Ang Lee was born in 1954 in Taiwan to Chinese parents who originally inhabited China before moving to Taiwan. He received his basic education in Taiwan and further went on to high school in a school in which his father was the principal. Upon completion, he failed the annual joint college-university entry exam twice. This was disappointing to his father who wanted him to become a professor and passing those exams was the only way to guarantee university entrance. And Lee then potent to pursue and education in arts. He went to the Taiwan College of Arts, graduated in 1975, served in the military under the mandatory military service law in China then moved to America to pursue a degree in Theatre Production in Illinois and later a Masters in Film Production in New York. Lee was initially interested in acting, but due to his weakness in speaking and pronouncing English correctly, he opted for a career in directing.
As much as he had landed himself in the land of opportunities he struggled to find a job and ended up spending six years relying on the income of his supportive wife. He did not give up on his dream as he spent this time learning about films and writing scripts. It was not until later on that his pursuit on the film production begin to bear fruit when he was first appointed as an assistant director to another great filmmaker known as Spike Lee in 1983. His first film to appear on the movie scene was known as Pushing Hands in 1992 which was a dramatic comedy film that portrayed culture shock and cultural differences between the West and the East. Consequently, he went on to produce and direct movies like The Wedding Banquet, Eat Drink Man Woman, Sense and Sensibility, The Ice Storm, Ride with the Devil, The Hulk and those that not only gained popularity, but won him great awards like the Oscar in addition to being nominated as the best director in several categories namely Crouching Tiger- Hidden Dragon, Brokeback Mountain and Life of Pi.
Relevance of Ang Lees life To his films
Knowing the history and background of Ang Lee is an important aspect to understanding his movies. In one of the interviews done on him, he states that the way to understanding him is by understanding his films which means that his films depict a lot about his life. Staying jobless for six years proved to be a blessing in disguise. This was an important period because it ushered him to the American culture that he was green to. In his films, there is a lot of portrayal of culture shock and cultural differences between the east and west, in which the audience can assume draws from his personal experience upon living in the United States. He was able to focus his struggle and emotions in form of writing while choosing not to give up on his passion even as his inability to provide brought tension in his marriage and to his life as he grew up knowing it was his responsibility to provide for his family. Most of his initial films were based on exploring individual and cultural conflicts between the modern Western culture and traditional eastern culture an as the years progressed he began to move away from this theme for example in his moves, Taking Woodstock, The Hulk and Life of Pi. The audience can assume that by then Ang Lee has become comfortable in his skin as an American of Chinese origin.
His movies stand out because of his ability to explore hidden human emotions and his insight into the human heart enables him to reach audiences globally. In short, audiences can connect to his message because they relate to the themes portrayed regardless of their place of origin. In order to understand which culture is more important in the interpretation of Ang Lees movies we need to understand the main features of a good film and how he portrays both American and Chinese cultures in his movies.
Universal features of movies
A movie can be defined as a recorded sequence of video images meant to narrate a story or event. For a film to be able to successfully narrate a story, it has to have certain features: a story line, intended audience, and a clear visual picture. For this reason elements like a films setting, actors involved, themes expressed, the language used and portrayal of the intended emotions are very vital in any movie. Ang Lees movies are successful because they combine these elements in the production.
Most movies are either based on real life situation or fiction. Some of the themes carried out in movies include family, love and romance, power, enmity, religion, cultural practices and beliefs, humor and politics among several others. Most movies use a number of themes combined for effective story telling as the clarity in most of them are dependent on other themes. It is evident that most of them are included in the daily human being functioning therefore making movies more or less a visual motion of the narration of everyday life and Ang Lee resonated with this by speaking about his life in his movies.
Understanding Ang Lee from Chinese Perspective
Chinese movies are heavily based on themes like power, loyalty, loss, family, romance and Chinese culture. Most are produced in their countries and can be distinguished by their incorporation of martial arts and the use of Chinese language but with translated subtitles for other audiences. Movies that Ang Lee did that are in line with this theme include Crouching Tiger- Hidden Dragon, Siao Yu and the Hands of Shang-Chi. The most popular one among these and the movie that earned him awards was Crouching Tiger- Hidden Dragon.
Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon (2000)
The title of this movie is drawn from a Chinese saying that explains on how to hide strength from the world. The movie is centered on a sword known as Green Destiny and has been in existence for 400 years. Green in this movie represents the mystery of his female lead star in the movie. The Green Destiny gets stolen by Yu Jiao Long who presents two characters in the film; one is that of a shy, humble girl in her fathers home and the second one is that of an arrogant, aggressive and angry woman. The sword is stolen from Li a great warrior who wanted to gift a friend with the sword only to discover its loss. Li also received the sword from Li Mu Ba, another great warrior who embarks on a mission to retrieve the lost sword. Li and Liu pursue the sword thief only to realize it was stolen by a mysterious, beautiful woman on a journey to revenge her mothers death. This is a tale of courage, loyalty, loss, romance and the love of family which are important aspects of Chinese culture.
This movie needs the perception of Chinese culture to understand it. The name of the movie, names of actors, storyline presented, and the language used for the film all need the perception of the Chinese culture. It is heavily set on Chinese traditions and employs the use of martial arts heavily. Although the story line is clear and the Chinese language translated, aspects like the meaning and relevance of the sword and the title of the movie, which are important in carrying the message of the movie need further understanding of Chinese culture. Nevertheless, this movie is suitable for the American people as it gives insight to the Chinese culture.
Understanding Ang Lee from an American perspective
The United Sates is said to be the most advanced, most experienced and most versatile continent in the film industry. This is due to their level of technological advancement and the embracement of filmmaking as an important factor in the entertainment industry as well as a source of livelihood. America is also associated with having a culture that is more flexible and accommodative of different practices and views. Ang Lee attempts to include this in some of his films. When it comes to genres of films, Americans got it all ranging from action to drama, fiction, sci-fi, comedy, romance, thriller, horror, epic and animation movies. However, all these genres still encompass the basic themes found in all movies due as they also narrate human life experiences. Ang Lee has been able to tap into the Hollywood market and write films resonating with the American culture like Brokeback Mountain, Hulk, and Taking Woodstock.
Broke Back Mountain (2005)
This is a movie set in the mountains of Wyoming. It involves the story of two young men Jack and Elis, who find themselves working together in a ranch hired by the ranch owner. They quickly become friends, and their friendship evolves into an unusual bond in which none were aware of until a passionate encounter they had. This was a confusing experience for them, especially Ennis, who was already engaged to be married. At the end of summer, they part ways and continue with life as normal by settling down with women and having children. They meet years later rekindling their feelings for one another and from then the story portrays their struggle of longing to be together but living in fear of the public gaining knowledge of their queer ways. In the end, the two end up separate as Jack passes on in an accident.
The setting of this film is in the United States, which gives a sense of belonging to the Americans. It is also focused on a cowboy lifestyle that is identifiable to cowboys living in America. Ang Lee chooses to bring out a controversial yet a relevant theme of homosexuality and the stigmatization surrounding it. This resounds with the accommodative nature of American culture in which, although people are not yet fully accepting of gays in the society at that time it was an issue that could be highlighted in movies without discrimination as compared to other rigid cultures like the Chinese ones. There are higher chances of an American responding positively to sympathizing with the actors in the movie as opposed to shunning them in comparison to a Chinese audience in which speaking, let alone undertaking in any act of homosexuality is considered a taboo.
The Hulk Movies (2003, 2008)
These are movies based on a fictional and partly sci-fi genre. In this movie, Bruce gets involved in an accident in a laboratory that turns him into a different species when he gets angry. This is fictional as there is no existence of such chemicals and proof of such an effect on an individual. To make the story relevant Ang Lee encompasses the themes of love, friendship and family by creating a villain and having the audience sympathize with the villain. For example, Bruce, who gets angry and hurt upon realization of who his true father was and romance in that there is only one woman named Betty who can keep him calm.
Understanding this movie needs the comprehension of American culture. This is because the movie was produced in the United States and the use of technological advancement, superpower creation and the type of action involved, for example, the use of complex machinery and the national army intervention are conversant with the American culture. Action in Chinese culture comprises mainly of swords and bare marital arts.
Understanding Ang Lee from a mixed-culture perspective
Being born and living in two extremely different cultures is one of the reasons that contributed to Ang Lees success in the film industry. His transition from one culture to the other was so intense that he chose to write stories about the mixture of both cultures. Some of the movies under this category include The Wedding Banquet, Eat Drink Man Woman, and Pushing Hands.
These films will be reviewed as one because they all reflect the same message of the struggle of assimilation into the western culture. There is a lot of humor involved as the main characters struggle to fit in and are awed by each others culture. Understanding more than one culture may be a daunting task, but these films are relevant to...
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