The Philosophy of Ang Lee

The Philosophy of Ang Lee

The Philosophy of Ang Lee

The Philosophy of Ang Lee


Ang Lee (b. 1954) has emerged as one of cinema’s most versatile, critically acclaimed, and popular directors. Known for his ability to transcend cultural and stylistic boundaries, Lee has built a diverse oeuvre that includes films about culture clashes and globalization (Eat Drink Man Woman, 1994, and The Wedding Banquet, 1993), a period drama (Sense and Sensibility, 1995), a martial arts epic (Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, 2000), a comic book action movie (Hulk, 2003), and an American western (Brokeback Mountain, 2005).

The Philosophy of Ang Lee draws from both Eastern and Western philosophical traditions to examine the director’s works. The first section focuses on Taoist, Confucian, and Buddhist themes in his Chinese-language films, and the second examines Western philosophies in his English-language films; but the volume ultimately explores how Lee negotiates all of these traditions, strategically selecting from each in order to creatively address key issues. With interest in this filmmaker and his work increasing around the release of his 3-D magical adventure The Life of Pi (2012), The Philosophy of Ang Lee serves as a timely investigation of the groundbreaking auteur and the many complex philosophical themes that he explores through the medium of motion pictures.


“Hi, I’m Ang Lee, and if I don’t make movies I’m going to die.” Ang Lee used these words to introduce himself to the production company, Good Machine, which would go on to fund his 1992 film, Pushing Hands. Lee is one of the most talented and diverse directors in world cinema. He is known for his ability to make provocative and original films on virtually any topic: Victorian romances, kung fu epics, superhero action films, tragedies about forbidden relationships. Lee has produced eleven feature-length films that have garnered critical acclaim and earned him multiple Academy Awards, Golden Globes, and British Academy of Film and Television Arts awards. Though the subject matter of these films has varied widely, they share complex, often controversial themes that make them fertile ground for philosophical inquiry.

The purpose of this book is to explore the philosophy of Ang Lee’s films, and the chapters draw from both Eastern and Western philosophies to examine the multicultural themes present in Lee’s works, so that readers will gain an insight into Lee’s films and the rich philosophical heritage in which they are grounded.

Ang Lee’s Career as a Filmmaker

Lee was born on October 23, 1954, in Taiwan, but he did not begin his career as a professional filmmaker until he was thirty-seven years old. Lee’s father was a high school principal and a traditional Confucian who emphasized education and filial piety. When Lee failed the national university entrance exams twice, it brought great shame to his father. Lee enrolled in the National Taiwan University of Arts in 1973 as a theater and film major, which embar-

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