Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Ang Lee, Eileen Chang and their ‘Lust, Caution’

by ShaoLan

Tang Wei, director Ang Lee, and and Wang Leehom at the Los Angeles Premiere of 'Lust, Caution' presented by Focus Features at the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences on October 3, 2007 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Jason Merritt)

As one of my favorite film directors, 李安 is known to the Western world as Ang Lee. His movies, which include ‘Sense and Sensibility’ (1995), ‘Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon’ (2000), ‘Brokeback Mountain’ (2005), and ‘Life of Pi’ (2012) have brought him widespread international fame. But, did you know that before he was famous, Ang Lee failed the entrance exams required to attend college in Taiwan? He did, twice! His massive success in spite of this roadblock shows us that we must follow our passions, and never give up. And by the way, he is a fellow Taiwanese!

Ang Lee was unemployed for six years after his graduation from the Tisch School of the Arts of New York University, where he received his MFA in Film Production. His wife Jane Lin supported him and the family during all of that time. I am so impressed by their incredible relationship, their belief in art, creativity and trust. Ang Lee is my inspiration, especially in the past few years. I worked day and night on the idea of Chineasy during my 18 months sabbatical. For me, Chineasy is a personal design and cultural project. I want it to be part of my legacy.

Now! Let’s get back to the film.

If an espionage/thriller film set in Shanghai during WWII sounds like it would tickle your fancy, check out Ang Lee’s film ‘Lust, Caution’ (2007). It really shows off Ang Lee’s diverse style. The film is an epic espionage/thriller film set in Hong Kong and Shanghai during WWII. It is a beautifully made movie and it hit me so hard that I felt physically heavy after coming out of the cinema. The film is based on a novella by Eileen Chang (張愛玲, 1932-1995) who is considered to be one of, if not the, best author in Chinese literature. Her talent developed at a very early age and she finished her first novel at the age of 12. Do you know any 12 year old who would have the patience to write a novel? Like many prominent authors, Eileen had a tumultuous personal life. Her parents had a difficult marriage that ended in divorce, and Eileen’s own love life was fraught with betrayal and loss. None of these hardships stopped Eileen from writing some of China’s greatest love stories. If you want to read more about Eileen’s life, you can check out her two semi-autobiographical novels, “The Fall of The Pagoda”, and “The Book of Change” which were both originally written in English.

張愛玲 (Eileen Chang) also wrote quite a few screenplays and had some of her novels adapted into film. I’d recommend watching the film “Qing Cheng Zhi Lian” (傾城之戀, Love in a Fallen City) (1984). Based on one of Eileen Chang’s most famous novellas, the film is set in 1940’s Shanghai and Hong Kong and focuses on the hardships of a divorcee who leaves her loser husband.

“Love in a Fallen City” and "The Golden Cangue" (金锁记) are both worth reading and have English translations.  Perfect for a rainy day!

Love in a Fallen City on Amazon

(色, 戒; Pinyin: Sè, Jiè)