“I trust the elusive world created by movies more than anything else” – Ang Lee
Born in Taiwan after his family fled China’s civil war Lee originally aspiring to be an actor after seeing Ingmar Bergman’s The Virgin Spring he came to the US in 1979 were he completed his bachelor’s degree in theatre the following year. However finding acting difficult due to his issues with speaking English so made the move to directing.
Studying for his MFA in film production in New York alongside Spike Lee whose thesis Joe’s Bed-stuy Barbershop: We Cut Heads Lee worked on while his own thesis the 43-minute drama Fine Line (1984) won him the NYU’s Wasserman Award for Outstanding Direction. However despite his early success it would be another six years before Lee finally broke into the industry after winning first and second in a screenplay competition which caught the attention of Hsu Li-kong who saw a freshness in lee’s unique style inviting him to direct his debut film Pushing Hands which ended up being released as his third film in the US after the success of The Wedding Banquet which would be the first Chinese film to address the subject of homosexuality and Eat Drink Man Woman which completed his Father Knows Best trilogy.
After this early success of his first three films the attention they brought to his work soon saw him transitioning effortlessly into the Hollywood studio system Lee moved away from writing to focus on directing working mainly with producer and writer James Schamus who along with editor Tim Squyres has worked on the majority of his films even joining him on his occasional returns to Asian cinema with the critically acclaimed Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon and the erotic espionage period thriller Lust, Caution
Unlike many directors who find a genre / style of film they find most appealing Ang Lee is a director who seemingly is able to adapt himself to any type of film from social satires and period dramas to comic book and Wuxia movies demonstrating a rare versatility as a director as there is seemingly no genre that Lee is not willing to turn his hand to all while maintaining a highly visual style which has only developed with each film, while he has continued to find ways to find to explore the themes of family, repression, duty and most key thwarted love and desire.
Pushing Hands (1991)
The Wedding Banquet (1993)
Eat Drink Man Woman (1994)
Sense and Sensibility (1995)
The Ice Storm (1997)
Ride With The Devil (1999)
Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000)
Brokeback Mountain (2005)
Lust, Caution (2007)
Taking Woodstock (2009)
Life of Pi (2012)
Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk (2016)
Gemini Man (2019)
- Cultural Taboos – Never one to shy away from controversy in his films Lee has often focused on characters facing dilemas over their actions and choice going over what is considered expectable in particular homosexuality wether it be the son hiding his true self from his parents like we see in The Wedding Banquet or the homosexual awakening between two shepherds in Brokeback Mountain both films released when gay rights were still fighting to have the same recognition as heterosexual relationships.
- Dysfunctional Families – Family life in Lee’s films is rarely portrayed without issues lying under the surface, even when dealing with the comic book adaptation of The Incredible Hulk in Hulk Bruce Banner’s family is not without it’s issues while for The Ice Storm it’s the dysfunction of two neighbouring families which form the catylist for the plot.
- Changing Times – While traditions and opinions might seem set in stone Lee’s films will often show these ideas being challenged or characters journey facing a crossroad in their lives as they are forced to adapt to the times.
- Cultural Clashes – Seen especially with his early films the traditions of the East and West are often shown as being in conflict with each other with characters often being forced to choose between their current past and honouring the traditions of their culture.