Internationally acclaimed Taiwanese director Ang Lee shone a light on his diverse directing career in his A Life In Pictures interview sponsored by Deutsche Bank and conducted by Francine Stock.
Lee spoke about the entire span of his career, from the beginnings - convincing his father that his future lay in film - through the difficult years before he landed the funding for his first feature, and the critical acclaim and commercial successes which followed them. He also discussed his latest feature, his adaptation of Yann Martel's 'Life of Pi.'
He described how he is often completely taken over by the project he is working on, feeling "somewhat possessed" by it. "I don't feel like I'm directing the film," he remarked, "I feel like the movie is directing me."
"I always wanted to find something I believe in. I want to make films that move me, catch my curiosity, something worthy of me and people following me."
Ang Lee's Career in Film
Known for both his stunning and ambitious visual style and for the emotional authenticity evident in his often romantically-infused features, Ang Lee has established himself as one of the most accomplished directors in Chinese and English-language cinema during the course of the last two decades.
Born in Taiwan, Lee moved to the United States aged 24 to study at the University of Illinois. He later enrolled at New York University where he was a classmate of Spike Lee, before winning the University’s Wasserman Award for Outstanding Direction for his Master’s film, Fine Line.
After six unsuccessful years writing screenplays and pitching ideas in the U.S., Lee got his break when he entered two scripts into a screenplay contest in his native Taiwan and placed first and second. That recognition proved the catalyst that allowed Lee to film three of his screenplays between 1992 and 1994, which all explored intergenerational conflicts in Chinese families. His debut feature Pushing Hands (1992) was soon followed by The Wedding Banquet (1993) which gained him international attention when it picked up the Golden Bear at the Berlin Film Festival and a Foreign Language Film Oscar nomination. 1994’s Eat Drink Man Woman scored Lee another Oscar nomination and his first from BAFTA.
Lee’s mainstream breakthrough came in 1995 when he directed Emma Thompson’s adaptation of Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility. The choice of a director whose first language was not English surprised many, including Lee himself, but the thematic resonances with Lee’s previous family drama’s helped give the film a contemporary relevance and international appeal. The period drama received 12 BAFTA nominations, eventually winning three including Best Film.
After securing his status as one of the world’s leading directors with two more English-language features (The Ice Storm (1997) and Ride With The Devil (1999)), Lee returned to Chinese-language cinema at the beginning of the new century and delivered what was arguably a career-defining picture. The lavish Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000) dealt with themes of love, loyalty and loss through a beautifully visualised martial-arts epic, winning four awards from both the British and American Academies.
When Lee’s brooding, character-focused approach to the comic-book character Hulk (2003) failed to connect with audiences, he responded in the best possible fashion with the elegiac romantic drama, Brokeback Mountain (2005). The Western depicting the complex romantic relationship of two cowboys in the American West took the coveted Best Film BAFTA, whilst Lee’s assured direction earned him an Oscar and BAFTA for his direction. In 2007 Lee helmed the erotic thriller Lust, Caution, and in 2009 he debuted his first comedy Taking Woodstock. Lee returns this year with the highly anticipated adaptation of Yann Martel’s Life Of Pi (2012), which promises a spectacular visual realisation of Martel’s contemplative spiritual tale.
Ang Lee and BAFTA
Lee has been nominated for a total of nine BAFTAs, of which he won four. His first win came in 1995, when he picked up the Film BAFTA for Sense and Sensibility. Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon won him two Awards in 2000: the BAFTA for Film Not in the English Language as well as the David Lean Award for Achievement in Direction. He went on to win his second David Lean Award for Achievement in Direction for Brokeback Mountain in 2005.