Taiwanese director Ang Lee (李安) has been busy responding to critics for the past two days, both in Taipei and Manila, downplaying reports that the tiger used in his Oscar-winning movie Life of Pi nearly drowned during filming in Taiwan and accusations that he had trashed Chinese and Taiwanese films after last weekend’s Golden Horse Festival.
“We did everything we could” to care for the tiger, Lee said late on Wednesday after arriving in Manila, where he is taking part in a four-day film exchange.
Lee said the tiger was well cared for by professionals, but it did come close to drowning, as first reported by the Hollywood Reporter on Tuesday in a story headlined “Animals Were Harmed,” which recounted troubles on several film sets.
Lee told reporters at Taiwan Taoyuan International Airport before leaving for Manila that the incident “was an accident,” and the tiger, named King, got disoriented while swimming in a water tank, but was led to safety by trainers.
“The crew worked hard to rescue the tiger and then showed him a lot of care, giving him five-star treatment,” he said.
In Manila, he reiterated that King had received a lot of attention on-set and off, adding: “We gave a lot of care to the tiger, as much as we possibly could.”
The film was certified by the American Humane Association (AHA), which meant it could add “no animals were harmed in the making of this film” to the credits.
The Hollywood Reporter story recounted an e-mail sent by the film’s AHA monitor, Gina Johnson, that said the tiger “got lost trying to swim to the side,” adding: “Damn near drowned.”
The AHA responded to the article on Tuesday, saying the story “distorts the work and record” of the organization. It told CNN that Johnson no longer worked with it.
Lee also rejected comments attributed to him in a “summary report” in the Chinese-language China Times on Wednesday, which said Chinese films were “bad,” Chinese directors were self-obsessed and argumentative, Taiwanese directors such as Tsai Ming-liang (蔡明亮) and Hou Hsiao-hsien (侯孝賢) were “dreary” and he would not go to see “commercial” Taiwanese films in theaters.
The paper cited an interview reportedly conducted by the China-based Web site New Culture News as it source, but Lee said he had not been interviewed on the subject.
“Is ‘summary report’ another way to say they just made it up?” he said on the sidelines of the opening of a film culture center in New Taipei City (新北市) on Tuesday.
Lee said that while he appreciates the media attention he receives, many reporters read too much into his statements, forcing him to offer endless explanations for casual remarks.