Success came late in life for director, Ang Lee. It was worth the wait though. In 2005, he was the first Asian to be awarded a Best Director Oscar for his work on Brokeback Mountain. He followed this up in 2012 with another Best Director award for Life of Pi. It was clear that the audiences around the world agreed with the judge’s decisions with Worldwide films having earned a combined amount of $1,457.6 million at the box office.
Lee has said it took 35 years for his creative energy to emerge. The moment which allowed him to nurture this gift, came when together with his wife, he decided to pursue his passion of filmmaking and not a more traditional career.
After completing a course in film production, Lee found it hard to find that first movie job. For six years, his wife, Jane Lin, worked as a molecular biologist supporting her husband and their four children on a meagre wage. Lee on the other hand, learnt to cook, looked after the kids and wrote screenplays.
Coming from a traditional Chinese family, Lee’s decision to pursue a non-traditional career was a difficult one. His father was an authoritative figure pushing for his son to take on a respectable profession like teaching. Regardless, Lee, supported by Jane, stayed committed to his art and together they forged a life that allowed him to follow his dream
This wasn’t the best of times for Lee’s family, with the occasional fast food takeaway being their biggest luxury. At one point in time, help came in the form of Jane’s parents offering the family some money to help Lee start up a Chinese restaurant as he had become quite the cook. However, his wife declined the offer.
Lee felt guilty. Unable to support himself or his family, he was convinced his film ambitions were nothing but a fantasy. Unhappily, he enrolled in a computer course - anything to make him employable. Noticing her husband was not his usual self, she said: “There are so many people studying computers already, they don’t need an Ang Lee to do that.” Encouraged by this, Lee tore up the course timetable and never looked back since.
After six years of cooking, cleaning, picking the kids up and perfecting his art, the decision of reversing familial roles finally paid off. In 1992, he wrote and directed his first feature, Pushing Hands which explored the relationship between a traditional Chinese father and his son living in America. The critics loved it and it received very good reviews across the world. With renewed confidence, Lee released what would become the year’s most profitable film, the Wedding Banquet, in 1993, costing only US$750,000 but taking in a grand total of US$32 million.
Encouraged by his wife, and more importantly, given the opportunity to realise his artistic dream, Lee’s success grew. His 2000 hit, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, introduced the Chinese martial arts film to the mainstream Western audience and earned global acclaim. Academy Awards for Brokeback Mountain and Life of Pi soon followed.
It was a vision and a success that can be traced back to the day Lee and his wife decided that dreams are worth chasing.
Yesterday, Ang Lee ‘s film ambitions were fantasy for him. Today, he’s an acclaimed movie director known around the globe.
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