At 69 years old, Ang Lee has this physical status:
The 'Father Knows Best' trilogy
Pushing Hands (1991) was a success in Taiwan both among critics and at the box office. It received eight nominations in the Golden Horse Film Festival, Taiwan's premier film festival. Inspired by the success, Hsu Li-kong collaborated with Lee in their second film, The Wedding Banquet (1993), which won the Golden Bear at the 43rd Berlin International Film Festival and was nominated as the Best Foreign Language Film in both the Golden Globe and the Academy Awards. In all, this film collected eleven Taiwanese and international awards and made Lee a rising star. These first two movies were based on stories of Chinese Americans, and both were filmed in the US.
In 1994, Hsu invited Lee to return to Taiwan to make Eat Drink Man Woman, a film that depicts traditional values, modern relationships, and family conflicts in Taipei. The film was a box office hit and was critically acclaimed. For a second consecutive year, Lee's film received the Best Foreign Language Film nomination in both the Golden Globe and Academy Awards, as well as in the British Academy Awards (BAFTA)s. Eat Drink Man Woman won five awards in Taiwan and internationally, including the Best Director from Independent Spirit.
The three films show the Confucian family at risk and star the Taiwanese actor Sihung Lung to form what has been called Lee's "Father Knows Best" trilogy.
Sense and Sensibility
In 1995, Lee directed Columbia TriStar's British classic Sense and Sensibility. This made Lee a second-time winner of the Golden Bear at the Berlin Film Festival. It was nominated for seven Academy Awards, and won Best Adapted Screenplay for screenwriter Emma Thompson, who also starred in the movie alongside Alan Rickman, Hugh Grant and Kate Winslet. Sense and Sensibility also won the Golden Globe Award for Best Motion Picture - Drama. Thompson has described the experience of working with Lee in his first English language film, noting how taken aback Lee was when the actors asked questions or provided suggestions, something Thompson notes as uncommon in Chinese culture. Once this disjuncture was bridged, Thompson remembered having "the most wonderful time because his notes were so brutal and funny."
After this, Lee directed two more Hollywood movies: The Ice Storm (1997), a drama set in 1970s suburban America, and Ride with the Devil (1999), an American Civil War drama. Although the critics still highly praised these two films, they were not particularly successful at the box office, and for a time this interrupted Lee's unbroken popularity – from both general audiences and arthouse aficionados – since his first full-length movie. However, in the late 1990s and 2000s, The Ice Storm had high VHS and DVD sales and rentals and repeated screenings on cable television, which has increased the film's popularity among audiences.
Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon
In 1999, Hsu Li-kong, Lee's old partner and supporter, invited him to make a movie based on the traditional "wuxia" genre concerning the adventures of martial artists in ancient China. Excited about the opportunity to fulfill his childhood dream, Lee assembled a team from the United States, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Malaysia and Mainland China for Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000). The film was a surprising success worldwide. With Chinese dialogue and English subtitles, the film became the highest grossing foreign film in many countries, including the United States and the United Kingdom, and was nominated in 10 categories at the Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Foreign Language Film, and Best Director. It ended up winning Best Foreign Language Film and three technical awards.
In 2003, Lee returned to Hollywood to direct Hulk, his second big-budget movie after the disappointment of Ride with the Devil's restricted release. The film received mixed reviews while being a financial success, grossing over $245 million at the box office. After the setback, Lee considered retiring early, but his father encouraged him to continue making movies.
Lee took on a small-budget, low-profile independent film based on Annie Proulx's Pulitzer Prize-finalist short story, Brokeback Mountain. In a 2005 article by Robert K. Elder, Lee was quoted as saying, "What do I know about gay ranch hands in Wyoming?" In spite of the director's distance from the subject at hand, Brokeback Mountain showcased Lee's skills in probing the depths of the human heart. The 2005 movie about the forbidden love between two Wyoming sheepherders immediately caught public attention and became a cultural phenomenon, initiating intense debates and becoming a box office hit.
The film was critically acclaimed at major international film festivals and won Lee numerous Best Director and Best Picture awards worldwide. Brokeback Mountain was the most acclaimed film of 2005, winning 71 awards and an additional 52 nominations. It won the Golden Lion (best film) award at the Venice International Film Festival and was named 2005's best film by the Los Angeles, New York, Boston, and London film critics. It also won best picture at the 2005 Broadcast Film Critics Association, Directors Guild of America, Writers Guild of America (Adapted Screenplay), Producers Guild of America and the Independent Spirit Awards as well as the Golden Globe Award for Best Motion Picture – Drama, with Lee winning the Golden Globe Award for Best Director. Brokeback Mountain also won Best Film and Best Director at the 2006 BAFTAs. It was nominated for a leading eight Oscars and was the front runner for Best Picture heading into the 5 March ceremony, but lost out to Crash, a story about race relations in Los Angeles, in a controversial upset. He became the first non-white person to win the Best Director at the Academy Awards (which he won again for Life of Pi). In 2006, following his Best Director Oscar, Lee was bestowed the Order of Brilliant Star with Grand Cordon, the second highest civilian honour, by the R.O.C. government.
His next film was Lust, Caution, which was adapted from a novella by the Chinese author Eileen Chang. The story was written in 1950, and was loosely based on an actual event that took place in 1939–1940 in Japanese-occupied Shanghai, China, during World War II. Similar to Brokeback Mountain, Ang Lee adapted and expanded a short, simple story into a feature film in a way that allows individual figures to develop sophisticated layers of reserved emotions, without being sidetracked by complicated plots or overstuffed material.
Lust, Caution was distributed by Focus Features and premiered at international film festivals in the summer and early fall of 2007. In the U.S., the movie received a NC-17 rating (no children 17 and under admitted) from the MPAA mainly due to several strongly explicit sex scenes. This was a challenge to the film's distribution because many theater chains in the United States refuse to show NC-17 films. The director and film studio decided not to appeal the decision. Lee removed 9 minutes from the film to make the content suitable for minor audiences in order to be permitted to show Lust, Caution in mainland China.
Lust, Caution captured the Golden Lion from the 2007 Biennale Venice Film Festival, making Lee the winner of the highest prize for the second time in three years (Lee is one of only four filmmakers to have won the Golden Lion twice). When Lust, Caution was played in Lee's native Taiwan in its original full-length edition, it was very well received. Staying in Taiwan to promote the film and to participate in a traditional holiday, Lee got emotional when he found that his work was widely applauded by fellow Taiwanese. Lee admitted that he had low expectations for this film from the U.S. audience since "its pace, its film language;– it's all very Chinese." The film was ignored by the Oscars, receiving no nominations. It was snubbed from consideration in the Best Foreign Language Film category; after being officially submitted by Taiwan, the academy ruled that an insufficient number of Taiwanese nationals had participated in the production, thus disqualifying it from further consideration.
Lee was chosen to be president of the jury for the 2009 Venice Film Festival.
Life of Pi
Lee's next film after 2009's Taking Woodstock was Life of Pi, which was adapted from the novel of the same name written by Yann Martel.
The story was a retrospective first-person narrative from Pi, a then 16-year-old boy from India, who is the only human to survive the sinking of a freighter on the way from India to Canada. He finds himself on a lifeboat with an orangutan, a hyena, a wounded zebra and a Bengal tiger. During this unlikely journey, young Pi questions his belief in God and the meaning of life. The novel was once considered impossible to make into a movie, but Lee persuaded 20th Century Fox to invest $120 million and heavily relied on 3D special effects in post-production. Unlike most other sci-fi precedents, Lee explores the artistic horizon of applying 3D effects and pushes the boundary of how this technology can serve the movie's artistic vision. The movie made its commercial premiere during Thanksgiving weekend of 2012 in the US and worldwide, and became a critical and box office success. In January 2013, Life of Pi earned 11 Academy Award nominations, including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Visual Effects. He went on to win the Academy Award for Best Director.
In 2013, he was selected as a member of the main competition jury at the 2013 Cannes Film Festival.
Directing for television
In March 2013, it was announced that Lee would direct a television pilot for the drama series Tyrant, created by Gideon Raff and developed by Howard Gordon and Craig Wright. Production was scheduled for the summer of 2013 for the FX series. However, Lee decided to quit the project to take a break from his hectic schedule.
Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk
Lee next directed Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk based on the novel of the same name. It was his first film since winning the Oscar for Best Director for Life of Pi. The film was released in November 2016, and received a mixed response from audiences and critics alike and was a box office failure.
In April 2017, Ang Lee began discussions with Skydance Media to helm an action thriller film, Gemini Man, that follows a senior DIA official being hunted by a young clone of himself right as he is about to retire from the agency. Will Smith was cast in the lead role. In January 2018, Clive Owen and Mary Elizabeth Winstead had been cast as the antagonist and female lead respectively. The film was released on 11 October 2019 to negative reviews and flopped at the box office.
In 2013, Ang Lee began development on a film dramatising Joe Frazier and Muhammad Ali's heavyweight title fight, known as the Thrilla in Manila. The film was being produced by Universal with a screenplay written by Peter Morgan, but Lee later put it on hold in 2014 in order to make Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk. In December 2015, it was announced that the project, tentatively titled Thrilla in Manila, now with Studio 8, would be his next film after Gemini Man. David Oyelowo and Ray Fisher are reportedly Lee's top choices for the leading roles of Frazier and Ali, respectively, and he hopes to film in 3D.