It’s “Lights! Camera! Passport!” in the celebratory docu “Let the Wind Carry Me,” a portrait of renowned, itinerant Taiwanese d.p. Mark Lee Ping-bing. A windfall for Asia film buffs, pic digs deeper than a predictable cavalcade of clips to celebrate the lenser’s aesthetic. Decision to probe the artist’s mind is a wise one, as sumptuous images from “In the Mood for Love,” “Spring Snow” and “The Sun Also Rises,” among others, are not showcased in their full glory. Still, uninitiated fest auds will appreciate tantalizing glimpses, and aficionados will bask in pic’s nostalgic reverie. Tube presentation should hide some flaws.
Though filmed across three continents, the bulk of documentary takes place in Paris, showing Lee working onset with frequent collaborator Hou Hsiao Hsien on 2007’s “Flight of the Red Balloon.” Off the set, Lee walks documakers Kwan Pun-leung (co-lenser with Lee on “In the Mood for Love”) and Chiang Hsiu-chiung (helmer of 2009’s “Artemesia”) through his early ambitions to work with Taiwan’s film body, CMPC, and his initiation into a world of professional craftsmen. However, Lee’s tendency to free-associate thwarts docu’s attempt to create a chronological structure. Pic’s narrative eventually reflects his “let things happen” approach, demonstrated artistically by his preference for shooting with natural light.
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In addition to Hou, a parade of prominent Asian filmmakers (Wong Kar Wai, Tran Anh Hung, Hirokazu Kore-eda and more) testify to Lee’s genius and adaptability. Taiwan-born director Sylvia Chang points out that the breakneck pace of the Hong Kong film industry (where Lee moved in the 1980s) taught Lee speed and precision. While all collaborators praise Lee, the subject acknowledges Hou, who taught him to feel as well as see, had the most significant impact.
Lee speaks of appreciating meteorological “gifts from God” rather than complaining about poor weather conditions. The wisdom of this philosophy is demonstrated by clips of the unexpected snowstorm in the desert that became a jaw-dropping high point of Jiang Wen’s “The Sun Also Rises,” and a magical unplanned breeze that lifted a key moment in Tran Anh Hung’s “The Vertical Ray of the Sun” from poetic to poignant.
Docu makes much of the now Los Angeles-based lenser’s relationship with his 80-year-old mother and his efforts to see her in Taipei. Other aspects of Lee’s private life remain shielded; his American wife appears only via a photograph. Their son, Justin, appears briefly as a youthful, nervy talking head, who speaks at one point about his father being away while forest fires threatened the family’s Californian home, underlining the cameraman’s own observation about his wandering life: “The world got smaller, but home got further away.”
Pic’s emotional component is its saving grace. Much of Lee’s prodigious 50-odd film output remains unsampled, possibly due to copyright restrictions. The poor quality of some of the clips betrays poor Asian archiving standards and suggests limited access to original prints, further undermined by digital projection at the screening attended; Lee may have been responsible for some of Asia’s best-looking cinema of the past 20 years, but the presentation proves Quentin Tarantino’s adage that “the projectionist gets final cut.”