10 Essential Ang Lee Films You Need To Watch

6. Ride With The Devil (1999)


Set in the south-western Missouri during the Civil War, Ride With The Devil centers on two friends, Jake Roedel (Tobey Maguire)and Jack Bull Chiles (Skeet Ulrich). After Jack’s father is killed by Union Jayhawkers, the young men join the Bushwhackers, a group of irregulars, to fight Jayhawkers using guerilla warfare tactics, with George Clide (Simon Baker) and former slave Daniel Holt (Jeffrey Wright). The men hide in a shelter built by a pro-confederacy family, the Evanses.

A young widow in the Evans household, Sue Lee (Jewel), brings them food. She and Jack Bull get involved in a romantic affair. When Jack is mortally wounded Jake helps Sue escape to shelter and joins the Bushwhackers, led by men set on revenge, as they set out to raid into Kansas. Jake begins to face suspicion from other Bushwhackers due to his German heritage and as he witness his friends die he is faced with questions of loyalty and honor.

Despite having had a polarizing effect on the audience on its release, Ride With The Devil has grown to be a cult hit over the past few years. Deliberately slow-paced and atmospheric in a dreadful way, this film, written by Lee’s frequent writing partner, James Schamus, is a gritty tale of revenge and freedom, a film that is not entirely unrewarding but an escapist’s fare with a touch of art.


7. Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000)

Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000)

A great warrior, a great sword – Li Mu Bai (Chow Yun-fat), a Wudang swordsman famous for his adventures, decides to gift his sword the Green Destiny to a longtime beloved friend. But when the sword is then stolen, Li sets out on a quest to retrieve it while also planning to avenge his master’s assassination by Jade Fox (Cheng Pei-pei), accompanied by Yu Shu Lien (Michelle Yeoh) the woman who he has grown to love, a love never expressed or acted on. During their quest they meet Jiao Long Yu (Zhang Ziyi), the enigmatic daughter of a governor, And Lo (Chang Chen), a bandit, all playing a game of their own.

“A sword by itself rules nothing. It only comes alive in skilled hands.” You may have seen martial arts films but none like this. Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon is one reason why Ang Lee is one of the most gifted visionary filmmakers of his generation. It’s a martial arts film, a Wuxia film to be precise, that transcends the normal genre to become a glorious tale of the humans behind the warriors, with adrenaline-pumping, marvelously choreographed combat sequences (from Yuen Wo-Ping of The Matrix), blistering visuals and compelling writing and Ang Lee’s exceptional direction.

If you haven’t yet seen this movie, prepare for two hours of epic proportions, swaying in trees while wielding swords, floating on water and rooftops and some of the most beautiful sword fights you will ever see. Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, is one of Ang Lee’s most acclaimed and beloved films, a film with remarkable artistic, emotional and technical values, a timely classic that should not be missed.


8. Brokeback Mountain (2005)

Brokeback Mountain (2005)

Wyoming in 1963 is the backdrop to this tragic story of Ennis Del Mar (Heath Ledger) and Jack Twist (Jake Gyllenhaal). Hired to herd sheep in summer on Brokeback mountain, the two men have a sexual encounter that will change their lives forever. After their summer is over, the two part ways in an attempt to start a new life, unable to act on their love because of the pressures of society and the fear of getting caught. Ennis marries Alma (Michelle Williams), his longtime fiancée and Jack marries Lureen (Anne Hathaway). They start families, trying to keep their pasts and hearts hidden. Four years later, Jack visits Ennis, and their love rekindles, but this time with a bigger price.

Brokeback Mountain, for which Ang Lee won the best director Academy Award, becoming the first Asian director to do so, is considered as one of Queer cinema’s landmarks. With the late Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhall giving extraordinary performances as the doomed lovers Ennis and Jack, it is a film that is destined to break your heart. Larry McMurty and Diana Ossana adapted the beloved short story by Annie Proulx to the big screen, and their work is truly triumphant as the film navigates from decades and places to capture the sorrows and the beauty of these eternally damned star-crossed lovers.

Ang Lee effortlessly brings to the screen a theme so universal and timely that for many it may seem like Lee is directly talking to them with touch of compassion, he not only speaks about victims of alienation and oppression and also about people who are inevitably drawn in to pain by the betrayals of their loved ones, with Alma and Lureen’s characters. Ang Lee doesn’t attempt to justify any of his characters, he just tells their story, gives us a window to look at their lives. We can agree with them or not, he doesn’t seem to care; like all great pieces of art, it’s open to interpretation. Brokeback Mountain will be remembered for its impact on the lives of people just as much as its impact on Hollywood. It’s Ang Lee’s immaculate love letter to the alienated, to the souls crushed by being different.


9. Lust, Caution (2007)

lust caution

In Shanghai during the Japanese occupation in 1938, Wong Chia Chi (Tang Wei). has been left behind by her father. She starts as a freshman at university, where she meets Kuang Yu Min (Leehom Wang) a founder of a drama society. Wong joins the troupe as the new leading lady and eventually gets entangled in Kuang’s ambitious plot to assassinate Mr. Yee (Tony Leung Chiu-Wai), a Japanese-supporting official.

Wong is asked to take up the identity of Mrs. Mak, befriend Mr. Yee and seduce him. But as their plans fail, Wong flees. Later, in 1941, Wong meets Kuang again. Kuang is now part of a bigger resistance organization, and they revive their devious plot to assassinate Mr Yee who has now risen to higher ranks of the puppet government. Wong starts over from where she left it off and finds herself more attached to her prey than she is supposed to be.

With Lust, Caution Ang Lee continued to stamp his mark on the world cinema, expanding his universe to much darker and brutal depths. This espionage thriller set in the Shanghai ruled by “the puppet government” is certainly one the most engrossing films of its kind released in a long time.

One significant aspect of Lust, Caution is how it shows Ang Lee’s priority in making his films filled with perfect realism. The characters are meticulously fleshed out and presented, so that their damage, betrayal and emotions resonate long after the end credits. Lust, Caution is a film experience guaranteed to leave you lost in deep and wandering thoughts in search of answers and explanations, a rare achievement.


10. Life Of Pi (2012)

life of pi movie

Living in a zoo owned by his father, Pi Patel (first time actor Suraj Sharma) learns about religions, Hinduism, Islam and Christianity through many events. He develops feelings for a local school girl and begins to develop a great interest in animals, including a Bengali tiger named Richard Parker. His life is turned around when his father decides to sell his zoo and move to Canada. They book a passage on a Japanese freight carrier. When a deadly storm hits the ship, Pi is thrown into a boat and sent to escape by a lifeguard, but he is unable to save his parents, and he has to hopelessly watch as everything is destroyed.

One unlikely survivor joins him on the boat, the Bengali tiger, Richard Parker. But they’re not alone. The boat is also occupied by a zebra, a hyena and an Orangutan and there are also water rations and biscuit cans. Pi Patel is stuck in the middle of the ocean, with a ferocious tiger and no hope for survival: Life of Pi tells tells of his remarkable adventure of finding hope in places and company when you least expect to find it.

“I suppose in the end, the whole of life becomes an act of letting go. But what always hurts the most is not taking a moment to say goodbye. I was never able to thank my father for all I learned from him. To tell him, without his lessons I would never have survived. I know Richard Parker’s a tiger but I wish I had said, ‘It’s over. We survived. Thank you for saving my life. I love you, Richard Parker. You’ll always be with me. May God be with you.’”

Yann Martell’s Man Booker winning novel seemed impossible to adapt, but it needed a visionary and Ang Lee proved to be the right choice. Life of Pi is proof that with the right director, millions of dollars spent on technology are never wasted. Ang Lee paints a magical world in the middle of the ocean, a world so vibrant and full of the enchantment of life, as we are stranded with Pi and Richard Parker as they hunt for food, fight to live, bond with each other and ride through storms with an unshakeable faith, one that is not defined by a religion, but boundless.

Ang Lee has a given a face to Martell’s words. Life of Pi is an experience that is both visually spectacular and emotionally unforgettable. Life of Pi, Ang Lee’s most ambitious project to date, is up there among one of the greatest films ever made. It’s one of those films that you will never finish with a dry eye.

Author Bio: Nuwantha is an IT grad student from Sri Lanka. With a passion for Arthouse and Indie cinema from all around the globe.