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[PROFILE] Ang Lee - Filmmaker Just Published His New Book

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  • madchinaman
    Revealing the real Ang Lee In his recently published autobiography, the director talks about struggling to make it, his insecurities, and the new challenges
    Message 1 of 1 , Jan 2 1:22 AM
      Revealing the real Ang Lee
      In his recently published autobiography, the director talks about
      struggling to make it, his insecurities, and the new challenges ahead
      By Yu Sen-lun
      STAFF REPORTER
      Sunday, Dec 29, 2002,Page 18
      http://www.taipeitimes.com/News/feat/archives/2002/12/29/189068


      I can handle movie-making, but I cannot handle reality. In the world
      of reality, I am always an outsider.
      -- Ang Lee


      In the last few months, most Taiwanese filmmakers have been
      celebrating and looking back on two decades of the Taiwanese New
      Wave, with frequent retrospective screenings and discussions of
      Edward Yang's and Hou Hsiao-hsien's films taking place in Taiwan and
      abroad. At the same time, another Taiwanese filmmaker has also been
      looking back on his own filmmaking career. Ang Lee, equally famous
      and a recent Oscar recipient, established his career 10 years after
      his New Wave predecessors. Last month he quietly published his
      autobiography, the Chinese title of which roughly translates as A
      Decade of Cinematic Dreams (¤Q¦~¤@ı¹q¼v¹Ú).

      As Lee is currently working on the post-production phase of his
      latest Hollywood film, The Hulk, there has been little time for him
      to promote the book. But he still managed to create a stir during
      his one-day visit to Taipei in November, where fans waiting for him
      to sign copies of his book packed the conference room at SPOT --
      Taipei Film House. The 480-page book quickly sold over 10,000
      copies, prompting Hou Hsiao-hsien, the owner of Taipei Film House,
      to quip that he should consider writing an autobiography himself.

      For the first time, the mild-tempered director with a bashful smile
      reveals behind-the-scene stories about his movie dreams. How did an
      obedient student and Mr. Nice Guy who grew up in a traditional
      Chinese intellectual family, come to create such various and complex
      stories on screen? How did Ang Lee spend the six long years as
      a "house husband," just to develop scripts and wait for filmmaking
      opportunities? What are his hidden sorrows and what dreams of his
      have yet to be fulfilled after seven films (four in Chinese
      language, three in English)?

      "In Taiwan, I'm a mainlander. In the US I'm a Chinese and in China I
      have to use a Taiwan compatriot's travel document. The problem of
      identity and where are we going is always a question and [source of]
      confusion for me and many Chinese people," Lee writes in his book.

      Growing up in Tainan, studying film and then making his first
      feature film in the US, Ang Lee's career has taken a very different
      route from those of other Taiwanese filmmakers. This is one of the
      reasons why Lee's filmmaking style differs so much from other
      Taiwanese filmmakers.

      Lee was among the first to confront the question of cultural
      identity, the complexity of which and the anxiety it causes he
      explores in his first film Pushing Hands (±À¤â, 1991), a story about
      an aging tai chi master who finds himself trapped in a foreign land
      with his sons's family and American wife.

      The movie was made in 1991, when the Taiwanese New Wave -- with its
      realism, social criticism and poetic nostalgia for Taiwan's history -
      - was still on the ascent. "When most filmmakers in Taiwan were
      making avant-garde art-house movies, I made a traditional Chinese
      family drama," Lee says in his book.

      A Decade of Cinematic Dreams was ghost-written by senior journalist
      Chang Ching-pei (±iè°»_) after three two-hour-plus interviews with
      Lee in New York, Los Angeles and Taipei. "I asked him questions
      endlessly, and he poured out his words endlessly in response. He
      talked so much that he surprised himself," Chang said.

      "When I was asked by Chang to do this book, I thought that, since
      everything about me was already in my movies, there was no need
      write a book," Lee says in his book.

      "I'm not a good student. I'm the son of a high school principal. I
      got married at age 30 and [we] had children, and then I began
      raising the kids and taking care of the cooking while my wife worked
      to support the family. This kind of life might be too boring to
      write about," Lee added at his book-signing ceremony.

      "But now that the book is finished, I feel [writing it] was
      therapeutic for me. I'm very thankful to Chang for helping me look
      back at myself and talk about things I usually tend to avoid or
      deliberately forget, things like national sentiments, cultural
      identity and my struggle with masculinity," Lee said.

      In February of 1985 Lee had finished his studies at New York
      University film school and was heading back home. "One night before
      my luggage was to be shipped, my graduation film Fine Line won the
      Best Film and Best Director awards at the NYU film festival. Agents
      from the William Morries Agency wanted me to sign a contract with
      them. They said if I stayed in the US there would be more
      opportunities for me," Lee says in his book.

      So Lee began writing scripts, adapting scripts, and co-writing
      scripts with other new filmmakers. Lee recalls how difficult the
      years after graduation were for him: "If a film company likes your
      first draft, they'll ask you to rewrite or edit some parts, three to
      five times. Two years later, these scripts either come to nothing or
      need to continue developing. ... This is what they call the
      `development hell of filmmaking.'"

      Lee writes that on average it takes five years from the day the
      first words of a script are written to the day when the shooting
      starts, and that is only on the rare chance that a script manages to
      get that far.

      "During that time, my family's biggest luxury was eating at Kentucky
      Fried Chicken," Lee recalls. "I tried writing film reviews for
      Chinese papers, but only for two months. I guess that apart from
      directing, I was incapable of handling others jobs. But during those
      six years, my wife never once forced me to get a job," Lee said.

      For this, Lee was once accosted by a friend who said, "How could a
      man treat his wife like this."

      Lee's next movie after Pushing Hands, The Wedding Banquet, was a
      sweeping success, garnering the Golden Bear award in Berlin and
      creating a market for Ang Lee movies worldwide. The US$750,000 movie
      earned US$32 million, making it the world's most profitable film in
      1993.

      "I get all these crazy ideas whenever I start making a film, and
      these are often realized. Then I think, `If it's that easy for me to
      carry out these ideas, I must have something inside.' And maybe
      that's talent," Lee writes.

      Lees autobiography chronicles in detail the making of each of his
      seven films, from Pushing Hands to Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.
      Also detailed are his ideas, feelings and reflections on those
      films.

      In one vignette, Lee describes Emma Thompson as the Queen Bee of
      English actresses. "Being a director, I have never met an actor who
      could give me so much pressure," he writes.

      As for Hugh Grant Lee writes: "At first I couldn't figure out why he
      was so naughty, and why he didn't stand where he was supposed to
      when acting. Then I realized he didn't like to stand side-by-side
      with other actors. As long as you put him in front of other actors,
      he would listen to whatever you said."

      Throughout his first-person account, Lee maintains a fluid and
      modest tone, displaying a mild sense of humor and profound knowledge
      of culture and history. He maintains this tone throughout most of
      the book, with the exception of when he talks about the argument
      over whether Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon is authentically
      Chinese.

      "Some foreign critics think that they are Chinese film experts, and
      easily label the film as an unauthentic Chinese martial arts films.
      This may be [due to] their lack of knowledge, or simply their sense
      cultural superiority. They think that they have the power in
      cultural politics, and they can decide what is better for your
      culture," Lee writes. "Why should Chinese martial arts stay in their
      old place, on the level of B-movies? Should an authentic Chinese
      movie always be raw, earthy, marginalized, artsy or oppressive? If
      not, does this mean it's Americanized?"
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