TAIPEI — Film director Ang Lee lives in America but still has strong roots in his native Taiwan, where much of his current project "Life of Pi" was shot on location outdoors and in a giant indoor studio "ocean."
Now he's playing matchmaker for a Hollywood visual effects company building an overseas office in Taiwan, and players on both sides of the Pacific are happy.
Lee made his acquaintance with the Rhythm & Hues company and its Academy Award-winning creative team leader Bill Westenhofer while directing "Life of Pi" for 20th Century Fox last year. Lee has been quoted as saying the movie would have been ''a mission impossible'' were it not for R&H's high-tech tools.
Hollywood-based R&H is set to launch a US $200 million investment plan in Taiwan this year, which would finance a visual effects center, a cloud computing data center and a film fund, according to industry sources.
Speaking by video during a launch party in Taiwan last year, Lee said that "it has been a desire of mine to serve as matchmaker here for more than a year, and now seeing it come true, it makes me feel very happy."
Growing up Taiwan and then moving to New York to pursue a film career overseas, Lee knows the movie world inside and out, and feels that Taiwan shouldn't be "left out" in the evolving global film industry. And thus was the new R&H-Taiwan match made in Ang Lee heaven.
"As a Taiwanese, I feel really proud that Taiwan has got everything and is capable of doing anything," he said by video, noting that the new venture will hep put Taiwan in a "better-known" position on the world stage.
Lee helped pull some strings, made some introductions and phone calls, and served as a liaison with Taiwan's central and local governments involved in the deal.
That's called ''never forgetting who you are'' and "standing up for your country from afar," according to a film industry source in Taipei.
After signing a memorandum of understanding in Taiwan last October, R&H filed an investment application in December and Taiwan's National Development Fund will review it for final approval, expected in February
The initial goal is to raise US$100 milllion for the project, dubbed the "101 Films Fund" (since Taiwan is celebrating its 101st year of existence in 2012). The fund will be used to co-finance and co-produce Hollywood movies over a six-year period, with plans for an R&H studio the company will set up in southern Taiwan to be involved in 10 Hollywood movies within five years, according to reports.
R&H has worked on a host of Hollywood films, including "The Incredible Hulk," "Night at the Museum" and "The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe." Westenhofer has also served as the vfx supervisor on “The A-Team” and “Percy Jackson & The Olympians: The Lightning Thief” for Fox, and the comedy adventure “Land of the Lost” for Universal Pictures. In 2008, he received an Academy Award for 'Achievement in Visual Effects for overseeing the work of hundreds of R&H digital artists on “The Golden Compass.”
So with Lee serving as matchmaker and Westenhofer as a new friend of Taiwan, prospects for more movie magic are looking up on this island nation that hopes to cash in on the world cinema stage along with neighbors Japan and China.
Growing up in southern Taiwan, Lee couldn't know what his future had in store
for him, but now the whole world knows: He makes things happen, on stage and off.