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The Philosophy of Ang Lee

edited by Robert Arp, Adam Barkman, and James McRae

Publication Year: 2013

Ang Lee (b. 1954) has emerged as one of cinema's most versatile, critically acclaimed, and popular directors. Known for his ability to transcend cultural and stylistic boundaries, Lee has built a diverse oeuvre that includes films about culture clashes and globalization (Eat Drink Man Woman, 1994, and The Wedding Banquet, 1993), a period drama (Sense and Sensibility, 1995), a martial arts epic (Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, 2000), a comic book action movie (Hulk, 2003), and an American western (Brokeback Mountain, 2005). The Philosophy of Ang Lee draws from both Eastern and Western philosophical traditions to examine the director's works. The first section focuses on Taoist, Confucian, and Buddhist themes in his Chinese-language films, and the second examines Western philosophies in his English-language films; but the volume ultimately explores how Lee negotiates all of these traditions, strategically selecting from each in order to creatively address key issues. With interest in this filmmaker and his work increasing around the release of his 3-D magical adventure The Life of Pi (2012), The Philosophy of Ang Lee serves as a timely investigation of the groundbreaking auteur and the many complex philosophical themes that he explores through the medium of motion pictures.

Published by: The University Press of Kentucky

Series: The Philosophy of Popular Culture

Front Cover

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pp. 1-3

Title Page

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p. 4-4

Copyright Page

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p. 5-5


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p. v-v


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pp. 8-9

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pp. 1-15

“Hi, I’m Ang Lee, and if I don’t make movies I’m going to die.”1 Ang Lee used these words to introduce himself to the production company, Good Machine, which would go on to fund his 1992 film, Pushing Hands. Lee is one of the most talented and ...

Part 1: The Eastern Philosophy of Ang Lee

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p. 17-17

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Conquering the Self: Daoism, Confucianism, and the Price of Freedom in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon

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pp. 19-40

There is a famous Chinese painting entitled The Three Vinegar Tasters that depicts the founders of China’s three great philosophical systems— Confucianism, Buddhism, and Daoism—sampling a vat of vinegar. Confucius and the Buddha find it ...

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What Do You Know of My Heart?: The Role of Sense and Sensibility in Ang Lee’s Sense and Sensibility and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon

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pp. 41-63

When Ang Lee asked Michelle Yeoh to play one of the lead roles in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000), he described it to her as “Sense and Sensibility with martial arts.” However, this too glibly states the relationship between the two films. Comparisons and ...

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The Confucian Cowboy Aesthetic

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pp. 64-76

Early in the nineteenth century, French emissary and political thinker Alexis de Toqueville (1805–1859) observed a tendency among Americans, especially those of the new Western states, toward an isolation and individualism wherein its members had little or no ...

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East Meets Western: The Eastern Philosophy of Ang Lee’s Brokeback Mountain

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pp. 77-94

Ang Lee’s 2005 film, Brokeback Mountain, is an adaptation of Annie Proulx’s 1997 novella about the intense connection between two cowboys who first meet while sheepherding on a mountain in Wyoming in 1963. Both the film and the novella emphasize the anfractuous nature of ...

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Landscape and Gender in Ang Lee's Sense and Sensibility and Brokeback Mountain

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pp. 95-120

In his 1757 work, A Philosophical Enquiry into the Origin of Our Ideas of the Sublime and Beautiful, English philosopher Edmund Burke discusses these two concepts as they relate to human perceptions of landscape aesthetics in their most basic form: ...

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Can't Get No Satisfaction: Desires, Rituals, and the Search for Harmony in Eat Drink Man Woman

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pp. 121-140

One of the reasons Eat Drink Man Woman (1994) is such an exquisite film is because it seamlessly blends sumptuous spreads of traditional Chinese cuisine with a rich mixture of characters, passions, and conflict. The displays of culinary ...

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Paternalism, Virtue Ethics, and Ang Lee: Does Father Really Know Best?

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pp. 141-150

In the Father Knows Best trilogy—composed of the films Pushing Hands (1992), The Wedding Banquet (1993), and Eat Drink Man Woman (1994)—Ang Lee explores the role of paternalism in modern society. All of the characters in ...

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Lust, Caution: A Case for Perception, Unimpeded

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pp. 151-162

When British film critic Peter Bradshaw reviewed Ang Lee’s 2007 film Lust, Caution, he carefully noted (even though he praised the film) that it “does not offer the same unmediated insight into the minds and hearts of its lovers ...

Part 2: The Western Philosophy of Ang Lee

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p. 163-163

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The Power to Go beyond God's Boundaries?: Hulk, Human Nature, and Some Ethical Concerns Thereof

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pp. 165-176

“We live in an upside-down world,” remarks director Ang Lee. “Biblically, we lost Paradise.”1 This comment is central to Lee’s vision for his 2003 movie Hulk, based on the Marvel comic book series The Incredible Hulk. In past films, Lee demonstrated an ...

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Displacement, Deception, and Disorder: Ang Lee’s Discourse of Identity

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pp. 177-191

Ang Lee is a director known for adapting complex and sophisticated narratives into traditional film genres. Through a distinct filmmaking style, Lee’s movies simultaneously take advantage of the tools available in each genre while also challenging, expanding, and ...

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Subverting Heroic Violence: Ang Lee’s Taking Woodstock and Hulk as Antiwar Narratives

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pp. 192-209

Popular culture is replete with images of violence. The use of violence is especially widespread on entertainment screens, as evidenced in video games such as Call of Duty (Activision, 2003) and Assassin’s Creed (Ubi-soft, 2007), television shows such as ...

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Homo MIgrans: Desexualization in Ang Lee’s Taking Woodstock

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pp. 210-229

Ang Lee’s Taking Woodstock (2009) is a problematic adaptation of Elliot Tiber’s eponymous 2007 memoir because it dilutes and subverts the gay liberationist ideology that is the nucleus of Tiber’s work. What should have been a coming-out story veers off ...

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Because of the Molecules: The Ice Storm and the Philosophy of Love and Recognition

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pp. 230-242

For a moment, The Ice Storm (1997) brings everything to a standstill. Everything falls silent. As the audience will learn to appreciate, this is a time for self-reflection and for the contemplation of others. It is a condition that has not existed until this ...

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It's Existential: Negative Space and Nothingness in The Ice Storm

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pp. 243-250

Two of the most important philosophical movements of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries are also the least understood. Phenomenology and existentialism mark, in many ways, the cultural move from modernism to postmodernism and serve ...

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The Ice Storm: What Is Impending?

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pp. 251-264

The Ice Storm (1997) opens, we feel we are moving, but the scene is dark and unidentifiable. Credits appear; some letters are out of focus, and then slowly become clear. The moving image becomes distinct. We have been following railroad tracks, and ...

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All's Fair in Love and War?: Machiavelli and Ang Lee’s Ride with the Devil

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pp. 265-290

Ang Lee’s Ride with the Devil (1999) is a film about war and love. It is a common belief, captured in the proverb “All’s fair in love and war,”1 that when it comes to war and love, there are no rules.2 The ends—winning the war, and winning the heart of ...

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p. 291-291

Robert Arp: Thanks to Adam and Jim for their work on this book; Mark Conard, editor of the Philosophy of Popular Culture series at the University Press of Kentucky (UPK); and Anne Dean Watkins, acquisitions editor Adam Barkman: Thanks to my coeditors, ...

Glossary of Chinese Terms

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pp. 293-294


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pp. 295-297


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pp. 299-302

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Series Page

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pp. 303-304

The books published in the Philosophy of Popular Culture series will illuminate and explore philosophical themes and ideas that occur in popular culture. The goal of this series is to demonstrate how philosophical inquiry has been reinvigorated by ...

E-ISBN-13: 9780813141701
Print-ISBN-13: 9780813141664

Page Count: 312
Publication Year: 2013

Series Title: The Philosophy of Popular Culture