Asian cinematographer criticizes digital

Cannes award winner says new format less artistic

HONG KONG -- A top Asian cinematographer has expressed his distaste for digital cameras in a recently released book, complaining about having to use them to shoot an adaptation of Haruki Murakami's hit novel "Norwegian Wood."

Cannes-winning Taiwanese cameraman Mark Lee Ping-bing says in an interview published in "A Poet of Light and Shadow" — a collection of his still photographs — that shooting in digital format takes away the artistry of camera work and lighting because you can immediately see your work on a display monitor and fix it — as opposed to waiting to develop the film.

Lee, best known as a frequent collaborator with his countryman, director Hou Hsiao-hsien, also complained that digital technology allows filmmakers to fix flaws by computer afterward instead of doing things right on the set.

"Film is unknown, uncertain. It's a chemical reaction. To be frank, it's a little bit like painting. So if you're technical skills and experience aren't up to part, you'll think that HD (high-definition digital video) is very easy to use," Lee said in the book.

"But HD is different. There is a monitor. It shows what you have shot. You'll know if it's a little dark in one part and you need to add a bit of light. Everything is on the monitor. Everything is OK if you have the monitor. All the expectation and the texture is gone," he said.
Lee also denounced the practice of covering up visual flaws on computers.

"Maybe there is a kid who knows about how to play computer games, or is sensitive to color — they can get the job done. But if everything can be changed by computer, then this is not a form of art," he said.

Lee said he didn't enjoy shooting digital for Tran Anh Hung's recent adaptation of "Norwegian Wood," but the French-Vietnamese director insisted on it because he liked the outcome of his previous movie, "I Come with the Rain." He said the Japanese production company, Asmik Ace Entertainment Inc., also wanted to use film to portray the popular love story set in 1960s Tokyo.

Lee said he avoided looking at the display monitor when shooting "Norwegian Wood."

"I didn't want to be affected, to be controlled by it," he said.

Along with the ease of transfer and computer manipulation, the digital format is also popular with filmmakers because it is significantly cheaper than film and allows them to experiment without worrying about cost.

Besides Hou and Tran, Lee has also worked with Hong Kong's Wong Kar-wai and Ann Hui, China's Tian Zhuangzhuang and Jiang Wen, as well as Japan's Hirokazu Kore-eda. He won the technical grand prize at the Cannes Film Festival in 2000 for shooting Wong's romance, "In the Mood for Love."

Kayo Yoshida, an executive at Asmik Ace Entertainment, declined to comment on Lee's remarks.

"A Poet of Light and Shadow" was published in November.