A CONVERSATION WITH
ANG LEE AND ZHANG YIMOU
By Joshua Handler
Last Thursday, March 27, was a night to remember at Cooper Union. NYU's Tisch School of the Arts partnered with Beijing-based Le-TV to host a private screening of Zhang Yimou's newest film, Coming Home (the screening was not open for media), along with a conversation between Yimou and director Ang Lee, moderated by Tisch professor Christine Choy, herself an Oscar-nominated documentarian.
Zhang Yimou is best known for his tragic stories and rich visual style, having directed a number of acclaimed films (many of which have gone on to Oscar nominations) including Raise the Red Lantern, Hero, and House of Flying Daggers. He also gained recognition for being the lead director of the 2008 Beijing Olympic Opening Ceremonies.
Ang Lee is a two-time Oscar-winner for Best Director and is known for having one of the most diverse filmographies around. His films are notable for their humanity, grace, and exploration of the relationships that we form with family and lovers. Lee is best-known for having directed the gay western romance Brokeback Mountain, the British period piece Sense and Sensibility, the young adult fantasy book adaptation Life of Pi, and the record-breaking martial arts romance Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, all of which were nominated for the Best Picture Oscar. Two of his earlier films, The Wedding Banquet and Eat Drink Man Woman were nominated for the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar.
The conversation between the two men was in Mandarin and was translated for the English-speakers using an interpreter. Lee opened the discussion with heavy words of praise for Yimou's Coming Home and the two then continued to discuss a number of topics, the most interesting being how they believe that we are in a golden age of Chinese cinema. According to them, this is the prime time for young directors in China. As China becomes increasingly powerful, so does its film industry.
Christine Choy's few comments in between discussion topics were quite funny and lightened the mood. The tone of the conversation between the two men was one that made evident their mutual respect for each other. Watching Lee on the stage made it evident why his films are as humane and intelligent as they are...because they are exactly like him. Lee is soft-spoken and gracious. Yimou is very similar.
This event was one of celebration, contemplation, and admiration. Since I was young, I've been watching the films of Yimou and Lee, so being able to see them in conversation was an experience I won't soon forget.