“I did a women’s movie, and I’m not a woman. I did a gay movie, and I’m not gay. I learned as I went along.”
— Ang Lee
His parents put a heavy emphasis on a classical Chinese education, including culture, art, and calligraphy. His father was the principal at his high school, and Ang was expected to become an academic, perhaps a professor. But, his interests in drama took him in another direction.
After graduating from The national Taiwan College of Arts and completing his mandatory service in the Republic of China’s military, Ang Lee attended the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign where he received his BFA in Theatre/Theater Direction and New York University where he earned his Masters in Film Production.
At NYU he worked with Spike Lee on Joe’s Bed-Stuy Barbershop: We Cut Heads. His Shades of the Lake was a Best Drama pick in Short Film in Taiwan and his Fine Line, his thesis film, won the Outstanding Direction Wasserman Award and was later shown on the BBC.
His professional career was off to a slow start. After struggling for six years he submitted the screenplays for Pushing Hands and The Wedding Banquet to a Taiwanese competition in 1990. The scripts came in first and second.
Lee … eventually making his directorial debut in 1992 with Pushing Hands. A comedy about the generational and cultural gaps in a Taiwanese family in New York, it won awards in Lee‘s native country. [NYTimes.com]
The Wedding Banquet had an art house release in the US and Lee found a much wider audience. It was the second film in his “Taiwanese Trilogy” and like the others it featured generational and cultural conflicts. Here Winston Chao played…
a homosexual Chinese man who feigns a marriage in order to satisfy the traditional demands of his Taiwanese parents. It garnered Golden Globe and Oscar nominations, and won a Golden Bear at the Berlin Film Festival. [IMDB]
The third film in his valentine to Taiwan was Eat Drink Man Woman. It tells the story of a semi-retired chef and his three grown daughters. It cemented his role as “A warmly engaging storyteller [Janet Maslin, The New York Times]
Lee switched continents and centuries when he helmed his next film, Emma Thompson’s wonderful adaptation of Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility. It won a BAFTA and Golden Globe award for Best Picture. Lee was voted Best Director by New York Film Critics Circle. Austen’s resurgence in popularity can be traced back to Lee’s Sense and Sensibility and the Colin Firth/Jennifer Ehle Pride and Prejudice mini-series that came a half decade later. [S&S is one of my personal favorite Austen film adaptations. Alan Rickman’s Col. Brandon still makes me sigh.]
Back in 20th century (this time 1973 Connecticut), Lee tackled a dysfunction family in crisis in The Ice Storm. The film starred Kevin Kline, Joan Allen, Sigourney Weaver, Tobey Maguire, Christina Ricci and Elijah Wood.
He worked with Tobey Maguire again in Ride with the Devil, a Civil War tale about two friends who join the Bushwhackers in Missouri.
Next came the magical Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. It is the story of a mysterious young assassin who steals a magical sword and the two martial arts masters who set out retrieve it. The chase through the bamboo forest alone is worth the price of a rental.
With movies about family drama, English classical literature and Asian mystical martial arts under his belt Lee did the next logical thing… he directed a movie based on the Marvel Comic’s hero the Hulk.
IN 2005 Lee tackled his most controversial movie yet, Brokeback Mountain. The film starred Heath Ledger, Jake Gyllenhaal,
The film’s sensitive and epic portrayal of a thriving romance that survives between two Wyoming cowboys in the 1960’s was praised as both elegiac and grounded. Lee‘s deft handling of material that simultaneously drew on the established themes of classic cinema and pioneered completely unexplored territory in mass media could not have been more exalted…[NYTimes.com]
Lee won Best Director at the Academy Awards, BAFTAs and Gold Globes for Brokeback Mountain.
Lust, Caution takes place in Japanese occupied 1938 Hong Kong and 1940s Shanghai. A group of Chinese university students plot to assassinate a government official. The film was called tense, sensual and beautifully-shot. The film did well in Hong Kong and China, but because of its adult content it earned an NC-17 rating in the US and didn’t do well in this market.
2009’s Comedy/Drama Taking Woodstock offers a groovy look on how the world’s most famous music concert came to be. The Chicago Time’s Michael Phillips called it “A mosaic…drifting in and out of focus — stitching the story of how the peace-and-music bash fell together.”
His latest film, Life of Pi is due out next month. Life of Pi is based on the novel by Yann Martel and is about a 16-year-old survivor of a ship wreck. He finds himself on a lifeboat with another unusual (and dangerous) castaway.