Ang Lee Ang Lee: Tone Poet or Hitmeister?

hose who know Ang Lee as the Oscar-nominated director of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000), which won an Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film, are surprised to learn that he had built a golden reputation on fussed-over social satires of gay life (The Wedding Banquet, 1993), food and family life (Eat Drink Man Woman, 1994), Victorian love (Sense and Sensibility, 1996), Watergate-era suburban mores (The Ice Storm, 1997), and a Civil War drama (Ride with the Devil, 1999).

     A resume like that might damn Lee as an artiste who lucked into a box office hit. Hardly. He and writing partner James Schamus adapted CTHD from a segment of a Chinese pulp serial novel, the kind read by the pimply nose-pickers who also buy lots of movie tickets. Lee wanted Jet Li in the lead in hopes of tapping the kung-fu craze. Li said no, forcing Lee to settle for Chow Yun-Fat, scale back the fight scenes, add some romance and brace for arthouse hell.

     Any doubt about Ang Lee's blockbuster aspirations will disappear by the summer of 2003 when Universal releases his next directorial gig -- a big-bucks adaptation of the Hulk, a Marvel Comics hero with emotional and dermatological issues. The big green guy should make Lee a big green guy as well. Whether Lee's status as a tone poet will survive the adventure will depend on how much shading he can pile on the movie without burying its kiddie appeal. And this time he won't have the appeal of the kung-fu genre to provide covering fire.

     Ang Lee was born in Taiwan in 1954. His father was the principal of his highly-ranked high school and wasn't happy when Ang failed the college boards and decided to go to Taipei to study theater and cinema at the Academy of Arts. He graduated in 1976. By 1978 he was married to a medical researcher willing to support him while he earned a B.A. in drama at the University of Illinois. He then went to NYU to earn a masters in film directing. For the next six years he became a househusband awaiting a filmmaking break. He failed to get hired or financed but did become a first-rate chef and an excellent housekeeper. Seeing a $26 balance on the family checking account one day compelled Lee to change his tack. Drawing on his personal experiences during those bleak years, he wrote two screenplays and submitted them to a Taiwanese government-sponsored screenwriting competition. His entries took first and second prizes.

     Fortified with $16,000 in prize money and about $400,000 in financing, Lee made Pushing Hands, the story of an ageing taoist master withering in New York. It was good enough to be screened at the 1992 Berlin Film Festival but failed to find distribution outside Taiwan. His second-prize screenplay, The Wedding Banquet, translated into a film that won both critical acclaim and international arthouse success. It made Lee's reputation as a director, winning him financing for Eat Drink Man Woman and a surprise offer from Emma Thompson to direct her adaptation of Sense and Sensibility. That was in 1994, the same year Lee and Schamus began sketching the kung-fu flick that would evolve, six years later, into Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.

     Is Ang Lee a tone poet with enormous range or a major hitmeister in the making?



[This page is closed to new input. Vote and continue this and related discussions at the new Interactive Area. --Ed.]
I thought The Wedding Banquet & Eat Drink Man Woman were great! And I'm a guy too. CTHD seemed an over-rated typical expansive "big scenic" pic to me. So far, I don't think anyone has surpassed Bruce Lee in the martial arts genre in terms of really electrifying the screen. A good martial arts flick is like a porno - the actors and action are FAR more important than the plot.

I haven't seen his other flix.
My $.02
   Wednesday, January 29, 2003 at 14:30:19 (PST)    []
I believe Ang Lee is a great ingenius artist. Not just a great Asian artist, but just a great artist period! Crouching Tiger and Hidden Dragon was just brilliant and unique. The script and the dialogue in that movie was quite unique and peculiar and could have easily come off wierd and corny. But Ang Lee managed this film in a way that could not be duplicated by anyone else. I'm an aspiring filmmaker and instead of showing jealousy and envy I have to tip my hat off to the guy for doing something I could never accomplish. As a filmmaker I could never make that movie move the way he did.
   Tuesday, December 17, 2002 at 03:54:23 (PST)    []

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Until Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon, I never even heard of Ang Lee. That movie made him pretty famous to the people who enjoyed the film. His main mistakes in that movie were the fantasy flying and the philisophical convoluted plot which seems to be based on historical isnt.

I think that movie was quite good simply because the cast was all female and the male role died. Women in sword fights is pretty damn interesting. Zhang Ziyi got her big break in American tastes and we actually know who Michelle Yao is. Ang did a good job with the sound effects of the sword fights and the use of weapons like Mortal Kombat.

I didnt know he was directing the Hulk but I sure hope he doesnt screw it all up. Ill be back here if he does to write a hate-rant
Metal Deer Solid
   Monday, December 09, 2002 at 07:11:38 (PST)
Ang Lee will probably make Rick Jones (The Hulk's sidekick) into Rick Jong... I can live with that.
Comix AA Fan
   Thursday, June 13, 2002 at 07:24:39 (PDT)
Doesn't really matter who directs this film. It's the freakin Hulk. Hulk Angry! Hulk Smash! You can't get that kind of pathos from most films. I intend to watch this whether it sucks as a film or not. Note: I saw a terrible version of the Fantastic Four and Captain America and a somewhat bearable Punisher. Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm off to the bathroom with my issue of Wonder Woman. Grrrr.
hurt me
   Monday, June 03, 2002 at 20:15:58 (PDT)
When I first heard that Ang Lee was directing the Hulk, I was like, "oh, lord, he's gonna make it all artsy and slow-paced." But it took me some time to realize that the whole story of the Incredible Hulk is about emotions in general, and how they can get you in trouble, particularly if they're manifested into a huge ass green monster. The Ice Storm and CTHD were both excellent works (I'm one of those cliche black dudes that are into anything about martial arts, so I was already sold on it...LOL), and this will be a very interesting look at Lee's take on a pop culture icon.
   Tuesday, May 28, 2002 at 10:42:44 (PDT)
Unlike John Woo's, Lee's movies have Asian characters in them. He does a lot of great movies and breaks the typical mode of cowering to Joy-Luck-Club crap.

   Monday, May 27, 2002 at 23:06:21 (PDT)
Aww guys, cut him some slack, he's just expanding his horizons, or would you rather have him doing the same damn thing over and over again? I am glad he is not pigeonholing himself like a lot of directors. Even if you don't like his films, give him credit for doing movies about different cultures besides his. Take a look at the brothers who did "From Hell", earlier on they did "Menace to Society". Anyway, I personally am going to watch The Incredible Hulk. :-)
Catherine Holt    Saturday, May 25, 2002 at 18:14:50 (PDT)


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