Because of Ang Lee, so many more people know about Chinese filmmaking and about Chinese films. Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, a Chinese-language movie, mesmerized Western audiences in 2000. And last year, with Brokeback Mountain, yet another unimaginable success, both with critics and audiences, he captivated the entire world and reached the pinnacle of moviemaking.
Lee's ability to be such a huge cross-cultural influence is, I think, unique. His Taiwanese upbringing, which kept him deeply rooted in the Chinese way of being and living, combined with his well-informed understanding of Western mores and filmmaking techniques have allowed him to speak to those two worlds in a way no other director has.
It's as if when Lee, 51, makes a film, he is able to erase the cultural lines and have its profundity understood at a universal level. He creates characters that draw in an audience no matter what language they speak. His insight into the human heart crosses all boundaries.
I know he is also making a huge influence in the lives of younger filmmakers and actors. I, for one, will be forever indebted to him for casting me in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. When I went to audition for him, I had made just one film (The Road Home) and had never done any martial arts. I was 20 and didn't feel up to any of it. He still gave me that chance. Why? He saw what I could be capable of and was willing to let me have a go at it. How great is he?
I love that he never limits himself either. He's a good role model for all of us. Director Ang Lee lives in the future.
The Beijing-born Zhang starred most recently in Memoirs of a Geisha