Total Recall: Ang Lee's Best Movies
We count down the best-reviewed work of the Life of Pi director.
The vast majority of Hollywood love stories tend to sort of blur together, but Brokeback Mountain is an exception to the rule: A beautifully filmed adaptation of the E. Annie Proulx story about the anguished affair between a pair of Wyoming ranch hands (Jake Gyllenhaal and Heath Ledger) whose years of self-denial slowly wreak havoc on their lives -- and the lives of their loved ones. A three-time Oscar winner, Brokeback proved a triumphant return to form for Lee, and enjoyed almost universal critical acclaim on its way to becoming one of the biggest surprise box office hits of the year. "It has become shorthand to call Brokeback Mountain the 'gay cowboy movie,' but it is much more than that glib description implies," scoffed Colin Covert of the Minneapolis Star Tribune. "This is a human story, a haunting film in the tradition of the great Hollywood romantic melodramas."
Using the family dinner table as a cornerstone, Lee delved into family dynamics with his second film: 1994's Eat Drink Man Woman, a richly layered look at the complex interactions between a widowed Chinese chef (Sihung Lung) who uses his craft as a way of staying close with his daughters (Chien-Lien Wu, Kuei-Mei Yang, and Yu-Wen Wang) as they grow into adulthood and try to navigate their way through careers, affairs, and tragedies. "What makes a movie like this work is how much you care for the characters," observed Chris Hicks of the Desert News, "and each one here is very well-drawn and fully dimensional."
Lee picked up his first Oscar and Golden Globe nominations for his second feature film, 1993's The Wedding Banquet -- a smartly balanced dramedy about a gay Taiwanese American immigrant (Winston Chao) who tries to hide the truth about his sexuality from his family by marrying an artist (May Chin) who needs a green card. Of course, his plans go comically awry when his traditional parents insist on showing up to plan (you guessed it) a wedding banquet. "What makes the film work is the underlying validity of the story, the way the filmmakers don't simply go for melodrama and laughs, but pay these characters their due," observed an appreciative Roger Ebert. "At the end of the film, I was a little surprised how much I cared for them."
The movie that took Ang Lee out of the arthouse and catapulted him into the ranks of upper echelon Hollywood filmmakers, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon set amazing (and utterly gonzo) martial arts battles against the beautiful scenery and tasteful drama of a story about a 19th century master (Chow Yun-Fat) whose retirement is complicated after his treasured sword is swiped by a mysterious woman (Zhang Ziyi) who may have ties to his sworn enemy (Cheng Pei-pei). A massive worldwide success that would go on to earn more than $200 million and net Lee a Best Picture Academy Award nomination, it moved an appreciative Roger Ebert to deem it "The most exhilarating martial arts movie I have seen."
Jane Austen's books have inspired countless films, but with 1995's Sense and Sensibility, Lee proved there was still cinematic gold yet to be spun from her stories. Working from an Oscar-winning screenplay by Emma Thompson (who also starred as the noble Elinor Dashwood), Lee offered a faithful representation of Austen's 1811 novel about the financial and romantic aftershocks that reverberate through a landed British family after their patriarch passes away. Bolstered by an excellent cast that also included Kate Winslet, Hugh Grant, and Alan Rickman, Sensibility resonated with Jeanne Aufmuth of the Palo Alto Weekly, who echoed the sentiments of the vast majority of her peers when she asked, "Enduring love, heartbreak, undying passion and bitter betrayal. What more could you ask from Jane Austen, and for that matter, from a film?"
In case you were wondering, here are Lee's top 10 movies according RT users' scores:
1. Eat Drink Man Woman -- 90%
2. Sense and Sensibility -- 88%
3. The Wedding Banquet -- 85%
4. Lust, Caution -- 82%
5. Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon -- 81%
6. The Ice Storm -- 79%
7. Brokeback Mountain -- 77%
8. Ride with the Devil -- 62%
9. Taking Woodstock -- 47%
10. Hulk -- 34%
Finally, here's a clip from Lee's debut film -- Pushing Hands, from 1992: