The Best Of Ang Lee: His LGBT Movies & Why We Love Them
Making mainstream out of the controversial
There are very few names in the directorial side of film whose names are as high praised and as respected as Ang Lee’s. Not only does he have an eye for genuine human stories and a flair for telling them no matter what the genre, but he never lets the possibility of controversy—and a low budget—stop him.
Over the decades of his career, he has taken on a clash of cultures in Pushing Hands, periodic pieces like Sense & Sensibility and mainstream heroics such as Hulk. But we’re here to talk about his films that have touched on LGBT stories with normalcy, reality and sometimes poignancy.
The Wedding Banquet (1993)
While his resume was already critically acclaimed at that point, it is The Wedding Banquet that propelled Ang Lee in American cinema. It tells the story of a gay couple, Wai-Tung and Simon, who are happy with their lives but must hide their relationship from Wai-Tung’s traditional Taiwanese parents. In an effort to appease them, Wai-Tung decides to have a sham wedding with green card-needing Wei-Wei. When Wai-Tung’s parents visit to throw him an elaborate celebration, things start to really get complicated.
The real beauty of the film is, oddly enough, not in the lavish banquet itself or the drama or the well-placed comedy. It’s in how Ang Lee has given each character their due spotlight, development and ending. There is an air of validity to every unique story and you’re bound to hold a special place in your heart for each one.
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Brokeback Mountain (2005)
Arguably Ang Lee’s most popular LGBT film, Brokeback Mountain tells the story of two cowboys who take on a job herding sheep one summer. Over the course of their job, Ennis and Jack develop feelings for each other, which reaches its climax during one particularly cold night. They refuse to acknowledge their budding relationship and go off to live otherwise heterosexual lives. But as their children grow and their marriages crumble, these two men hold on to each other at a distance, pivoted each time by a not-so-innocent fishing trip.
In Brokeback Mountain, Ang Lee shatters the hetero-normative idea of a beautiful and bucking cowboy, but the director himself refuses to label it as “gay movie.” In an interview with The Independent, he simply explains that the film is a “romantic tragedy like Romeo and Juliet and for that you need obstacles.” Jack and Ennis simply had to overcome the taboo-nature of their relationship, whether that meant battling society or themselves.
Taking Woodstock (2009)
Set in 1969, Taking Woodstock tells the story of Elliot Tiber, who swoops in to save a music festival and his parents’ dilapidated motel all in one go. Enter financially demanding vendors, strict inspectors and swastika-painting local boys and you somehow reach an eventual and overwhelming peace.
The genius of the film is in the backstage-limited point of view that Ang Lee has chosen to tell Taking Woodstock in. You never see the actual concert performances, although you do hear it in the background sometimes. The true performance is in the mixing of the characters—including transvestite ex-Marine Vilma, a nude theatrical group, the townspeople and the local authorities—to tell a story that has been told a thousand times over.
In an industry that has a surplus of feel-good romantic comedies that make us laugh, it’s refreshing to turn back to a director like Ang Lee, whose body of work surpasses so many genres, stories and ways of telling of them.