Taiwanese-born Ang Lee won his second Best Director Oscar on February 24, 2013, for Life of Pi, one of the most acclaimed films of the year both artistically and commercially. Technically, the production is considered to eclipse Spielberg’s Lincoln in terms of direction and artistic achievement, not to mention its breakthroughs in 3D technology.
Lee is a master of cross-cultural communication. His deep understanding of both Chinese and Western cultures has fueled his career. In 2006, he earned his first Best Director Oscar for Brokeback Mountain, the first Chinese director to take the coveted trophy. Similar to Sense and Sensibility, which was also highly-acclaimed, on its surface, the film has nothing to do with anything Chinese. However, Ang Lee’s personal philosophy is deeply influenced by Confucianism and Taoism, which inevitably seeps through into his most Western films, nourishing Western art with Chinese aesthetics while reinforcing the bridge between Eastern and Western cultures.
Many believe that Ang Lee’s personality is tempered with Confucian demeanor, which has become part of his nature. But for him, the trait is about speculative philosophy. His “Father Knows Best” trilogy including Pushing Hands, The Wedding Banquet, and Eat Drink Man Woman is strongly flavored with Confucian elements and highlights the majesty of fatherhood. Like most Chinese people, Lee was raised in a family with strict hierarchy headed by his father, in which both father and son rarely stray from their roles. Such features become sublime through Lee’s art, silently communicating culture. The respective climaxes of his films usually occur in the most seemingly peaceful places – expressing the strongest passion in the most restrained way.
Even more invisible and more deeplyhidden than Confucianism are the traces of Taoism in him. “I think of myself an outsider,” Lee asserts. Although he grew up in Taiwan, he considers himself culturally rooted in China’s mainland. He felt like only a “visitor” upon arriving in the United States. When he returned to the mainland after many years of dramatic changes, he still didn’t find a sense of belonging.