receptive audience in China and the film came in second place – behind Doctor Strange – on its opening weekend, taking in $11.7 million in ticket sales. Some of his fans paid well above the odds to watch it in the higher-speed format.

And the critical reception was kinder in China too. On Douban, the movie was given a rating of 8.6 out of 10, compared to 48% on Rotten Tomatoes. “I have never been so close to the characters in a film before. I can even see the blood vessels in the eyes of the actor,” one reviewer raved.

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