The Incredible Story of How Ang Lee Went From Jobless to an Oscar Winning Director

The Incredible Story of How Ang Lee Went From Jobless to an Oscar Winning Director
Laura Dang
By Laura Dang
February 15, 2016
Renowned Taiwanese-born American film director, screenwriter and producer Ang Lee has directed great classics including “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon,” “Hulk” and “Brokeback Mountain.”
Lee, 61, made history when he became the first Asian recipient of an Oscar in 2006 and Golden Globe award in 2001. He won his second Academy Award in 2013 for directing the film “Life of Pi.”
There’s no doubt that Lee has had an incredibly successful career as a film director, but he credits his wife for helping him realize his dreams.
After winning an Oscar in 2006 for his work in directing “Brokeback Mountain,” Lee wrote an essay describing his success story.
Born in a southern agricultural county of Taiwan, Lee applied to film school at the University of Illinois back in 1978 against the wishes of his father. His decision led to the falling out relationship between him and his father. Lee wrote:
“Against his advice, I boarded a flight to the U.S. This strained our relationship. In the two decades following, we exchanged less than a hundred phrases in conversation.”
It was after graduation that Lee would understand his traditional father’s objection to his dreams of becoming a filmmaker. Lee struggled for six years working uncertain jobs including being an editor’s assistant and handling equipment for film crews. At 30, Lee had to face reality. He wrote:
“I couldn’t even support myself. What could I do? Keep waiting, or give up my movie-making dream? My wife gave me invaluable support.”
Lee married his college classmate Jane Lin, a biology major who would go on to work for a pharmaceutical research lab. Together they raised their family, which included their eldest son, on the modest income his wife brought in.
“To appease my own feelings of guilt, I took on all housework — cooking, cleaning, taking care of our son — in addition to reading, reviewing films and writing scripts.”
Their grim financial situation brought his in-laws to offer his wife a sum of money in hopes that he would use it as startup capital for a Chinese restaurant. Burdened with feelings of guilt for not providing financial support to the family, Lee enrolled for computer courses at a nearby community college.
“For the days that followed, I descended into malaise. My wife, noticing my unusual demeanor, discovered a schedule of classes tucked in my bag … The next morning, right before she got in her car to head off to work, my wife turned back and — standing there on our front steps — said, ‘Ang, don’t forget your dream.’ ”
His dreams that were “drowned by demands of reality” were revived thanks to the touching words from his wife. A little while after that, Lee received funding for his screenplay and began to shoot his own films. Those films would go on to win international awards. Lee recalled his wife saying to him:
“I’ve always believed that you only need one gift. Your gift is making films. There are so many people studying computers already, they don’t need an Ang Lee to do that. If you want that golden statue, you have to commit to the dream.”
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