Giant and gent: Ang Lee is a hero in Taiwan
The Brokeback Mountain director Ang Lee is regarded as not only the island's cinematic giant, but also one of its true gents.india Updated: Mar 04, 2006 15:11 IST
He failed his college entrance exam, then emigrated to the United States and spent years as a house-husband, but filmmaker Ang Lee will be hailed a hero in Taiwan if he wins Oscar gold at Sunday's 78th Annual Academy Awards.
The director's controversial gay cowboy film Brokeback Mountain leads the pack with eight nominations including best film and best director for Lee, who missed out in both key categories when Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon took home four statuettes in 2001.
Despite living and working in the United States for most of the past three decades, Lee is regarded as not only the island's cinematic giant, but also one of its true gents.
"Lee has always stressed that he is from Taiwan even though he works in the United States and his achievements certainly encourage and inspire film makers in his home country where the industry is sluggish," said critic Steven Tu.
"Looking at his films, one can feel the characteristics in his personality. To sum up, a gentleman. He is sincere and humble," said Liang Liang, a leading film critic in Taiwan.
"He has been like this all the way through. He has kept himself in low-profile and easy going," Liang said, recalling the 51-year-old's return to his native Taiwan to a hero's welcome in January after Brokeback won Golden Globe awards for best drama and best director.
Lee was in Taipei to promote the release of his film which proved an instant hit at the box office, taking more than $340,000 on its opening weekend.
Born in 1954 in Pingtung, southern Taiwan, Lee studied at a school where his father was the principal, but he failed to pass Taiwan's tough national college entrance examination.
Instead he studied at the National Taiwan College of Arts, a decision that surprised his father.
"My mind was not in the textbooks ... Instead, I spent a lot of time watching movies," Lee once told a local cable television.
After graduating, Lee studied film in Illinois and New York, where he settled and married Jane Lin, a microbiologist also from Taiwan, in 1983. He spent the next five years as a househusband raising their two sons.
His spare time was spent reading scripts, dramas and books in what he has said was a slow process of digesting Western culture. His efforts paid off eventually.
"Ang Lee is the best Chinese-language film director capable of exquisitely blending elements from the East and West in his films. And his experience in New York of course was crucial," critic Liang said.
Lee got off the ground in 1991 when Pushing Hands won him best script-writing award in an official competition in Taiwan. He turned it into a movie the following year.
His first major success was 1993's The Wedding Banquet about a Taiwanese American man who tries to hide his homosexuality from his parents by feigning a marriage.
Like his follow-up Eat Drink Man Woman, it was nominated for a best foreign film Oscar in 1994.
After directing big budget Hollywood films, including an adaptation of Jane Austen's Sense and Sensibility which was also in the running for a best film Oscar, Lee finally became a household name with Crouching Tiger.
The martial arts epic received 10 Oscar nods -- a rare feat for a foreign language film -- and took home four.
"Lee was jobless before making Pushing Hands but he made many efforts to prepare himself. Filmmakers here should learn from his experience that success doesn't come right away," critic Tu said.
His fame has spread in Taiwan where the film industry -- which used to turn out 200 films a year in its 1970s heyday -- has been in the doldrums in recent years.
"Lee is definitely my hero as he can direct movies in his second language in a foreign county and let the world know that Taiwanese can be good directors," said Huang Shang-fen, a graduate school student in Taipei.