Ang Lee’s Oscar Win Fuels Angst in China

Ang Lee’s ‘Best Director’ Oscar victory for Life of Pi on Sunday met a rapturous reception on Taiwan, where he was born. In an editorial proclaiming the “coming of age” of Asian cinema, the South China Morning Post gushed that “with an oeuvre that spans across historical times, genres and cultures, Lee shows what a cosmopolitan Chinese, deeply rooted in his own culture yet attuned to today’s highly connected globe, can achieve on the world stage.” But for some in mainland China, the win has raised the question of why an ethnic Chinese and not a Chinese national collected the statue, echoing similar angst at the country’s former failure to produce a mainstream Nobel prizewinner. From Adam Minter at Bloomberg World View:

Lee made no mention of China — even though China claims Taiwan as a renegade province and tensions run high between them — but he did end his speech by thanking the audience in Chinese (as well as English and Sanskrit). Was his omission of China deliberate? It’s impossible to say. (Curiously, Lee thanked China after he won in 2005.)

[…] There’s no shortage of tweets embracing Lee as “the pride of the Chinese people,” and “the pride of Chinese film.” However, this patriotic cheerleading has its detractors. Tengjing Shu, a Shanghai-based film critic, summarized her objections in a lengthy mid-afternoon tweet:

“A journalist asked me what kind of influence Life of Pi and its four awards will have on Chinese film. I said that it was irrelevant to China. The awards, and the fact that Life of Pi was shot in Taiwan, only serve to highlight problems with Chinese filmmaking.”

Many have offered suggestions about what those problems might be. From Yang Jingjie at Global Times:

Hao Jie, a young director whose 2010 film Single Man won the Special Jury Prize in the Tokyo Filmex Festival and numerous plaudits from critics but was never screened in the mainland for its depiction of complex sex lives in a village, sounded off on his frustrations.

“Due to the censorship, we are restrained from the beginning of our production, which forbids our works from mirroring genuine realities,” Hao told the Global Times.

While acknowledging the system’s role in undermining excellent works, Su Mu, a professor with Beijing Film Academy and well-known film critic, told the Global Times that the atmosphere in the mainland’s film circle is also to blame.

Su argued that the film examination system in Iran, which is equally strict, did not stop Iranian filmmakers from producing good works.

“Lee produces his works with his heart, but most mainland directors now only have money in mind,” commented Su, adding that the bad atmosphere is consistent with the overall situation of the society.

Global Voices online has translated a selection of other posts on Lee’s victory and the ensuing debate. See more on China’s pursuit of Oscars and Hollywood’s pursuit of China via CDT.

The award also thrust Lee into another controversy over the precarious state of the visual effects industry. Life of Pi won four Oscars including the award for best visual effects, but Rhythm & Hues, the VFX studio responsible, was forced to file for bankruptcy earlier this month. That Lee credited Taiwan for making the film possible without thanking the effects artists, despite the film’s almost total reliance on their work, was one of several parts of the ceremony felt to have added insult to injury.