If fans believe the fate of ''The Hulk,'' opening June 20, rests on whether the title character will look frighteningly real or frightfully like Gumby on steroids (as early trailers with unrefined F/X seemed to suggest), they may be right. But in many ways, the success of this film hinges on whether Ang Lee -- the 48-year-old Taiwanese director profoundly uncomfortable with revealing his own emotions -- has what it takes to let out his inner Hulk.
''To me,'' says Lee, the filmmaker behind 1995's ''Sense and Sensibility'' and 2000's groundbreaking ''Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon,'' ''the Hulk is the manifestation of the part of yourself that you're trying to deny.... He's the big unknown that is hiding in the deepest level of brain structure -- the reptile part of your brain, the 'fight, flight, f---' center. Bringing that out was the reason why I wanted to do this guy.'' Sure, he would jam the film with the character's trademark ''Hulk smash!'' ''But I don't think that's the juice,'' says Lee. ''It's just good psychodrama.''
Star Jennifer Connelly says she was inspired by Lee's vision. ''When I first met him, I asked why he wanted to do this,'' recalls the actress, who committed to the project before it even had a finished script. ''He said, 'I don't know, but here are some of my ideas.' I just found those ideas so intriguing and creative and kind of brave.''