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The Hulk - Ang Lee Q&A



Compiled by: Jack Foley

Q. I would guess, that as you were growing up, you weren’t exactly a fan of American comic books, what attracted you to the prospect of bringing one of the most legendary comic characters to the screen, particularly given your previous movies; none of which suggested held any interest for you at all?
A.
It was kind of an extension of what I had already done with the Chinese pulpy-art. I found, after five or six movies, that I had become interested in digging into, what I would call, the hidden dragon. Something like the wild energy which exists under pulpy art, comic books and Chinese martial arts.
I did actually read American comic books, but I was prohibited, as well as the Chinese comic books and martial arts fiction. They were prohibited by school and by my parents, but I’ve always associated them as being a hidden pleasure.
It takes a B-movie genre, or pulpy art form, to allow that sort of energy to be harnessed and to have that crazy Hulk side exposed, whether it’s a sexual repression, or repressed aggression that’s hidden in our primal existence, it’s this thing that helps us to survive - that monstrous aggression that deals with fear, sexual desires, attacking or stress. It’s the subconscious element that I was very much into.
When I was proposed to this project, I thought I had a chance to do a psychodrama, based on how the original story was made, and I thought that, as it was a franchise movie, I didn’t have to tailor it to particular movie stars. And the comic art allowed me to experiment a lot. It feels like it’s time for me to approach a big movie, and to make it in Hollywood, but still be personal. So I got excited.

Q. Who’s idea was it to have the cute in-joke with Stan Lee and Lou Ferrigno coming out of the building?
A.
It was part of the tradition. The producer brought our attention to the fact that it was time to think about putting them in the schedule. Actually, I shot them in different scenes. They were in the middle and towards the end. Of course, they took them out of the movie and had to re-shoot to put them in the very beginning, because it was less distracting. I think it’s a wonderful thing, though, because they owe so much to the original sources.

Q. So many of the recent comic book translations have been layered through with humour, you didn't do that with The Hulk, it's a pretty straight telling of the story. I wonder whether you were put under any pressure, at any point, to inject jokes?
A.
No, I wasn't under pressure. My editor told me that it was pretty humourless, at least from surface value. I think The Hulk has a lot of black humour in it, which isn't obvious comic book humour.
If you look into it, The Hulk is very tragic storytelling; totally psychodrama, the original books. There wasn't intentional humour, except that Hulk gets his big ideas and does things to the puny humans. For the part of Bruce Banner, it was not different from a horror fan. If I was to borrow any movie genre, it would be a horror one, such as Frankenstein.
So that was the nature of The Hulk and, to me, the comic book genre wasn't a movie genre for me, they are a collective of many successful movies, particularly in the Summer. I thought Hulk is somehow different. It's a monster movie. Hulk doesn't have a good cause, or come out and save the world, he's not a superhero; he's a monster who comes out and makes a mess.
So, that's the approach I took.

Q. You worked with two huge personalities. One was The Hulk, and the other was Nick Nolte. What was it like working with him?
A.
Sometimes it would feel like he was the bigger Hulk. He reminds me of my father looking down on me as a puny human [laughs]. He's one of the most persons I've ever worked with. The degree of emotion to whatever, whether it was an over the top theatrical line, or a ridiculous comic figure, he embraces them immediately and make something brilliant out of it.
I've never seen anyone work with that kind of concentration. Brilliant, brilliant actor and a scientific freak. He took me to his personal lab, before he even knew I was approaching him to play a mad scientist, to study his blood.
A lot of self-depracating to get into the core of the character, he is a fascinating, grand, over the top character in life and on-screen. I love him as an actor.

Q. Eric Bana seems like an inspired choice (I guess the name was a clue). Can you tell us how and why you came to cast him?
A.
I was looking for somebody who could be sympathised with, and Eric had the demeanour and sensitivity that was necessary for the camera to like him. Later on, I saw him in Black Hawk Down before I made a final decision, and people complained that they didn't remember who was who, but they did remember him, which was a good sign.
So that's the Bruce Banner side. In the comic book, nobody cared about him, he was a wimp. I needed somebody who was to appeal and be sympathetic, and also carry The Hulk part - and Chopper really helped.

Q. Do you believe that there is a Hulk in everyone waiting to get out? And if so, how do you tame that beast? What's your form of anger management?
A. Personally, I do believe that everybody has a Hulk inside them. My definition is that it is a survival instinct, or alter-ego as the comic book calls it. It's so scary that we have to cover it up. It doesn't have a logic. That's the kind of Hulk I would like to touch, but unfortunately I had to use CGI method to visualise a specific being, but to me, the whole movie, is does he have a taste of the Hulk, a taste of the subconscious. I do believe that.
I also believe that under unusual stress - usually anger - there is this sort of paranoia about something, it could expose itself.
I only get to experience that through making movies. I'm a naturally shy, nice person. I don't push anybody. But as a director I will turn nasty if I want to get some results.
When I was nervous about the outcome, I would go as far as kicking the set. I lost it a couple of times. Usually I don't even do that, but I thought that maybe size does matter... it's a bigger movie. I think stress, anger towards indignance, or simply fear of something, that you can be so beside yourself that you see your Hulk side.
And also ambition, I think I'm an ambitious filmmaker, I like to explore different film languages and genre, to have a taste of them, work with different people in different locations, that's not like me in personal life, but when it comes to cinema, I felt bigger than life, I felt that Hulk-sized ambition. And then I have to pay for it. After I've done it, after I've de-Hulked, I have to go back down to the puny human level.

Q. Do you think it needs a sequel and would you want to be involved in making that?
A.
I don't have answers to those. I'm sure if it's successful, they will want to make a sequel. That's the food chain. At this point I feel like a woman whose just given birth to a monster. There's no way I want to do it again. Three months from now, I don't know. I'll be dutifully bound to help develop the project, to give my tips about what I've learned from this movie. If it really interests me, I might jump in again, but right now, I want to retire.

Q. How closely did you actually study the comic book when you got the job?
A.
I looked more closely to the earlier ones. Whether it's the illustration art, visually; how they structured frames, I used them probably more than the later ones; and the genesis of setting up. I did use some of the middle section, about the father killing the mother, and seeing the father morph into the monster, so he has to kill him. Much later ones, they did actually bring the father back as a janitor.
The material is all over the place; and it was very hard to make a two-hour movie based on a certain thing. You can only read them as psychodrama elements, and not necessarily as all-story elements and how it should flow. If anything, I borrowed from horror films, such as Frankenstein, which is originally what Stan Lee created. I basically picked and chose what I like, I didn't carefully study every issue, as I think I'd get lost if I did that. I think the earlier ones were more aiming towards children and, as the readers grew up, and the new readers don't care as much about The Hulk anymore, I think they went darker and darker. It was dark to begin with, it carries the Cold War anxieties, but later on, it becomes more adult, so I used some of the later psychology and the look and the genesis of the beginning, as well as filling a lot of holes, taking liberty.
I emphasise certain things, which I suspect were in the books, but not really carried out. Like, I suspect General Ross had a lot of jealousy towards Bruce Banner/The Hulk. I don't think that was there in the comics. The person who was taking his daughter away was seen both as a wimp and as a threat, as Bruce Banner and The Hulk; that was one of the things I think was quite implicit, that I tried to bring out in the movie. How to play off his guilt.

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