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The Big Ang
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Some directors dazzle us with films that are slick, cool and stylish. Ang Lee's are none of those things especially but instead reveal the wisdom of a truly great storyteller.

Who would imagine that a Chinese-language kungfu film would conquer the heart of mainstream America as well as sweep up many of Hollywood's most prestigious awards?

But Lee's Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon is no ordinary martial arts movie. Because of him, many people know about Chinese filmmaking and about Chinese films.

And last year, with Brokeback Mountain, yet another unimaginable success, both with critics and audiences, he captivated the entire world and reached the pinnacle of moviemaking. "I hope I can live 300 years, and I can try all the film genres and mix them, and twist them and learn about them," Lee says.

A quiet, gentle but commanding presence, this Taiwanese-born, New York University-educated director has connected with audiences throughout the world by concentrating on human dramas.

Lee, 53, creates characters that draw in an audience no matter what language they speak. His insight into the human heart crosses all boundaries.

Lee's ability to be such a huge cross-cultural influence is unique. His Taiwanese upbringing, which kept him deeply rooted in the Chinese way of living, combined with his well-informed understanding of Western mores and filmmaking techniques have allowed him to speak to those two cultures in a way no other director has.

Although he chose to remain in the United States after graduation, his early films, which were made with a low-budget production company, were firmly rooted in Chinese tradition and culture.

"I was born in Taiwan, but my mother is from Jiangxi Province and my father from Beijing," says Lee. "So I was intensively trained with Chinese traditions, and I hope this shows through in my works."

Pushing Hands, completed in 1992, tells the story of an aging tai chi master forced to adjust to living in the United States with his son, who is married to a Caucasian woman.

The Wedding Banquet, released in 1993, is a complex comedy about a young Taiwanese-American in New York who tries to hide his homosexuality from his conservative parents by agreeing to marry a Chinese woman who wants to obtain US citizenship. The low-budget film was a huge hit and an Oscar nominee for best foreign-language film.

Lee's 1994 film, Eat Drink Man Woman, was set in Taipei and combined Lee's personal hobby, Chinese cooking, with an intricate story about the relationships between a single father and his three daughters. It was also nominated for best foreign-language film at the Academy Awards.

The unique sensibility of telling stories and capturing touching moments are Lee's trademarks, which have seen him emerge as a leading force in Hollywood.

When producer and director Sydney Pollack was thinking about a director for bringing the Jane Austen novel Sense and Sensibility to the screen, he thought of Lee after seeing his early works.

"They both had a marvelous emotionality," Pollack says. "They were both funny. They were touching without being maudlin or sentimental."

Lee's next film, The Ice Storm, explored another culture and period in time - suburban America during the post-Watergate era. The critical success of that film showed that Lee's ability to penetrate the essence of whatever subject he tackled was no coincidence.

His most recent film Lust, Caution is an espionage thriller set in WWII-era Shanghai. "Normally the stories about fighting the Japanese army at that time are passionate and patriotic, but Chang had her own view and angle," he reveals. "I am so impressed and curious that she wrote about a girl student who tries to seduce and assassinate a Chinese spy working for the Japanese government. I think it's the perfect story."

The novel is only 28 pages long. But Lee says short stories are the perfect length for films: "I will have more space and time to organize the story in my film, and I will add more dramatic details."

(China Daily August 29, 2007)

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