Lee, Ang: Filmmaker Discusses Career Highs and Lows

Provincetown Film Fest 2016–Cult director John Waters, who is a resident of Provincetown, introduced Ang Lee, this year’s Filmmaker on the Edge honoree on Sunday, June 19, the last day of the event:

He said: “Ang Lee may seem like he has sense and sensibility, but look at his career, it’s really nuts when you think about it. He’s made movies about suburban swingers, gay cowboys and lust-filled assassins. He made a brainy superhero movie, and a great film about Woodstock that I really loved that never even showed the music.

Gay Directors: Almodovar, Haynes, Van Sant, John Waters. By Emanuel Levy. (Columbia University Press)

CGI Effects

qs55nhvjt2h“He’s the only director that makes me look forward to CGI effects,” said Waters. “He stated the cinematically incorrect opinion that we should stop trying to imitate film stock, and instead embrace digital and make it better than 3D.  If that’s not ‘edge,’ I don’t know what is.”

Waters traced Lee’s career from the Taiwanese family trilogy that put him on the map — Pushing Hands, The Wedding Banquet and Eat Drink Man Woman — through his English-language debut with the Oscar-winning Sense and Sensibility to his upcoming November release, Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk.

Flops as Part of Life

spqxuf6d5jaKnown for his candid approach, Lee did not shy away from discussing his artistic and commercial flops, such as Ride With the Devil, Hulk, Taking Woodstock and even the critically adored The Ice Storm, which was a commercial failure. “They are all my kids. I don’t judge these movies by their success or by what critics say. They’re all a part of my life.”


Lee addressed the issue of unpredictability and uncertainty, built into the operation of the film industry. One film that was thought to be a disaster, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, turned out to be a huge success. “Once I had gotten into it and started shooting, I realized I did something that didn’t make any sense.  I made an A-grade B genre movie, when martial arts films are supposed to be trashy; all that wild energy.  It cost $12 million, and at that time nobody was putting so much money into Chinese-language movies.”

Lee’s Masteriece

Lee discussed his initial reaction to Annie Proulx’s short story that became the Oscar-winning Brokeback Mountain, starring Heath Lodger and Jake Gyllenhaal, in Oscar-nominated performances.  That 2005 film, arguably Lee’s masterpiece, for which he won his first Best Director Oscar, screened in Provincetown as part of the tribute.  Lee recalled: “I wept at the end of that story.  Why a straight guy who grew up conservative in Taiwan could be so moved by gay cowboys in Wyoming I don’t know. But it haunted me.” It could have been the director’s own experience of cultural repression which enabled him to relate to those characters.

It’s All About Faces

Lee screened a trailer for Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk, the first feature to be shot in 4K resolution, 3D and 120 frames per second, and already touted as potential Oscar contender.

Lee stressed that despite his fascination with evolving technology in Life of Pi, for which Lee won his second Best Director Oscar, and the new film, his movies have remained anchored in classic storytelling and strong acting. “To me it’s still really all about faces,” he said. “At times, an image will impress me, but then it’s always faces first.”

Accepting the Filmmaker on the Edge Award, Lee said: “I don’t really think of myself as ‘on the edge,’ but I always try to be honest.  I want to make movies that come from my heart, and I want to share that feeling with you.”