Director Ang Lee and His Films
Ang Lee (Chinese: 李安; born October 23, 1954) is a Taiwanese-born Chinese film director. Lee has directed a diverse set of films such as Eat Drink Man Woman (1994), Sense and Sensibility (1995), Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000), which won the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film), Hulk (2003), Brokeback Mountain (2005), for which he won an Academy Award for Best Director and most recently Life of Pi (2012). He is the first person of Asian descent to win the Best Director Oscar.
Ang Lee was born in the town of Chaochou in Pingtung, a southern agricultural county in Taiwan. He grew up in a household that put heavy emphasis on education and the Chinese classics. Both of Lee's parents moved to Taiwan from Mainland China following the Chinese Nationalists' defeat in the Chinese Civil War in 1949. Lee's father imbued his children with studying Chinese culture and art, especially calligraphy.
Lee studied in the Provincial Tainan First Senior High School (now National Tainan First Senior High School) where his father was the principal. He was expected to pass the annual Joint College/University Entrance Examination, the only route to a university education in Taiwan. But after failing the Exam twice, to the disappointment of his father, he entered a three-year college, National Arts School (now reorganized and expanded as National Taiwan University of Arts) and graduated in 1975. His father had wanted him to become a professor, but he had become interested in drama and the arts at college. This early frustration set his career on the path of performance art. Seeing Ingmar Bergman's film The Virgin Spring (1960) was a formative experience for him.
After finishing the Republic of China's mandatory military service, Lee went to the U.S. in 1979 to study at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, where he completed his bachelor's degree in theater in 1980. Thereupon, he enrolled at the Tisch School of the Arts of New York University, where he received his MFA. He was a classmate of Spike Lee and worked on the crew of his thesis film, Joe's Bed-Stuy Barbershop: We Cut Heads.
During graduate school, Lee finished a 16mm short film, Shades of the Lake (1982), which won the Best Drama Award in Short Film in Taiwan. His own thesis work, a 43-minute drama, Fine Line (1984), won NYU's Wasserman Award for Outstanding Direction and was later selected for the Public Broadcasting Service.
Life after graduation
Lee's NYF thesis drew attention from the William Morris Agency, the famous talent and literary agency that later represented Lee. At first, though, WMA found Lee few opportunities, and Lee remained unemployed for six years. During this time, he was a full-time house-husband, while his wife Jane Lin (Chinese: 林惠嘉; pinyin: Lín Huìjiā), a molecular biologist, was the sole breadwinner for the family of four. This arrangement, usually an embarrassment in Taiwanese culture, put enormous pressure on the couple, but with Lin's support and understanding, Lee did not abandon his career in films but continued to generate new ideas from movies and performances. He also wrote several screenplays during this time.
In 1990, Lee submitted two screenplays, Pushing Hands and The Wedding Banquet, to a competition sponsored by the Republic of China's Government Information Office, and they came in first and second respectively. The winning screenplays brought Lee to the attention of Li-Kong Hsu (Chinese: 徐立功; pinyin: Xú Lìgōng), a recently promoted senior manager in a major studio who had strong interests in Lee's unique style and freshness. Hsu, a first-time producer, invited Lee to direct Pushing Hands, a full-length feature that debuted in 1991.
In the 2007 book The Cinema of Ang Lee: The Other Side of the Screen, Whitney Crothers Dilley has analyzed in detail the striking diversity of Lee's films, as well as Lee's recurring themes of alienation, marginalization, and repression. Many of Lee's films, particularly his early Chinese trilogy, have also focused on the interactions between modernity and tradition. Some of his films have also had a light-hearted comic tone which marks a break from the tragic historical realism which characterized Taiwanese filmmaking after the end of the martial law period in 1987. While The Wedding Banquet (1993) became a break-out hit for Lee as the most proportionately profitable film of 1993, it was Sense and Sensibility (1995) that brought Lee his first true international acclaim. Following that, both Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000) (nominated for Academy Award for Best Director) and Brokeback Mountain (2005) (which won the Academy Award for Best Director) became cultural touchstones, sweeping awards ceremonies and, in the case of Brokeback Mountain, sparking intense critical debates. When asked by a TV interviewer how he found his films, Lee is said to have replied: "I don't find my films, my films find me."
Lee's film Brokeback Mountain (2005) won the Golden Lion (best film) award at the Venice International Film Festival and was named 2005's best film by the Los Angeles, New York, Boston, and London film critics. It also won best picture at the 2005 Broadcast Film Critics Association, Directors Guild of America, Writers Guild of America (Adapted Screenplay), Producers Guild of America and the Independent Spirit Awards as well as the Golden Globe Award for Best Motion Picture – Drama, with Lee winning the Golden Globe Award for Best Director. Brokeback also won Best Film and Best Director at the 2006 British Academy Awards (BAFTA). In January 2006, Brokeback scored a leading eight Academy Award nominations including Best Picture and Best Director, which Lee won. He is the first Asian and non-Caucasian director to do so.
In 2007, Lee's film Lust, Caution earned him a second Golden Lion.