Lee, Ang


Lee, Ang
▪ 1999

      During 1998 Taiwanese-born film director Ang Lee, the creative hand behind such masterfully made films as Sense and Sensibility (1995) and The Ice Storm (1997), surprised many by choosing to direct a Civil War-era western, To Live On, and a war drama, The Berlin Diaries. Moviegoers, however, were coming to expect the unexpected from his films. Aspiring to make each movie different from the last, Lee moved effortlessly through various genres, time periods, and cultures in the transition from his early Chinese films to major English-language productions.

      Lee was born on Oct. 23, 1954, in P'ing-tung county, Taiwan. After high school he enrolled in the Taiwan Academy of Art, where he became interested in acting. In 1978 he moved to the United States to study theatre at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and cinema at New York University, where his master's project, Fine Line, received best film and best director awards. After graduating in 1984, Lee spent the next six years unsuccessfully pitching ideas to Hollywood studio executives. Frustrated and depressed by the stagnancy of his film career in the U.S., he entered two scripts in a Taiwanese screenplay contest and placed first and second. This honour inspired two independent film production companies to fund and produce his movies.

      His first three features, which he co-wrote and directed, were comedies that poignantly examined intergenerational conflicts in Chinese families: Tui Shou (1992; Pushing Hands), Hsi Yen (1993; The Wedding Banquet), and Yinshi nan nu (1994; Eat Drink Man Woman). Looking back, he jokingly referred to these movies as his "father knows best" trilogy, in which the characters "find a new energy in life" in the confrontation between tradition (represented by the father) and personal freedom. As Lee explained, this emphasis on family drama, which also dominated his next two films, reflected his role as a cultural observer: "Seeing how a family changes has made me sensitive to how life and society and values change."

      After earning international acclaim for The Wedding Banquet and Eat Drink Man Woman, Lee was chosen to direct a screen adaptation of the Jane Austen novel Sense and Sensibility. This film marked a turning point in his career, with Lee proving that he could handle a British period piece. Despite his admittedly clumsy English, Lee worked with the actors—sometimes even employing t'ai chi chuan exercises—to evoke poignant performances, a hallmark of his directorial style. The movie was a stunning success, garnering seven Oscar nominations.

      Having shied away from Hollywood for years because of his first negative experience there, Lee finally returned to make his next film, The Ice Storm, a tragic drama set in the 1970s about two spiritually empty upper-middle-class American families. This artfully made film dispelled any fear that Hollywood would stamp out his individual touch. It also held the promise that, as Lee's career progressed, he would inhabit the world of Hollywood corporate moviemaking while maintaining the creative freedom of the independent film movement.

AFRODITE MANTZAVRAKOS

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▪ film director
born Oct. 23, 1954, P'ing-tung county, Taiwan
 
 Taiwan-born film director who transitioned from directing Chinese films to major English-language productions.

      After high school Lee enrolled in the Taiwan Academy of Art, where he became interested in acting. In 1978 he moved to the United States to study theatre at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and cinema at New York University, where his master's project, Fine Line, received best film and best director awards. After graduating in 1984, Lee spent the next six years unsuccessfully pitching ideas to Hollywood studio executives. Frustrated and depressed by the stagnancy of his film career in the United States, he entered two scripts in a screenplay contest in Taiwan (Republic of China) and placed first and second. This honour inspired two independent film production companies to fund and produce his movies.

      Lee's first three features, which he cowrote and directed, were comedies that poignantly examined intergenerational conflicts in Chinese families: Tui Shou (1992; Pushing Hands), Hsi Yen (1993; The Wedding Banquet), and Yinshi nan nu (1994; Eat Drink Man Woman). After earning international acclaim for the latter two movies, Lee was chosen to direct a screen adaptation of the Jane Austen (Austen, Jane) novel Sense and Sensibility (1995). The film—which starred Emma Thompson (Thompson, Emma), Kate Winslet, and Hugh Grant (Grant, Hugh)—marked a turning point in his career, with Lee proving that he could handle a British period piece. Despite his admittedly clumsy English, Lee worked with the actors—sometimes even employing t'ai chi chuan exercises—to evoke poignant performances, a hallmark of his directorial style. The movie was a success, garnering seven Oscar nominations.

      Lee returned to Hollywood to make his next film, The Ice Storm (1997), a tragic drama set in the 1970s about two spiritually empty upper-middle-class American families. In 2000 Lee directed Wo hu cang long (Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon), for which he received his first Academy Award nomination. The lavish film, which featured spectacular scenes of martial arts, became the highest-grossing foreign-language film released in the United States. Expanding his repertoire, Lee made the live-action thriller The Hulk (2003), transforming the comic-book story into an intelligent investigation of character and identity. In 2005 he directed Brokeback Mountain, a Western that centred on two cowboys (played by Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal) who fall in love. The film was critically acclaimed, and Lee earned an Oscar for best director. His later movies include Se, jie (2007; Lust, Caution).

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Universalium. 2010.

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