I am the kind of person who goes around telling everybody that Ang Lee is my fourth favourite Taiwanese person.
Well, because three of my Taiwanese friends are more important to me than him. But make no mistake. Ang Lee is better than us all.
His films are beyond perfect and yet, are usually populated by flawed characters, whose souls are so broken there's no way they're ever going to get it together again. And as a result they usually top themselves, go and live in Denial or waste away, slowly consumed by their regrets.
I'm pretty sure that even Mariah Carey thinks Ang Lee is the bees' knees and that he'd figure in her Top Five Taiwanese list (though her list would probably look like this:
1. the Hello Kitty Train that has just been unveiled in Taiwan
2. the Hello Kitty EVA Jet
3. the Hello Kitty suite at the Grand Hi-Lai Hotel in Kaohsiung
4. the Hello Kitty maternity hospital in Yuanlin
5. Ang Lee)
The best lyric Mimi ever came up with - and I have to give her credit, occasionally she pulls a decent one out - must have been inspired by the characters in films like The Ice Storm (my second favourite Ang Lee film).
Man, if you think you are fragile, go and rewatch that film. Then you could use Mimi's music as the soundtrack, kind of like a hip hop lite Pink Floyd/Wizard of Oz scenario. Just make sure you use the "If we were two Lego blocks/ Even the Harvard University graduating class of 2010/Couldn't put us back together again" verse in Up Out My Face to a suitably depressing scene.
Although I loved The Ice Storm and Brokeback Mountain, I love Ang Lee even more than usual when he's playing with tigers. He pulled off what nobody thought was possible with The Life of Pi and I have to say I had a thing for Richard Parker. God, what a hottie! Being shipwrecked with Richard Parker is my ideal fantasy. But The Life of Pi was not Ang Lee's greatest tiger moment.
No, for that, we have to turn to one of the greatest tigers to have ever made it into popular culture. The Crouching Tiger. Along with the Hidden Dragon, this tiger was kind of invisible. This tiger was a metaphoric one that alluded to the traditional Cheng Yu (like a Chinese idiom) about people's hidden strengths and talents. And the Crouching Tiger was almost as sexy as Richard Parker although you never got the feeling that you wanted to have a little cuddle.
With Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon, Ang Lee managed to bring together all kinds of Asian cultures to produce what I think remains the highest ever grossing foreign film in the US. He mixed together the best of Hong Kong martial arts films, classical Chinese and Taoist elements and, the pulpy, comic book/novels and came out with a masterpiece which made so many of the spiritually themed martial arts films that came before it seem like an embarrassment.
And how did he manage to do that?
Well, Ang Lee, as I said is better than us all. He's a top notch film maker, and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon is another example of his perfect films being populated by broken souls. And it's that juxtaposition that makes it so easy to fall in love with the characters and the stunning imagery - especially those rooftop and bamboo forest scenes. Still breathtaking nearly twenty years later.
And for that, I salute not only Ang Lee, but also one of the greatest tigers to have ever made it into popular culture: The Crouching Tiger that you left you so breathless back in 2000 that you've not ever quite recovered.
Dave Di Vito
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Dave Di Vito is a writer, teacher and former curator.He's also the author of the Vinyl Tiger series and Replace The Sky.
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