Ang Lee, 2009
|Pinyin||Lǐ Ān (Mandarin)|
October 23, 1954 |
Chaochou, Pingtung, Taiwan
|Years active||1990 – present|
|Spouse(s)||Jane Lin (林惠嘉, 1983–)|
|Children||Haan Lee (b. 1984)
Mason Lee (b. 1990)
Ang Lee (Chinese: 李安; pinyin: Lǐ Ān; born October 23, 1954) is a Taiwanese-born American film director, screenwriter and producer.12 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, and Hulk (2003). He has won the Academy Award for Best Director twice, first for Brokeback Mountain (2005) and most recently for Life of Pi (2012).3 He is the first person of Asian descent to win an Oscar, Golden Globe and BAFTA for Best Director, and the only director to win two Best Film Awards (Golden Bear) at the Berlin International Film Festival.
Ang Lee was born in the town of Chaochou in Pingtung,5 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.6
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. Here, Lee met his future wife Jane Lin (Chinese: 林惠嘉; pinyin: Lín Huìjiā), also a Taiwanese student, who pursued her Ph.D. degree at UIUC. Thereupon, he enrolled at the Tisch School of the Arts of New York University, where he received his MFA in Film Production. 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.
Lee's NYU 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, a molecular biologist, was the sole breadwinner for the family of four. This arrangement, usually an embarrassment in most societies, 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.citation needed
In 1990, Lee submitted two screenplays, Pushing Hands and The Wedding Banquet, to a competition sponsored by Taiwan'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: Hsu 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.7 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.
Pushing Hands (1992) was a success in Taiwan both among critics and at the box office. It received eight nominations in the Golden Horse Film Festival, Taiwan's premier film festival. Inspired by the success, Li-Kong Hsu collaborated with Lee in their second film, The Wedding Banquet (1993), which won the Golden Bear at the 43rd Berlin International Film Festival8 and was nominated as the Best Foreign Language Film in both the Golden Globe and the Academy Awards. In all, this film collected eleven Taiwanese and international awards and made Lee a rising star. These first two movies were based on stories of Chinese Americans, and both were filmed in the US.
In 1995, Hsu invited Lee to return to Taiwan to make Eat Drink Man Woman, a film that depicts traditional values, modern relationships, and family conflicts in Taipei. The film was a box office hit and was critically acclaimed. For a second consecutive year, Lee's film received the Best Foreign Language Film nomination in both the Golden Globe and Academy Awards, as well as in the British Academy Award. Eat Drink Man Woman won five awards in Taiwan and internationally, including the Best Director from Independent Spirit.
Lee's three acclaimed first dramas opened the door to Hollywood for him. In 1995, Lee directed Columbia TriStar's British classic Sense and Sensibility. The switch from Taiwanese to British films did not prevent Lee's work from garnering awards: Sense and Sensibility made Lee a second-time winner of the Golden Bear at the Berlin Film Festival. It was nominated for 7 Academy Awards, and won Best Adapted Screenplay for screenwriter Emma Thompson, who also starred in the movie alongside Hugh Grant and Kate Winslet. Sense and Sensibility also won the Golden Globe Award for Best Motion Picture - Drama.
After this, Lee directed two more Hollywood movies: The Ice Storm (1997), a drama set in 1970s suburban America, and Ride with the Devil, an American Civil War drama (1999). Although the critics still highly praised these latter two films, their box office was not impressive, and for a time this interrupted Lee's unbroken popularity – from both general audiences and arthouse aficionados – since his first full-length movie. However, in the late 1990s and 2000s, The Ice Storm has had high VHS and DVD sales and rentals and repeated screenings on cable television, which has increased the film's popularity among audiences.
In 1999, Li-Kong Hsu, Lee's old partner and supporter, invited him to make a movie based on the traditional Chinese “wuxia” (martial arts and chivalry) genre. Excited about the opportunity to fulfill his childhood dream, Lee assembled a team from Taiwan, Hong Kong, Malaysia and Mainland China for Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000). The film was a surprising success worldwide. With Chinese dialogue and English subtitles, the film became the highest grossing foreign film in many countries, including the United States and the United Kingdom, and was nominated in 10 categories at the Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Foreign Language Film, and Best Director. It ended up winning Best Foreign Language Film and three technical awards. The success of Crouching Tiger demonstrated that Lee's artistry had a general appeal; it also inspired such established directors as Zhang Yimou and Chen Kaige to explore wuxia films for Western audiences.
In 2003, Lee returned to Hollywood to direct Hulk, his second big-budget movie after the disappointment of Ride with the Devil's restricted release. The film received mixed reviews and became a moderate success, grossing over $245 million at the box office. After the setback, Lee considered retiring early, but his father encouraged him to continue making movies.
Lee decided to take on a small-budget, low-profile independent film based on Annie Proulx's Pulitzer Prize-finalist short story, Brokeback Mountain. In a 2005 articledead link by Robert K. Elder, Lee was quoted as saying, "What do I know about gay ranch hands in Wyoming?" In spite of the director's removal from the subject at hand, Brokeback Mountain showcased Lee's skills in probing the depths of the human heart. The 2005 movie about the forbidden love between two Wyoming sheepherders immediately caught public attention and became a cultural phenomenon, initiating intense debates and becoming a box office hit.
The film was critically acclaimed at major international film festivals and won Lee numerous Best Director and Best Picture awards worldwide. Brokeback Mountain was the most acclaimed film of 2005, winning 71 awards and an additional 52 nominations. It was declared Best Picture by such organizations as the New York Film Critics Circle, the Los Angeles Film Critics Association, the Golden Globes, the BAFTAs, the Independent Spirit Awards, the 2005 Biennale Venice Film Festival, and the Producers Guild of America. Ang Lee also received his second Best Director award from the Directors Guild of America. Brokeback Mountain was nominated for a leading eight Oscars and was the front runner for Best Picture heading into the March 5 ceremony, but lost out to Crash, a story about race relations in Los Angeles, in a controversial upset. He became the first person of Asian heritage and the first non-white to ever win the Best Director at the Academy Awards. In 2006, following his Best Director Oscar, Ang Lee was bestowed the Order of Brilliant Star with Grand Cordon, the second highest civilian honour, by the Taiwanese government.10
After Brokeback Mountain, Lee returned to a Chinese topic. His next film was Lust, Caution, which was adapted from a short novel by the Chinese author Eileen Chang. The story was written in 1950, and was loosely based on an actual event that took place in 1939–1940 in Japanese-occupied Shanghai, China, during World War II. Similar to Brokeback Mountain, Ang Lee adapted and expanded a short, simple story into a feature film in a way that allows individual figures to develop sophisticated layers of reserved emotions, without being sidetracked by complicated plots or overstuffed material.
Lust, Caution is distributed by Focus Features and premiered at international film festivals in the summer and early fall of 2007. In the US, the movie received a NC-17 rating (no one 17 and under admitted) from the MPAA mainly due to several strongly explicit sex scenes. This was a challenge to the film's distribution because many theater chains in the United States refuse to show NC-17 films. The director and film studio have decided not to appeal the decision. In order to be permitted to show Lust, Caution in mainland China, however, Lee removed 9 minutes from the film to make the content suitable for minor audiences.11
Lust, Caution captured the Golden Lion from the 2007 Biennale Venice Film Festival, making Lee the winner of the highest prize for the second time in three years. When Lust, Caution was played in Lee's native Taiwan in its original full-length edition, it was very well received. Staying in Taiwan to promote the film and to participate in a traditional Chinese holiday, Lee got emotional when he found that his work was widely applauded by fellow Taiwanese. Lee admitted that he had low expectations for this film from the U.S. audience since "its pace, its film language – it's all very Chinese."12
The story was a retrospective first-person narrative from Pi, a then 16-year-old boy from India, who is the only human to survive the sinking of a freighter on the way from India to Canada. He finds himself on a lifeboat with an orangutan, a hyena, a wounded zebra and a Bengal tiger.14 During this unlikely journey, young Pi questions and reassures his belief in God and the meaning of life. The novel was once considered impossible to make into a movie, but Lee persuaded 20th Century Fox to invest $120 million and heavily relied on 3D special effects in post-production. Unlike most other sci-fi precedents, Lee explores the artistic horizon of applying 3D effects and pushes the boundary of how this technology can serve the movie's artistic vision. The movie made its commercial premiere during the Thanksgiving weekend of 2012 in the U.S. and worldwide and became a highly critical and box office success. In January 2013, Life of Pi earned 11 Academy Award nominations, including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Visual Effects; only one fewer than Steven Spielberg's Lincoln.15 He went on to win the Academy Award for Best Director.
There was a 500-person demonstration by the visual effects community at the Oscars ceremony in Los Angeles precipitated by the financial troubles at Rhythm & Hues, the company behind many of the visual effects in Life of Pi.1617 Lee was heavily criticized by the community for not acknowledging their work in the effects-laden film in his acceptance speech (when he seemed to thank just about everyone else)16 and for earlier complaining about the costs of visual effects.1617
|Year||Title||James Schamus||Tim Squyres|
|1993||The Wedding Banquet||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|1994||Eat Drink Man Woman||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|1995||Sense and Sensibility||Yes||Yes|
|1997||The Ice Storm||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|1999||Ride with the Devil||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|2000||Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|2012||Life of Pi||Yes|
In March 2013, it was announced that Lee will direct a television pilot for the drama series Tyrant, created by Gideon Raff and developed by Howard Gordon and Craig Wright. Production will take place Summer 2013 for the FX series.20
Lee lives in Larchmont, in Westchester County, New York, with his wife Jane Lin, a microbiologist, whom he married in 1983. They have two sons, Haan (born 1984), and Mason (born 1990).21 Lee is a naturalized U.S. citizen222324 and a Buddhist.25
Lee has been involved in the process of filmmaking in various capacities, though the highlight of his career and legacy is his directorial work. The following are Lee's various credits.
|1993||The Wedding Banquet||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|1994||Eat Drink Man Woman||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|1995||Sense and Sensibility||Yes|
|1997||The Ice Storm||Yes|
|1999||Ride with the Devil||Yes|
|2000||Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon||Yes||Yes|
|2012||Life of Pi||Yes||Yes|
Below is Ang Lee's films' major nominations and awards.
|Year||Film||Academy Award nominations||Academy Award wins||BAFTA nominations||BAFTA wins||Golden Globe nominations||Golden Globe wins|
|1993||The Wedding Banquet||1||1|
|1994||Eat Drink Man Woman||1||1||1|
|1995||Sense and Sensibility||7||1||12||3||6||2|
|1997||The Ice Storm||2||1||1|
|1999||Ride with the Devil|
|2000||Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon||10||4||14||4||3||2|
|2012||Life of Pi||11||4||9||2||3||1|
- "'Life of Pi's Ang Lee Conquers Anti-Asian Bias". Voice of America. 2013-02-20. "Like many Asian-Americans in Hollywood's film industry, Taiwanese-born American film director Ang Lee struggled for acceptance early in his career."
- Corliss, Richard (2012-11-20). "Ang Lee’s Life of Pi: Storm and Fang, Water and Wonder". Time. "The Taiwan-born American director mastered the nuances of 19th-century English manners in Sense and Sensibility, set martial-artist adversaries to dancing on tree tops in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and sold the mainstream audience on the love story of two cowboys in Brokeback Mountain."
- Ebert, Roger (2005-12-11). "Lonesome love". Chicago Sun-Times.
- Ho Yi. Family and friends praise Ang Lee's quiet dedication. Taipei Times. March 7, 2006.
- Interview from Studio 360
- "Melancholic nostalgia pervades life in front of Ang Lee's lens". Taipei Times. December 16, 2007.
- "Berlinale: 1993 Prize Winners". berlinale.de. Retrieved June 7, 2011.
- Wei Ming Dariotis, Eileen Fung, "Breaking the Soy Sauce Jar: Diaspora and Displacement in the Films of Ang Lee," in Hsiao-peng Lu, ed., Transnational Chinese Cinemas: Identity, Nationhood, Gender (Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1997), p. 242.
- "Presidential Office mulling honor for Ang Lee". Focus Taiwan News Channel. February 23, 2013.
- AFP (September 11, 2007). "Ang Lee bows to China and self-censors award-winning film". Yahoo! News.
- Min Lee, Associated Press (September 23, 2007). "Ang Lee: Don't expect much from 'Lust, Caution'". USA Today.
- "Ang Lee to head Venice festival". BBC News. February 27, 2009. Archived from the original on February 27 2009. Retrieved February 27, 2009.
- "Life of Pi". ComingSoon.net. Retrieved June 2, 2011.
- "Life of pi succession".
- . The Guardian http://www.guardian.co.uk/film/2013/feb/26/ang-lee-visual-effects-life-of-pi. Text "Ang Lee under fire from visual effects artists over Life of Pi speech" ignored (help); Missing or empty
- "Oscars 2013: VFX Artists Blast 'Disgraceful' TV Moments". The Hollywood Reporter.
- Saperstein, Pat (23 April 2013). "Nicole Kidman, Christopher Waltz, Ang Lee Among Cannes Jury Members". Variety. Reed Business Information. Retrieved 23 April 2013.
- Kondolojy, Amanda (March 14, 2013). "Ang Lee to Direct FX Drama Pilot 'Tyrant'". FX press release. TV by the Numbers. Retrieved March 14, 2013.
- Frey, Jennifer (November 25, 2007). "A Chicken Coop, but No Tigers". The New York Times. Retrieved April 25, 2010.
- Frater, Patrick (October 4, 2007). "Taiwan breaking the arthouse mold". Variety.
- Abramowitz, Rachel (Aug. 27, 2009). "Ang Lee, hippie?". Los Angeles Times.
- "Ang Lee 'very satisfied' new film shown in entirety". The China Post.
- Dilley, Whitney Crothers. The Cinema of Ang Lee: The Other Side of the Screen. London: Wallflower Press, 2007.
- "Taking Stock of 'Taking Woodstock'" Rushprnews October 5, 2008
- "Ang Lee's movie has a backstory of pure serendipity" by Dan Bloom, Taipei Times. October 11, 2008
- Cheshire, Ellen. Ang Lee. London: Pocket Essentials, 2001.
- Senses of Cinema: Great Directors Critical Database
- Ang Lee 64th Venice Film Festival press conference
- DGA Quarterly interview
- Ang Lee: A Life in Pictures at BAFTA
- A Never-Ending Dream - A short essay by Ang Lee on his road to success
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