ang lee defies categorization and baffles critics. the taiwanese/american filmmaker has created movies as divergent as sense and sensibility, eat drink man woman, the ice storm, and crouching tiger, hidden dragon, but he’s probably best known as the academy award-winning director of brokeback mountain.
yesterday, i got to see ang lee in person as part of a special screening & talk at berkeley. it was co-presented by taiwaneseamerican.org, TAP-SF, and the SF international asian american film festival.
first, after a great introduction by berkeley academic linda williams, we got to view ang lee’s latest film, lust, caution. unfortunately, the film earned itself an NC-17 rating because of its graphic, extended sex scenes. i say unfortunately because an NC-17 rating is “the commercial kiss of death,” as williams put it. the film had a typical art house run, but never had wide distribution. it’s a pity, because the film is captivating across all 2.5+ hours. and it’s the kind of film that lingers long after its close.
i was so excited to see ang lee that i would have been happy even if the movie was terrible and the talk was superficial. but my shoddy expectations were blown away. actually, the most impressive part of the night was ang lee’s talk. how many times have i heard artists give their evasive and superficial responses– ‘oh, it is whatever you think it is’? to the contrary, ang lee was candid, open, passionate, and revealing with his depth of thought behind his film.
lee described the film as his thesis on the performing arts and his work as a filmmaker. ‘sometimes i have more faith in fake things, like movies, than i have in real things.’ in the film, a young woman puts her performance to the test as she seduces a man she’s trying to help her friends assassinate.
‘excuse my language, but i think this may be the most profound question: ‘does she come?”
ang lee characterized shooting the sex scenes as tremendously frightening– like being in hell. he described himself going kind of crazy, as he got to a point during shooting where he began shaking all over, and lead actor tony leung had to come over and comfort him: ‘we’re just actors baring our skin. we’ll be fine. you have to take care of yourself.’
during the q & a session, taiwanese american author shawna yang ryan lined up to ask ang lee, ‘clearly, you don’t shy away from provocative subjects…’ ‘when do you plan to bring the story of taiwan to the screen?’ his answer was simply that when he found the right story, he would film it. he added, ‘i hope i don’t disappoint you.’
well, we’ll keep right on waiting.