Ang Lee is a sleeper pick for one of the greatest directors of all time. His recent works have weakened his legacy and diehard fans are yearning for the quality films he was once known for, but he still has quite the collection of films. These are the movies of Ang Lee worked worst to first.
14. Hulk (2003)
The obvious pick for Lee’s worst film, but the right one. Hulk is just intensely unmemorable. Lee arguably adds some degree of personality to the story but even the action isn’t quite on the level of the Hulk and Abomination battle at the end of The Incredible Hulk.
Is this better than that 2009 film? Perhaps. Having sexual desire be a part of Hulk’s character is certainly a Lee specific touch, but it doesn’t prevent the romance itself from being one of the most milquetoast, ineffective love stories you will see in a superhero movie. The CGI just isn’t acceptable by today’s standards and Hulk’s conflict with the military is as plain as you can get. It’s nice that the movie has its fans, but the overwhelming majority are going to see this and think nothing of it the next day.
13. Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk (2016)
A classic case of Lee getting caught up in the technology of the movie and forgetting about the quality of the story itself. Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk is the embodiment of everything wrong with Lee’s most recent works. The big story behind it is that it’s shot at 120 fps in high-definition 3D. That was supposed to be the selling point of a new Ang Lee movie of all things. It is not just a visual trick that distracts Lee from the story, but it is an actively distracting part of the movie. Makes numerous scenes look totally unnatural and overall makes for an experience of a movie that really cannot be seen at home with any degree of pleasure.
As for the story, it is a saccharine, stereotypical take on American courage that dampens the power of the actual true story. Mix that in with some mind-boggling turns from Chris Tucker and Steve Martin and you have simply a bad film from Ang Lee. Both painful to look at and to endure such a boring story that feels as though it has been told numerous times before.
12. Taking Woodstock (2009)
Taking Woodstock is only worth a watch for the Lee diehards. The movie may conjure up feelings of nostalgia for a crazy era, it may make you laugh, and it may make you in awe of what Lee can do with a camera. But it’s much more likely you will be disappointed with how empty Taking Woodstock is.
It takes a pivotal cultural moment, a mix of seediness and righteousness and a whole lot of drugs and music but does not strike an emotional chord. It really does not have much to say about the festival itself and the main character’s arc is tolerable enough but very derivative of other coming-of-age stories. Probably just best if you watch the Paul Dano scene on YouTube and skip the rest.
11. Ride with The Devil (1999)
People may admire Ride with the Devil for its impressive vistas and sense of scale. And while some separate elements of the film are admirable, the film on the whole is just not that impressive. In all the ways The Ice Storm is a hyper-intelligent version of a typical Oscar bait drama, Ride with the Devil really just is standard Oscar bait fare.
It aimlessly wanders in certain sections of the movie, is overlong, and mixes in romance, war, and a western revenge tale unsuccessfully. It is both overstuffed and unsuccessful in justifying or even remotely examining the heinous acts of its main characters. Maybe this could be considered as a superior Lee flick with more efficacious pacing and more engaging moment-to-moment dialogue, but as it stands it simply is not a good movie, but rather a very mediocre movie with some very good aspects.
10. Gemini Man (2019)
Did anyone think Gemini Man would be good? From the trailers it seemed like an excuse for Lee to play with technology rather than make an actual movie and that’s what it is, consistently soulless throughout and way too caught up in perfecting young Will Smith, Gemini Man forgets that it actually has to have a functioning, well-written story to be memorable.
Gemini Man lacks all the subtlety of Lee’s previous movies. It was past its expiration date the second it came out and features the same labored dialogue exchanges you expect in a story where a character goes against an older version of oneself. The action is nothing special but even if one tries to justify Lee’s resistance to quick-cutting as a strength, it simply cannot make up from a shockingly bad screenplay. Don’t let the bold reviewer fool you into thinking this is the underrated work of a masterful auteur, it’s a downright blunder.
9. Pushing Hands (1991)
Pushing Hands definitely feels like a debut film from Lee. It is him trying to fire on all cylinders. We got kung-fu, we got elements of magical realism, a clash between the young and the old, a clash between the east and the west, a look at the middle-class experience, a look at the Asian-American experience.
It feels amateurish insofar as most of these themes half-baked and could each use more attention. But at the same time, it is wildly impressive that Pushing Hands is as poignant as it is. The dramatic moments hit home thanks to warm, lowkey performances from the cast and the absurdist moments are unpredictably hilarious. Despite having so many plates spinning at once, the film is deceptively simple and impactful, and an indication of how good Lee would become.
8. The Wedding Banquet (1993)
The Wedding Banquet is likely not going to knock your socks off, but it thrives thanks to a consistently interesting plot and typical Lee optimism. Unlike some of his other movies, the sweetness here is not overdone. It is both proper and helpful in making for a sometimes goofy, always delightful farce of a movie.
It is not nearly as funny as it could be and really would benefit from edging closer to a traditional romantic comedy. At the same time, it is relatively thoughtful when it comes to Lee examining his usual themes of culture and tradition. Nothing spectacular but a good early feature with not much to get in the way of the experience.