But, his Taiwanese roots continue to be a point of contention.
Acclaimed Taiwan-born director Ang Lee, who recently won his second Best Director Academy Award, for Life of Pi, has had a complicated relationship with China. His films have been widely popular here — Life of Pi shattered box office records and was, after Titanic, the only Hollywood film that made more in China than in the United States. Yet, the fact that Lee hails from Taiwan, which China claims as its own province, and that he has often made clear that he is proud of his Taiwanese roots has led to a sometimes awkward relationship with his Chinese fans (Lee pointedly referred to his Taiwan roots even when he received his Academy Award, although Chinese media reports curiously left out this part of his speech in laudatory reports of his triumph).
Chinese filmgoers have begun to wonder when the mainland will have its own auteur to celebrate, just as Taiwan hails Lee and Hong Kong has Wong Kar-wai. For now, however, it seems they are more than willing to share in Lee’s success.
Focusing on Lee’s “Chinese-ness”, the official China Daily’s film critic Raymond Zhou hailed Lee as a “quintessential” Chinese director. “Chinese audiences have embraced (his film Life of Pi) with an open heart because we sensed an infusion of Chinese characteristics in the story-telling and the themes,” he said.
“As a matter of fact, we have discovered traces of Chinese-ness in most of Ang Lee’s non-Chinese-language pictures,” Zhou wrote, even arguing, somewhat puzzlingly, that Lee’s award-winning Brokeback Mountain, a love story about two cowboys, had “a unique embodiment of Chinese civilization”. Lee and his works, Zhou added, were “the quintessential personification of the glory of Chinese culture”.
Zhou’s column, curiously, did not mention one Lee film — the 2007 Lust, Caution — that brought the director worldwide acclaim. One reason, perhaps, was that China’s government, which is now quick to claim Lee as its own, was so angered by the film’s portrayal of a Communist agent that it not only deleted several scenes, but went as far as preventing the lead actress from working in the mainland for several years.