In the modern world, humans struggle for acceptance more than ever, and if anyone knows about fitting in, it’s Ang Lee. As varied and contrasting as the director’s films have been, his personal life has brought even more unexpected turns.
Ang Lee could be the poster child for an artist’s struggles for approval and acceptance.
Lee’s parents left Chinese mainland for Taiwan in 1950, and Lee left for the United States in the early 1980s to attend college, resulting in none of the three places feeling like home. A quick glance at the director’s work shows that he hasn’t found a genre he can call home either. Lee cites “curiosity” as the primary reason he chooses a project, and his filmography is even more of a kaleidoscope than his personal history.
“Making those movies, somehow I feel more belonging. Like the story belonged to me, and I belonged to the world,” remarked Lee in a 2009 LA Times interview after directing perhaps the most unexpected film of his career, Taking Woodstock. Directors who tend to focus on rebels and social outcasts are not necessarily unique in Hollywood, but wayward Lee’s homelessness is as deeply rooted in the man himself as anything else. Ironically, Lee first discovered communist-themed literature that shaped much of China’s 20th-Century development only after arriving in the United States in the early 1980s because such books were banned in Taiwan. “That turned my whole belief system upside down, and I crawled out, in a sense, lost,” continued Lee. “That had a big impact on me.”
And for such an artist, returning to China felt like being freed from the constraints of Hollywood. “Film-language wise it’s more free. It’s more artistic in China because we don’t have a big film industry like Americans. So, the viewing habits, the distribution, the response is more free,” remarked Lee.
A two-time Best Director Oscar winner feeling like an outsid- er in Hollywood shouldn’t come as a surprise considering the film industry’s notorious historical marginalization of Asians. In the era that Lee’s parents were experiencing the horrors of war firsthand, white American comedian Mickey Rooney was offensively