By Andy Lauer | Indiewire August 3, 2009 at 5:32AM
In anticipation of the release of his latest film, "Taking Woodstock," the Film Society of Lincoln Center in New York kicked off an 11-day retrospective of director Ang Lee's films this weekend. Intimate Views from Afar: The Films of Ang Lee, running through August 11, presents all 10 of Lee's films, from 1992's "Pushing Hands" to 2007's "Lust Caution."
The Film Society's description of the series: "This complete retrospective of Lee’s work celebrates this summer's release of his eleventh feature film, 'Taking Woodstock.' Re-visit modern classics such as 'Eat Drink Man Woman,' 'Brokeback Mountain' and 'Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.' A special offering is the director’s cut of one of his very best (although sadly under-appreciated) films, 'Ride With the Devil,' which Ang Lee and his close collaborator James Schamus will introduce and discuss on August 10."
The New York Times' Larry Rohter has an interview with Lee in which the director expounds on his commercial failure, "The Hulk": "The war in Iraq had just started, and overseas the first question I was almost always asked was whether ‘Hulk’ was a metaphor... Nothing could be clearer about what Hulk represents. Except that nobody asked me that here. I did hundreds of interviews, and I found that strange. Maybe they didn’t notice. Maybe it’s so close that they didn’t see it."
In L Magazine, Andrew Chan discusses Lee's early "Father Knows Best" trilogy (comprised of "Pushing Hands," "The Wedding Banquet" and "Eat Drink Man Woman." "Time may have named Ang Lee 'America's Best Director' in 2001," writes Chan, "but film snobs have since found it increasingly easy to dismiss the Taiwan-born filmmaker as an aesthetic conservative, especially after the excessive Oscar-baiting tastefulness and glaring lack of emotional commitment in 'Brokeback Mountain' and 'Lust, Caution.' For all his artistic and public reticence, though, Lee has never been a mere metteur en scène — and to see just how personal he can get with his perennial theme of individualistic desire butting up against socially enforced discipline, one need only turn to the three family comedies that jumpstarted his career...
"Even more than the bravura entertainment of 'Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon,' these films reveal the director's gift for elegant, straightforward storytelling. At their center stands a highly symbolic father figure, representative of a whole generation of Mainlanders who retreated to Taiwan mid-century along with the Kuomintang government. Played by Sihung Lung with a quiet wisdom that miraculously circumvents caricature, this patriarch is imagined — like the KMT-ruled Taiwan itself — as a repository for authentic Chinese civilization. In each film, through his strained relationships with his fully modernized children, the father is forced to confront the realities of globalization and the obsolescence of his own knowledge."
Kazu Watanabe has a post on the Film Society's blog on "Brokeback Mountain." "Ang Lee’s western melodrama 'Brokeback Mountain' is a film of wide-open spaces, lingering on the majestic mountain scenes in which Ennis (Heath Ledger) and Jack (Jake Gyllenhaal), two cowboys living in Wyoming, fall in love," notes Watanabe. "While such shots evoke the grandeur of open spaces that define the American landscape (especially in Westerns), they also ironically comment upon the insularity of its characters, whose true desires must be kept out of the open."
"You have to say this about Ang Lee: The Taiwanese-American filmmaker doesn't like to get stuck in ruts," writes V.A. Musetto for the New York Post. "His films range from a gay love story ('Brokeback Mountain,' 2005) to an overrated martial-arts epic ('Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon,' 2000) to a New England family drama ('The Ice Storm,' 1997) to a controversial hetero sex romp ('Lust, Caution,' 2007) to a Hollywood actioner ('Hulk,' 2003)."
The Film Talk has a podcast analyzing each of the director's films (and offers a grid laying out where each of his movies falls on an axis from "Action Packed" to "Romantic," "Eastern" to "Western").
Lee's latest "Taking Woodstock" opens August 28. Following its premiere at Cannes Eric Kohn wrote for indieWIRE: "Considering the iconic event at its center, the most surprising aspect of 'Taking Woodstock' lies with the decision to make it into a rather flat comedy. Even with the ever-versatile Ang Lee behind the camera, this messy historical fiction plays like a two hour 'Saturday Night Live' sketch, and not a very good one, either."