As a high school student in Taiwan, Ang Lee failed the national college entrance exam — twice. The fact that his father was the school’s principal may have added to the elder Lee’s disappointment, but, instead of the standard four-year college, Ang completed his mandatory military service with the Republic of China’s navy before entering an arts school. Then, he headed to the US, to study theater and start an acting career. His limited English halted those ambitions, so Lee shifted to directing, and, after graduating from NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts, he spent six very long years unemployed.
While less tenacious artists may have packed it in, the Larchmont resident and married father of two sons remained steadfast. Now widely considered one of the finest directors of our time, Lee has never played it safe.
“Every one of his films is an adventure and a departure” from his previous work, says Brian Ackerman, programming director at the Jacob Burns Film Center in Pleasantville, which has hosted Lee and shown his films on several occasions. “He is one of the great visionaries of film today.”
Indeed, Lee’s extensive and varied credits include such films as Sense and Sensibility, The Ice Storm, Brokeback Mountain, Hulk, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, and Life of Pi. His films have earned 12 Oscars (two for best director), nine Golden Globes, and a slew of other awards. So, too, have they pushed societal boundaries with themes of alienation and repression and challenged concepts like modern versus traditional values, particularly in his foreign films.
Lee’s latest, Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk, boasts the most advanced technology ever used in film, taking HFR (high frame rate) — 4K, 3D, 120 fps — to new, ultra-high levels. In fact, it’s been opined that it may even set a new standard in the medium.
“He’s a model of innovation and creativity,” Ackerman says. “He’s an inspiration.”