Tuesday, March 3, 2009

No, I'm Not Required to Like Ang Lee's Movies

I once took a film class in college that focused on Asian films. Which meant that I had to see the majority of Ang Lee's films, up to that point in time. Which meant that I saw Pushing Hands, The Wedding Banquet, Eat Drink Man Woman, The Ice Storm, Ride with the Devil, and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. Since then, I've also seen The Hulk, and Chosen, which was his short for The Hire short film series for BMW.

Which means I haven't seen Sense and Sensibility, Brokeback Mountain, and Lust, Caution. That said, I think that I've seen enough of the movies that he's directed to be able to form an opinion on his work. In light of the nature of this blog, I'll focus on his movies that focus on Asians. By which I mean, star Asians, which is good and all, but not the point here.

I think they were well-made movies that may speak to the Asian/American experience in a number of ways. Well-made meaning he functions well as a director. I still didn't particularly like the movies that much. While I'm sure that there is a jarring transition for an immigrant to have to move to the United States, as well as the generational conflict, I just couldn't get into Pushing Hands that much. Not to get too detailed, I can speak to some experience with this. The point is that while it is an intimate portrayal of a family's struggle, there isn't necessarily a universal Asian truth in this. Nor should there be one.

Maybe it's backlash, but no, this movie does not speak to my experience. Even with grandparents that come to visit and can stay for quite a while. And I should not be expected to connect to the film as if there was some universal Asian truth to it, as if they/we were all the same.

As for The Wedding Banquet, well I seriously question the underlying assumption that being gay in the film is somehow wrong. So the main character, in order to protect his parents' sensibilities marries a woman, instead of coming out that he's gay and in a committed relationship. Now yes, there's a generation gap, and yes I do think that respect for parents is important, but if they're homophobes, that's their fucking problem. Not (looking up in imdb) Wei Tung's. Okay, it was 1993, but still, I'm told that even then, the gays were here, they were queer, and I believe we were instructed to get used to it. Being old is no excuse for being bigoted, even if it's perhaps a less violent form. This isn't Lakeview Terrace now. So, thanks a lot Ang Lee for portraying the older generation of Asians as homophobic, and the newer generation of Asian-Americans as pussies unwilling to buck Asian tradition for what's right.

Or maybe it's just these particular ones. Depending on if you think Ang Lee's films are supposed to speak to some sort of Asian or Asian-American truthiness.

I didn't have any real objections to Eat Drink Man Woman (aka the other Tortilla Soup), mainly because I can't really remember it that much.

Which leads me to the movie that perhaps catapulted him to widespread public awareness, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. I'm not going to argue about how it was shot or choreographed, even if I did have to analyze a scene in shot by shot detail for class. There is an ambiguity to the characters so that we were to believe that Jen Yu is more than a self-centered brat. Now, maybe this is the Americanist side of my Asian-Americanist perspective coming out, but there was a failing in that. To me at least. I never bought it and never felt real sympathy for her causing a good deal of the shit that happens because she screws up. Yeah, beat up a bunch of guys in a bar, I'm sure they all totally deserved it because you want to be all emo and everything. Do you think she listens to Dashboard Confessional played on the erhu too?

And while Li Mu-bai and Yu Shu-lien may have had some type of warrior wuxia code, they would have been much happier ignoring that, especially since Li was planning on retiring anyways.

Yes, this is in the source material presumably, so I can't completely blame Ang Lee, but still, the tragedy of this film/book comes from the characters inability to deal with their issues and/or get over themselves. It's historical, but this doesn't exactly speak to me as some grand statement on "Asianness."

Oh, and the events of Iron Knight, Silver Vase, makes Jen Yu's character come off even worse for me. Thanks for nothing Crane-Iron Pentalogy.

My point? Just because Ang Lee is Asian and makes movies about Asians, doesn't mean that they have to speak to me as an Asian-American. And, the other Asians that were in my class, don't be so surprised that I felt that way. I grew up in the Bay Area, and while I grew up on a steady diet of Jackie Chan and Jet Li movies, it doesn't mean that there is some grand Asian message that I buy in Ang Lee's movies. More importantly, it doesn't mean that I have to defend the films nor that I can't criticize them if I don't particularly like the movies.

And despite his race, I don't feel the particular need to promote Ang Lee as if I did like all of his "Asian" films. Just because he's one of my people doesn't mean he's one of my people.

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