Ang Lee defies categorization and baffles critics. The Taiwanese/American filmmaker has created movies as divergent as Sense and Sensibility, Eat Drink Man Woman, The Ice Storm, and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, but he’s probably best known as the Academy Award-winning director of Brokeback Mountain.
On Tuesday, March 17, the San Francisco Bay area community got to see Ang Lee in person as part of a special screening hosted by UC Berkeley’s On the Same Page program and Pacific Film Archive in conjunction with the premiere San Francisco International Asian American Film Festival. This particular event was co-presented by TaiwaneseAmerican.org and the San Francisco chapter of Taiwanese American Professionals.
Around 6pm, as members of our Taiwanese American community gathered at the nearby Cafe Milano, it was clear that these attendees were excited about the opportunity to soon share the same room as Ang Lee. Our group walked over together to Wheeler Hall where the screening and talk would be held, anxious to claim our seats. The event was twice sold out with each release of ticket blocks, so we knew the crowds would be arriving early. Sure enough, the line for entry wrapped around the inside of the building, starting at the auditorium and circling around through the back hallways. Our Taiwanese American group claimed a good section toward the left, and we settled in as the auditorium gradually filled.
After a great introduction by Berkeley academic Linda Williams, Ang Lee’s latest film, Lust, Caution (2007) was screened. Unfortunately, the film had earned itself an NC-17 rating because of its graphic, extended sex scenes. I say unfortunately because an NC-17 rating is “the commercial kiss of death,” as Williams put it. The film had a typical art house run, but never had wide distribution. It’s a pity, because the film is captivating across all 2.5+ hours. And it’s the kind of film that lingers long after its close.
I was so excited to see Ang Lee that I would have been happy even if the movie was terrible and the talk was superficial. But my shoddy expectations were blown away. Actually, the most impressive part of the night was Ang Lee’s talk. How many times have I heard artists give their evasive and superficial responses– “oh, it is whatever you think it is”? To the contrary, Ang Lee was candid, open, passionate, and revealing with his depth of thought behind his film.
Lee described the film as his thesis on the performing arts and his work as a filmmaker. “Sometimes I have more faith in fake things, like movies, than I have in real things.” In the film, a young woman puts her performance to the test as she seduces a man she’s trying to help her friends assassinate.
“The sex got to me. The politics got to me. I was very frightened.”
Ang Lee likened shooting the sex scenes to being in hell. He described himself going kind of crazy, as he got to a point during shooting where he began shaking all over, and lead actor Tony Leung had to come over and comfort him: “We’re just actors baring our skin. We’ll be fine. You have to take care of yourself.”
During the Q&A session, Taiwanese American author Shawna Yang Ryan, lined up to ask Ang Lee, “clearly, you don’t shy away from provocative subjects… when do you plan to bring the story of Taiwan to the screen?” His answer was simply that when he found the right story, he would film it. He added, “I hope I don’t disappoint you.”
Well, we’ll keep right on waiting.
This spotlight was written by your very own TaiwaneseAmerican.org photographer and Asian American media lover, Anna Wu. The original post is on her website at annawu.com.
Rent or buy Lust, Caution and see for yourself.
Go check out other films and events in the SF International Asian American Film Festival.
If you’re in the Bay Area, join TAP-SF on Facebook so you can catch the next awesome event.
And of course, don’t forget to join TaiwaneseAmerican.org on Facebook too!