Ang Lee and Zhang Yimou Share Filmmaking Visions

Directors Ang Lee (李安)  and Zhang Yimou (張藝謀) met at New York University earlier in March to discuss Zhang’s new film, Coming Home <歸來>. A graduate of New York University’s film production program, Lee also shared insight into his film-making process and sources of inspiration.

Lee praised the actors’ detailed performances and commented that while Coming Home did not contain a lot of beautiful imagery, it was very serene to watch. The slow-paced ending gave a sense of freedom, and Lee said that that Coming Home was a good existentialist movie that conveyed deep meanings and important lessons.

Breaking into Hollywood 

Lee has gained international acclaim for works such as Brokeback Mountain and Life of Pi. While Lee continues his successful streak in Hollywood, Zhang has primarily focused on making movies in Mainland China. Zhang asked how they can successfully incorporate Chinese concepts into Hollywood productions.

Lee explained that the film must abide by the rules set in Hollywood first and adopt the “American habit”, while creating a film with a distinct vision. And since everyone watches movies from Hollywood, it would be wise to create a story that they would accept, and then aim to make the audience laugh through the movie.

Although there is a lot of pressure on filmmakers in Mainland, Lee believes there is an abundance of opportunities in the Chinese and Taiwanese market, especially for young aspiring directors. The film industry is now flourishing and changing, after lack of development in film culture for nearly 30 years in Mainland China.

Experience Along The Way

Speaking on the difficulties in his early career, Lee said, “It’s akin to feeling useless and underappreciated. There were tendencies of insomnia, and I felt as though there was nothing I could do.”

Although his early movies, such as The Wedding Banquet <喜宴>, were received positively, it was not until 1995’s Sense and Sensibility financial success that boosted Lee’s confidence. With the film’s box office success, he bought a house and considered himself as a real movie director. In the past, Lee felt that he had “deeply disappointed others” and that he “was an unstable worker”.

Lessons Learned

Lee possesses a tendency and skills to successfully adapt literary works into successful film hits. Most of Lee’s films depict bright spots in humanity.  The 59-year-old added that he is currently preparing for a boxing film, but is waiting for additional investor support.

Lee disclosed, “To be honest, I feel that there is no meaning in life, and that’s why we constantly search for it. We live in a heartless world, so we have to increase our will to find the true meaning, value, and story behind our lives and transform that into something more. Then we won’t feel alone and scared anymore. That’s why when I make movies, I have fun, and when I’m not filming, I don’t know how to pass the time.”


This article is written by Su for

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  1. 2 great directors. Zhang Yimou is always great with stunning visuals. Ang Lee is more accessible to the general populace. His Life Of Pi is art and great storytelling. Was so happy he won the surprise Oscar for Best Director.

    1. The title is misleading. Entire article is about Ang Lee.

  2. Ang Lee must have had an English education or how else could he have directed that very “English”, Jane Austen’s novel “Sense and Sensibility”. I, of course, think it so wonderful that a foreigner, like him could have won an Oscar for directing the film.

    Yes, I do agree with you that the article is misleading and is entirely about him, Ang Lee.

    1. I agree. I didn’t even know until afterwards that SENSE N SENSIBILITY was directed by an asian director. It was nicely done. I quite enjoy it and I never really like that kind of genre to begin with.

    2. No, Ang Lee does not have had an English education.

      Like all Taiwanese, he grew up in a Chinese education curriculum, and received an American tertiary later in the US.

      In fact, most will graduate with a first degree from Taiwan and then pursue a post-graduate course in the US.

      Ang’s years in the New York university earn him his American cultural pedigree.

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