Pushing Hands: Ang Lee’s First Film

In 1990, Ang Lee’s script for The Wedding Banquet won a Taiwan state film competition. But the Central Motion Picture Corporation, which is backed with government funds, balked at financing “a gay movie.”

It did, however, greenlight another film, Pushing Hands, which became Lee’s first feature. In Pushing Hands, the widowed Mr. Chu, a former Tai-Chi master, arrives from Beijing to live with his son’s family.

Lee explores cross-cultural and generational conflicts, issues that would become the backbone of his work. In what might be called a “Father Knows Best” trilogy, all featuring the wonderful actor Sihung Lung, Pushing Hands was the first in a series of tales about a parent confronting a changing world.

Filmed in Westchester, Pushing Hands lacks the technical sheen of Lee’s subsequent films, but it shares their warmth and wisdom. It begins on a quiet day in suburban Westchester, as Mr. Chu goes about his solitary rituals, exercising, preparing food, watching Chinese videos. But Chu’s presence makes it impossible for his daughter-in-law, Martha (Deb Snyder), a writer, to work. “No metal in the microwave!” she lashes, thrusting earphones at him. It’s a painful predicament for his loving son, Alex (Bo Z. Wang), who’s caught between his wife and his father. A gentle man, Mr. Chu who has to face the cruel reality that, unlike the Chinese, Americans have no respect for the elderly.

The title refers to a Tai-Chi exercise, designed to keep one’s balance while destroying the opponent’s.

In the end, Mr. Chu regains his balance and takes control over his life, independent of his son’s.