Sun, Dec 29, 2002 - Page 18 News List

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

Ang Lee presents his Oscar award to his mother in this family photo.


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 (十年一覺電影夢).

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 (推手, 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 (張靚蓓) 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.

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