interpreting the twilit and allegorical film art

of Lee Ang


By Gary W. Wright


        Like most film artists who been creating film art after 1982, the allegorical films of Lee Ang were implicitly overshadowed by the fatal helicopter crash that killed actor/director/writer Vic Morrow and illegally hired and used child extras Renee Chen and Myca Le around 2:20 am in the morning of July 23, 1982 on the George Folsey jr. produced John Landis set of the twilit, allegorical, Kathleen Kennedy associate produced, Frank Marshall produced and Landis and Steven Spielberg executive produced docufeature film TWILIGHT ZONE: THE MOVIE (1983), starting when Lee donned the co-writer/director/co-executive producer/co-editor hats for his first twilit and allegorical indie docufeature film TUI SHOU aka PUSHING HANDS (1991), released on December 7, 1991.


“It’s a way of keeping your balance,

while unbalancing your opponent.”


        Humourously, the film saw a Chinese American named Alex Chu and his blonde American wife Martha Chu-played by Bozhao Wang and Deb Snyder, respectively-struggle to live in their house in New York with Alex’s seventy year old widowed father and Tai Chi Master Chu-played by Lung Sihung-a stubborn old man who literally refused to budge from his ancient Tai Chi ways.  Literally, as throughout TUI SHOU ordinary American citizens of Chinese descent, gang members of Chinese descent who were implicitly linked to Chinese film artists like Zhang Yimou and ten New York police officers all tried and failed to beat up or even move Master Chu.  In time, this tragicomic struggle to live with Master Chu almost led to the divorce of Alex and Martha.

        Significantly, Master Chu resembled and was implicitly linked to Walt Disney.  Indeed, Master Chu’s luv of calligraphy and smoking cigarettes evoked Uncle Walt’s luv of drawing and cigarettes, affirming the implicit link of Master Chu to Uncle Walt.  Thus, the sight and sound of Alex and Martha embracing the immovable Master Chu and his ancient Tai Chi ways while also embracing the emerging neo digital eon, in the end, implied the hope of Lee that film artists in general and those linked to the Walt Disney Studios in particular would also embrace the best of the pre-digital film art era and merge that embrace with the best of the new era of computer generated imagery (CGI) enhanced film art, while the fusion of Chinese and American culture in the film also implied Lee’s own embrace of a Sino-American film style.  How ironic that the film lacked CGI, a lack of CGI that continued when Lee donned the co-writer/director/co-producer hats and returned to New York and teamed up again with Lung and director of photography (DOP) Jong Lin, co-writer and co-executive producer James Schamus and co-editor Tim Squyres-all from TUI SHOU-on the twilit and allegorical indie docufeature film XI YAN aka THE WEDDING BANQUET (1993), released in February 1993.


“You’re witnessing the results

of five thousand years of sexual repression.”


        Curiously, the film saw Lung return as Mist Gao and drive another son, this time Wai-Tung “Wayne” Gao-played by the Johnny Depp resembling and implicitly linked Winston Chao-and his spouse crazy in their New York residence.  However, this time Mr. Gao brought Mrs. Gao-played by Gua Ah-Lei-with him, and his son’s spouse was a young man named Simon-played by Mitchell Lichtestein.  It was also noticeable that Wayne tried to hide his relationship with Simon by pretending that he was engaged to the beautiful young indie painter Wei-Wei-played by May Chin-when Mr. and Mrs. Gao arrived in New York from China for a visit.  Things took a tragicomic turn when Mom and Dad insisted that Wayne and Wei-Wei get married while they were in New York, a tragicomic turn that threatened to end Wayne and Simon’s romance and the “marrage” of Wayne and Wei-Wei.

        However, despite the tensions brought on by the unexpected marriage, Simon, Wayne and Wei-Wei agreed to put aside their differences, live together and raise a child when Wei-Wei revealed that she was pregnant, in the end.  As the film alluded to the twilit and allegorical David Lynch indie telemoving painting TWIN PEAKS (1990-91) and the indie moving painting TWIN PEAKS: FIRE WALK WITH ME (1992), Lee implied his hope that Lynch would not abandon his quirky and dreamy moving painting film art like Simon, Wayne and Wei-Wei would not abandon each other despite the abuse heaped on TWIN PEAKS: FIRE WALK WITH ME by audiences and critics the year before.  At any rate, Lee donned the co-writer/director hats, left New York behind and travelled to Taipei, Taiwan where he reunited with Chao, Gua, Lin, Lung, Schamus and Squyres on the all Chinese and equally twilit, allegorical and CGI free indie docufeature film EAT DRINK MAN WOMAN (1994), released on May 13, 1994.


“My taste is fine!”


        Curiously, Lung returned as another implicitly Disney linked and hands on master surnamed Chu, this one a master Chinese chef, who when he was not cooking fretted over his three unwed daughters, the devout Christian and high school chemistry teacher Jian-Jen, the corporate financial wiz Jia-Chien and the art and CGI luving Jia-Ning-played by Yang Kuei-Mei, Wu Chien-Lien and Wang Yu-Wen, respectively.  Significantly, over the course of the film, Jian-Jen married the implicitly Zhang linked Guo Lun-played by Chen Chao-Jung-and Jian-Ning married the implicitly John Woo linked Chao Ming-Dao-played by Chin-Cheng Lu.  Even Master Chu shocked his daughters, son-in-laws and Mrs. Liang-played by Gua-by announcing his intention to marry Mrs. Liang’s young and recently divorced daughter Jin-Rong-played by Chang Sylvia-in the end.  Only the money obsessed Jia-Chien did not find luv, implying that Lee was warning the Walt Disney Studios that if they did not continue Uncle Walt’s tradition of emphasizing art, luv and higher spiritual goals in their CGI enhanced film art, they would be as unsuccessful in the new CGI enhanced age as Jia-Chien, in the end.  Then it was clearly time for something completely different as Lee went bravely off to nineteenth century England when Lee donned the director hat and teamed up again with Schamus and Squyres on the twilit, allegorical and CGI free indie docufeature film SENSE AND SENSIBILITY (1995), released on December 4, 1995 and inspired by the allegorical Jane Austen novel Sense And Sensibility (1813).


“He made us all believe he loved you.”


        Curiously, the film saw the implicitly James Cameron linked Colonel Christopher Brandon-played by Alan Rickman-beat the dashing, handsome, implicitly Spielberb linked and nefarious john Willoughby-played by Greg Wise-to the hand in marriage of the lovely Marianne Dashwood-played by Kate Winslet-in the end.  An ending which implied the hope of Lee that Cameron would continue to triumph over Spielberg in the Temple Theatre and retain the title of box office king.  As Col. Brandon’s success in marrying Marianne also saw him triumph over her Wicked and implicitly Karen Kain linked Aunt Fanny Dashwood-played by Harriet Walter-with the help of the implicitly Margaret Atwood and Carol Shields linked Mrs. Jennings and her daughter, Charlotte Palmer-played by Elizabeth Spriggs and Imelda Staunton, respectively-Lee also implied his hope that Cameron would triumph over the Canadian artistic establishment, who dismissed him as non-Canadian for having the audacity to live in Los Angeles and make violent films despite being born and raised in Ontario.  Intriguingly, this implicit interest in addressing Cameron and Spielberg continued when Lee donned the director/co-producer hats and teamed up with Schamus and Squyres on his next twilit, allegorical and CGI free indie docufeature film THE ICE STORM (1997), released on May 12, 1997 and inspired by the twilit and allegorical Rick Moody indie docufiction novel The Ice Storm (1994).


“Your family is the void you emerge from

and the place you return to when you die.”


        Significantly, with its many allusions to such allegorica David Cronenberg indie docufeature films as STEREO (1970), THE BROOD (1979), SCANNERS (1980) and CRASH (1996), Lee implied that he was addressing Cronenberg in THE ICE STORM in the implicit form of thoughtful, ironic and dorky Pennsylvania teen Paul Hood-played by Tobey Maguire.  Given that the film built towards and ultimately climaxed in an eponymous and quintessential Canadian ice storm that led to the death by electrocution of Paul’s family friend, the Justin Trudeau resembling and perhaps linked Michael “Mikey” Carver-played by Elijah Wood-Lee implicitly reminded Cronenberg of the seriousness and family scarring reality of death, a subject that was treated with a casually macabre flippancy in CRASH.  Indeed, the fact that Hood thoughtfully pondered and commented on the hand drawn December 1973 issue #141 of FANTASTIC FOUR throughout the film quietly and implicitly affirmed how childish Lee felt Cronenberg had been in CRASH.

        Curiously, Hood often compared the desperate and familial exploits of the FF in that issue to families in general and his own four member family in particular throughout the film.  This implicitly linked FANTASTIC FOUR #141 to THE ICE STORM, an implicit link affirmed by the fact that the look of the film evoked that of the comic.  Indeed, Paul’s parents, Ben and Elena Hood-played by Kevin Kline and Joan Allen, respectively-resembled husband and wife FF members Reed “Mr. Fantastic” Richards and Susan “Invisible Girl” Richards as much as Spielberg and his wife Kate Capshaw.  This implicit link of comic and film was reaffirmed by the fact that family friend Jane “Janey” Carver-played by Sigourney Weaver-resembled Kathryn Bigelow and Medusa, a member of the rival super group the Inhumans who made a guest in FANTASTIC FOUR #141. 

Thus, it was fitting that Ben’s adulterous affair with the slinky and sensual Janey threatened to end the Hood marriage and her marriage to the implicitly Cameron linked Jim Carver-played by Jamey Sheridan-given that the decision of Reed Richards to shut down the brain of his son Franklin to prevent him from being turned into a human bomb by the supervillain, Annihilus, also threatened to end the marriage of Reed and Susan Richards and dissolve the FF in FANTASTIC FOUR #141.        However, the death of Mikey appeared to save the two marriages by returning a shocked Ben to the arms of Elena, for it reminded Ben how fragile life was and how quickly the life of a real child could be taken away outside of a comic book.  A shocked and humbled ending that also implied the hope of Lee that Bigelow and Cameron would do more with their film art than implicitly roast each other.

At any rate, the significance of FANTASTIC FOUR #141 throughout THE ICE STORM also anticipated a hulking film from Lee and a trio of webslinging and implicitly Cronenberg toasting films starring Maguire to come.  In addition, a haunting Native American flute on the soundtrack composed by Mycheal Danna for THE ICE STORM that recalled the equally haunting Chinese or Japanese flute heard throughout TUI SHOU also anticipated another Asian flute that haunted the film art of Lee when he donned the director/co-producer hats and teamed up again with Schamus and Squyres and fittingly returned with Lung in the twilit, allegorical and CGI enhanced indie docufeature film CROUCHING TIGER, HIDDEN DRAGON (2000), released on May 18, 2000 and based on the allegorical Wang Du Lu novel Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (1948).


“It only looks pure

because blood washes so easily from its blade.”


Curiously, the film alluded to the allegorical film art of Zhang, particularly RED SORGHUM (1987), JU DOU (1990) and RAISE THE RED LANTERN (1991), implying the Lee was addressing Zhang.  However, the Ozian structure and legendary sword master of CROUCHING TIGER, HIDDEN DRAGON recalled the Ozian structure and legendary light sabre wielding Jedi Masters of the STAR WARS films of Lucas, implying that Lee was really implying to Lucas and his recently released and twilit, allegorical, CGI enhanced, Ozian themed and implicitly Cameron and Spielberg roasting indie animaction film STAR WARS EPISODE I: THE PHANTOM MENACE (1999).  Indeed, the inability of legendary and implicitly Great Oz linked Wu Dan fighter Li Mu Bai-played by Chow Yun Fat-to marry the older and implicitly Glinda linked fellow Wu Dan fighter Shu Lien-played by Yeoh Michelle-and his death at the hands of the implicitly Wicked Witch of the West linked Jade Fox-played by Cheng Pei Pei-when he rescued the young, restless and implicitly Dorothy linked Jen-played by Zhang Ziyi-implied that Lee felt that Lucas had not only failed to successfully bring the STAR WARS Classic Trilogy to a close but had now also killed his reputation forever with the universally panned STAR WARS EPISODE I: THE PHANTOM MENACE.

        The sight of Li giving up his Green Sword of Destiny to the again implicitly Disney linked Sir Te-played by Lung-at the beginning of the film affirmed the implicit intent of CROUCHING TIGER, HIDDEN DRAGON, reminding us that Luke Skywalker-played by Mark Hamill-wielded a handmade green light saber in the twilit, allegorical, CGI enhanced, Ozian themed and implicitly Spielberg roasting indie docufeature film STAR WARS EPISODE VI: RETURN OF THE JEDI (1983).  A curiously prophetic surrender of Li’s sword  to Sir Te, given that Lucas would eventually sell the moisture farm to Disney Corp. in 2012.  Last but not least, the presence of the ragged and implicitly Scarecrow linked and Depp resembling and implicitly linked bandit leader Lo aka Dark Cloud-played by Cheng Chen-who fell in luv with Jen but failed to win her, in the end, also implied that Lee was sending a message to Depp that he was not impressed with his first twilit and allegorical indie docufeature film THE BRAVE (1997).

        And so the truly fantastic film was rewarded with four Oscars, for Best Art Direction, Best Cinematography, Best Foreign Language Film and Best Original Score.  Golden Oscars and success for a film created in China with a mostly Chinese born cast that implicitly irritated Zhang and his superiors in the government run Chinese film industry, for Zhang implicitly responded to CROUCHING TIGER, HIDDEN DRAGON and roasted the Taiwanese Lee in the form of the noble but doomed assassin with no name-played by Jet Li-in the twilit, allegorical and CGI enhanced docufeature film HERO (2002), released on .  As for Lee, he implicitly roasted Lucas again and finally truly lived the CGI dream implicitly hoped for in TUI SHOU when he donned the director hat and teamed up again with Schamus and Squyres on the twilit, allegorical and CGI enhanced super satirical animaction film HULK (2003), released on June 17, 2003 and inspired by characters created by Jolly Jack Kirby and Smilin’ Stan Lee for Marvel Comics.


“Puny human.”


        Indeed, Lucas was implicitly roasted in the form of the gamma radiation enhanced Doctor Bruce “the Incredible Hulk” Banner-played by Eric Bana-an implicit allegorical intent affirmed by allusions to the STAR WARS Tragic Trilogy, and a showdown with the Hulk and the U.S. military in San Francisco, the stomping grounds of Lucas since the late Sixties.  Thus, since the Hulk was an out of control CGI blockbuster beast, Lee implied that the STAR WARS Tragic Trilogy had affirmed that Lucas was also an out of control CGI enhanced blockbuster beast.  An implicit interest in CGI that was missing when Lee donned the director hat and returned with Schamus to the Temple Theatre the twilit and allegorical indie docufeature film BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN (2005), released on September 2, 2005.


“This ain’t no rodeo, cowboy!”


        Curiously, the sight of indie ranch hands Ennis Del Mar and Jack Twist-played by Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal, respectively-herding sheep for big Joe Aguire-played by Randy Quaid-as young men on visually stunning Brokeback Mountain in Wyoming in the summer of ’63 at the beginning of the film evoked the equally spectacular mountainous landscape and sheep herds of New Zealand.  This reminded us that Sir Peter Jackson’s twilit, allegorical, CGI enhanced and New Zealand created THE LORD OF THE RINGS Trilogy (2001-03) was still fresh in the minds of audiences the year of the release of BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN.  Indeed, the brief appearance of a character named Basque-played by David Trimble-affirmed the implicit link to Sir Jackson and his film art, as Basque resembled Andy Serkis, who played Gollum in THE LORD OF THE RINGS Trilogy.

        The romantic relationship that bloomed between Del Mar and Twist reaffirmed the film’s implicit interest in Sir Jackson, evoking the lesbian relationship between troubled teens Juliet Hulme and Pauline Parker-Rieper-played by Kate Winslet and Melanie Lynskey, respectively-in the twilit, allegorical and implicitly Lynch roasting Sir Jackson indie docufeature film HEAVENLY CREATURES (1994), an implicit interest in Lynch reaffirmed by the film’s allusions to TWIN PEAKS and the twilit and allegorical Lynch indie moving painting as THE STRAIGHT STORY (1999) reaffirmed the film’s implicit interest in Jackson and Lynch.  Thus, the death of Twist and the sight and sound of Del Mar resignedly continuing with his life, in the end, implied the hope of Lee that the moving paintings of Lynch would still be remembered after Jackson and THE LORD OF THE RINGS Trilogy were forgotten.

        At any rate, Lee continued his twilit and allegorical meditations when he donned the director/co-producer hats and returned with Schamus, Squyres, Staunton and Danny Elfman-composer for HULK-to take stock on Woodstock in the fortieth anniversary year of the legendary Music and Arts Festival in the psychedelically CGI enhanced twilit and allegorical docufeature film TAKING WOODSTOCK (2009), released on May 16, 2009 and inspired by the allegorical Michael Wadleigh indie documentary film WOODSTOCK, 3 DAYS OF PEACE & MUSIC (1970) and the allegorical Elliot Tiber and Tom Monte book Taking Woodstock: a true story of a riot, a concert, and a life (2007).


“Can you dig it?”


        !Hey, man!  If we were digging it correctly, Lee was implicitly likening the tragicomic efforts of Ivan and Jason Reitman to transform their parking lot at John and King Streets in Toronto to the permanent headquarters of the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) to the efforts of Sonia, Elliot and Jake Teichberg-played by an unrecognizable Staunton, Demetri Martin and Henry Goodman, respectively-to transform their rundown upstate New York motal and a neighbouring farm owned by Max Yasgur-played by Eugene Levy-into the Woodstock Music and Arts Festival.  Indeed, the presence of Levy and some extras who evoked Rob Ford and George Stroumboulopoulos affirmed the film’s implicit interest in Toronto.

        Tragicomically for the Reitmans, one irate visitor who showed up for the opening day of TIFF was so incensed with the Canadian film ignoring list of 100 Essential Films in the official souvenir book that he has been waging a quixotic one man war against TIFF ever since.  Making it curiously fitting that the poor ol’ Gardevil was implicitly addressed by Lee when he donned the director/co-producer hats and teamed up again with Danna and Squyres on the twilit, allegorical and exuberantly CGI enhanced docufeature film LIFE OF PI (2012), released on September 28, 2012 and inspired by the twilit and allegorical Yann Martel indie docufiction novel Life Of Pi (2001).


“Don’t let these stories

and pretty lights fool you, boys.”


        For after a beginning in the Pondicherry Zoo that evoked the Central Park Zoo scenes at the beginning of the twilit, allegorica, CGI enhanced and implicitly Lucas roasting Sir Jackson indie animaction film KING KONG (2005), the film soon moved to Montreal, linking the film to Canada, its film art, film artists and film “scholars”.  Here the adult Piscine Molitor “Pi” Patel-played by Irrfan Khan-told the unusual story of his passage to Canada by Japanese cargo ship as a teen-played by Suraj Sharma-to a sympathetic Canadian listener played by Rafe Spall.  As this turbulent and traumatic adolescent passage across the Pacific haunted the adult Pi as much as the TZ disaster haunted the adult Gar, Lee implied that he was addressing the poor ol’ Gardevil (POG) and his website in LIFE OF PI.  Then it was off to don the director/co-producer hats and team up again with Squyres and implicitly come to the support of Lynch once more in the twilit and allegorical docufeature film BILLY LYNN’S LONG HALFTIME WALK (2016).


“Ours is what they call the karma of action.

The way of the warrior.”


        Indeed, Lynch was implicitly linked to celebrated American Iraqi War veteran William “Billy” Lynn-played by Joe Alwyn-throughout the film.  This link implied that despite all the setbacks Lynch had suffered throughout his film art career, particularly the unpopular twilit and allegorical indie moving paintings DUNE (1984) and TWIN PEAKS: FIRE WALK WITH ME (1992), Lee still thought that Lynch was a true American film art hero.  Reaffirming in the end that for understanding Lee’s film art, necessary it was to tame and unravel the…crouching tiger, hidden allegory.