Thursday, June 16, 2016

Mark Lee Ping-Bing at MoMA: Let the Wind Carry Me

It would be a bit intimidating to shoot a documentary focusing on a master cinematographer, but fortunately Kwan Pung-leung is no slouch. Both he and his subject, Mark Lee Ping-Bing, subbed for Christopher Doyle on Wong Kar Wai’s In the Mood for Love when previous commitments forced the Australian Hong Konger to leave the fifteen-month production. Kwan and his co-director Chiang Hsiu-chiung capture some good light as well as an appealing portrait of Lee in Let the Wind Carry Me (trailer here), which screens as part of Luminosity, MoMA’s retrospective tribute to Mark Lee Ping-Bing.

Competition was so fierce for a training position with Taiwan’s Central Motion Pictures Company (CMPC), Lee was initially wait-listed. Lee considers it fate that he ultimately wriggled into a spot—and it is hard to argue with him, considering the work that was to come. Initially, he worked on action films, but the run-and-gun approach to genre filmmaking would serve him well on the underdog auteurist films he would make with the likes of Hou Hsiao-hsien.

Lee was pretty much the cinematographer of the Taiwanese New Wave, but he has since become the D.P. of choice for celebrated filmmakers around the world. It says a lot about Lee’s rep that Chiang and Kwan secured on-cameras with such cinematic luminaries, including Hou, Wong, Tran Anh Hung, Hirokazu Kore-eda, Gilles Bourdos, and Jiang Wen. Frankly, they mostly talk to directors, but if you are going to talk to only one or two actorly types, Shu Qi and Sylvia Chang are outstanding choices.

Throughout Wind, we also get a good sense of Lee as a man and a co-worker on-set. From what Chiang and Kwan present, he seems like the big, quiet rock providing a stabilizing influence on each production. He is also good to his mother, so what’s not to like?

Kwan, Chiang, and Kwan’s co-editor Hsu Hung-yuan liberally illustrate Wind with clips from Lee’s film’s that are either iconic or telling in some way. Kwan’s own cinematography meshes well with Lee’s visuals, which is frankly pretty impressive. The end product is a classy film about a classy artist. Recommended rather enthusiastically for students of cinema, Let the Wind Carry Me screens this Sunday (6/19) and Monday the 27th as part of Luminosity at MoMA.