Third Blog Post – Ang Lee, and his Brokeback Mountain (2005) – by Alex Zhao
Ang Lee is one of the most renowned Asian American filmmakers in mainland China nowadays. Born in Taiwan in 1954, Lee moved to the United States to study in 1979, where he got his bachelor’s degree in theatre at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and then the MFA in film production at Tisch School of the Arts of New York University a few years later.
After graduation, Lee got a chance to enter the Hollywood in 1990s and directed several Hollywood films: Sense and Sensibility (1995), The Ice Storm (1997), and Ride with the Devil (1999). Although the films received high praises in critics, their box office records were somehow not impressive at the time.
In 1999, Lee came back to Hong Kong and made a traditional Chinese “Wu Xia” film there, named Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000). The film turned out to be a huge success worldwide, brought him the Best Foreign Language Film at Academy Awards, which makes it the first Chinese film that has ever won this award.
Then, in 2003, Lee returned to the Hollywood and directed the film Hulk (2003), his second big-budget film after Ride with the Devil (1999). This time, the film was widely considered a failure, both financially and artificially.
It was at this setback moment, Lee got to know a unique, small-budget independent film project, Brokeback Mountain (2005), based on Annie Proulx’s same-named short story, which describes gay romance, something that was still a taboo at the time, and eventually comes to be Lee’s another well-known masterpiece in his career, if not the most famous one.
Contrary to the Hulk (2003), Brokeback Mountain (2005) received both financial and critical success, nominated for eight Academy Awards and won three of them, specifically, Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay, and Best Original Score, while starting a new round of discussions about sexuality, as well as gay romance worldwide.
In the film, Ennis (Heath Ledger) and Jack (Jake Gyllenhaal), the two sheepherders, has developed a sexual and emotional relationship with each other on the Brokeback Mountain out of a sudden. However, under the heterosexual pressure, both of them choose or have to get a hetero marriage later on. Ennis marries his longtime fiancée Alma (Michelle Williams) while Jack has a son with Lureen (Anne Hathaway) after he moves to Texas. Four years later, Jack visits Ennis, and they find themselves still in love with each other. Not willing to abandon his family, Ennis refuses Jack’s invitation to live together. However, Ennis’s marriage still breaks down as Alma knows the true relationship between him and Jack, which makes Ennis blame on Jack in their later conversations. Eventually, Jack’s death ends the two men’s romantic relationship and struggles, and Ennis finally realizes and confirms that how important are they for each other as he comes to visit Lureen after Jack’s death.
Different from some other gay romance films that explore homosexuality and homo romance through, consciously or not, distinguishing between homo and hetero people and sharing an ideology that “they (homo people) are different from us (hetero people), but they are also great”, based on my understanding, Lee creates the gay romance that has no difference from that of the hetero’s, delivering the message that “we (both homo and hetero people) are all the same in front of romance and love” instead.
Then, in my opinion, Lee is ambitious in this Brokeback Mountain narrative. By depicting Ennis and Jack’s love story and setting up these two characters as bisexual on the screen, Lee shows their love above the universal value at the time, making their romantic experience as one of the millions of love stories in the world, just as what you and I would possibly encounter or experience in our day to day lives. And the Brokeback Mountain, which becomes a symbol of gay people in many cultures due to the influence of this film, has also come to be a preferable symbol of pure, romantic love in my interpretation. Thus, all of the audience, no matter homo or heterosexual, would be touched by Ennis and Jack’s story in Lee’s film, while, at the same time, the film breaks down the “stereotype” of showing gay people as the “Other” on the screen and presents us a fresh, unique, as well as romantic interpretation of the world of gay people and their love stories. To take Lee’s quote as my final words, “eventually everybody has a ‘Brokeback Mountain’ in them. Someone you want to come back to. And, of course, some people don’t come back”.
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