Nationality: Taiwanese. Born: Taiwan; moved to United States, 1978. Education: Attended theater program, University of Illinois. Career: Directed first two features in the United States, 1991–93; returned to Taiwan to direct Eat Drink Man Woman , 1994. Awards: Golden Bear Award at Berlin Film Festival, 1993, for The Wedding Banquet; Golden Bear Award at Berlin Film Festival, Best Director from New York Film Critics, and Best Director and Best Picture from National Board of Review, all 1995, all for Sense and Sensibility.
Hsi Yen ( The Wedding Banquet )
Eat Drink Man Woman (+ co-sc)
Sense and Sensibility
The Ice Storm
Ride with the Devil
Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon
Berlin Diaries 1940–45
Two Films by Ang Lee: Eat Drink Man Woman / The Wedding Banquet , edited by James Schamus, New York, 1994.
With James Schamus, The Ice Storm: The Shooting Script , New York, 1997.
"Dinner for Two," an interview in Filmmaker , vol. 1, no. 4, 1993.
"Ang Lee," interview in Mensuel du Cinéma (Nice), no. 18, June 1994.
"The New Face of Taiwanese Cinema: An Interview with Ang Lee," interview with C. Berry, in Metro Magazine (St. Kilda West, Australia), no. 96, Summer 1993–1994.
"Ang Lee Returned to His Native Taiwan to Make Eat Drink Man Woman ," an interview with Steven Rea, in Knight-Ridder/Tribune News Service , 19 August 1994.
" Eat Drink Man Woman : A Feast for the Eyes," in American Cinematographer (Hollywood), vol. 76, no. 1, January 1995.
"Home Truths," in Time Out (London), no. 1273, 11 January 1995.
"The Morning After," interview with G. Cheshire, in Filmmaker (Los Angeles), vol. 6, no. 1, 1997.
"The Angle on Ang Lee," interview with O. Moverman, in Interview (New York), September 1997.
"Ang Lee on Directing in an Ice Storm," in DGA (Los Angeles), vol. 22, no. 4, September-October 1997.
"Storm Alert," interview with D. Noh, in Film Journal International (New York), October 1997.
Shapiro, M., "Ang Lee," in Independent , May 1993.
Hornaday, A., "A Director's Trip from Salad Days to a Banquet ," in New York Times , 1 August 1993.
Noh, D., "Ang Lee's Wedding Banquet Serves up a Mix of Cultures," in Film Journal , September 1993.
Berry, C., "Taiwanese Melodrama Returns with a Twist in The Wedding Banquet ," in Cinemaya , Autumn 1993.
Hamlin, Suzanne, "Le Grand Exces Spices Love Poems to Food," in New York Times , 31 July 1994.
Kauffman, Stanley, " Eat Drink Man Woman ," in New Republic , 5 September 1994.
Schickel, Richard, " Sense and Sensibility ," in Time , 18 December 1995.
Fuller, Graham, and Monk Claire, "Cautionary Tale / Shtick and Seduction," in Sight and Sound (London), vol. 6, no. 3, March 1996.
O'Neill, E.R., "Identity, Mimicry, and Transtextuality in Mina Shum's Double Happiness and Quentin Lee and Justin Lin's Shopping for Fangs ," in CineAction (Toronto), no. 42, 1997.
Williams, D.E., "Reflections on an Era," in American Cinematographer (Hollywood), October 1997.
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In the space of only five years, beginning in 1991, and on the strength of four films, Taiwanese film director Ang Lee grew from art-house phenomenon to major studio director. Lee's first three films, a sort of trilogy of charming family dramas, established him as a talented director with a particularly deft hand at creating character-driven studies of human nature. His fourth film, Sense and Sensibility (1995), adapted from Jane Austen's novel, and the winner of a number of well-deserved awards, including Best Director from the New York Film Critics, and Best Director and Best Picture from the National Board of Review (it was also nominated for seven Oscars), marked his emergence from relative anonymity into the film world spotlight.
Lee's first feature was Pushing Hands , a 1991 film in which an aging Chinese martial arts master moves into the New York City home of his son and daughter-in-law. The relationship between the old man, who speaks no English, and his daughter-in-law, who speaks no Chinese, is a difficult one, full of resentment and misunderstanding, but both try to make the arrangement work. A languidly paced comedy drama that displayed Lee's fondness for scenes in which food figures prominently, it was followed by The Wedding Banquet , a film that widened Lee's public somewhat and which also explored family relationships, this time in the context of sexual as well as cultural differences. It focuses on a successful young Chinese professional living in America, whose equilibrium is upset by the impending visit of his parents, whose arrival finds him engaged in an elaborate marital charade to mask his homosexuality. Beautifully observed, charming, humorous, and very poignant, The Wedding Banquet was rewarded with an Oscar nomination.
Released in 1994, Eat Drink Man Woman , the first of Lee's movies to be shot entirely in Taiwan, confirmed the originality and subtle understanding of his domestic vision and expanded on his iconic approach to food. It concerns an elderly, widowed master chef at a Taipei hotel and his relationship with his three adult daughters, all of whom are grappling with one problem or another. The action centers around the immense, sumptuous Sunday feasts that he lovingly prepares for his daughters; Stanley Kauffmann remarks that "the preparation of these dishes, their wonderful appearance, their almost tasteable succulence are the film's true base and being. The stories, the hassle and hustle of the characters' troubles, are just garnish around the dishes."
Managing to be at once highly enjoyable and very moving, one might, with respect, argue with Kauffman that the old man's gourmet rituals and his pride in them provide the only mechanism by which he can communicate his love and concern for the daughters, who are so thoughtlessly—and humanly—caught up in their own concerns.
Next came Sense and Sensibility , actress Emma Thompson's adaptation of Jane Austen's nineteenth-century novel about the reduced circumstances in which Mrs. Dashwood (Gemma Jones) and her daughters find themselves after the death of Mr. Dashwood, and their attempts to survive in upper-class English society and find romantic happiness for the two elder girls (Thompson, Kate Winslet). With its impeccable screenplay and a cast of top-rank British actors (including Hugh Grant and Alan Rickman), the film is a fine meld of comedy, drama, and sentiment, held seamlessly together by Lee's finely tuned direction, and his accurate ear for the nuances of a social and domestic order both British and long past. Sense and Sensibility whisked away the veil of comparative anonymity that had previously covered Lee. As Richard Schickel commented, "You certainly wonder how a Taiwan-born director like Lee has managed to reach across time and cultures to deliver these delicate goods undamaged. Maybe some of that whoosh of delight one feels at the end of Sense and Sensibility is for him, and his emergence as a world-class director."
It is this unique ability acutely to grasp the essence of multicultural customs, combined with his professional polish, that distinguishes Lee from his peers. After the success of Sense and Sensibility , he entered the Hollywood mainstream with The Ice Storm , released in 1997, and examining with awesome accuracy a particular social stratum in American society, that of wealthy, middle-class professionals and their families whose affluence seems to have brought only discontented malaise, dispiriting infidelity, and difficult relationships with their children, conditions that come to a head in an ice-bound Connecticut winter. With a cast led by Kevin Kline, Joan Allen, and Sigourney Weaver, this heavyweight domestic drama (leavened with lighter moments), dissects the weaknesses of its protagonists with uncompromising and often disturbing honesty, and attracted a large number of award nominations at home and abroad.
During 1999, the same year that the director returned to the Orient to branch out with a crime film called Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon , almost entirely unseen in the West to that date, Ride with the Devil was released. While evidencing yet another area of interest, the American Civil War, for Lee, it proved his least successful film to date. Highly original in treating the war as subsidiary to a small, close band of Southerners, including a freed slave, caught up in it almost, as it were, by accident, and in attempting to depict their inner psychology, the work is ambitious but overlong, too slow and too opaque to grip the interest.
Early in the first year of the new millennium, Ang Lee, striking out yet again, was at work on Berlin Diaries 1940–45 , eagerly awaited and certain to emphasize the unique eclecticism, sharp observation, and underlying humanity that are this filmmaker's trademarks.
—Kevin Hillstrom, updated by Robyn Karney