For Taiwan-born director Ang Lee, making Brokeback Mountain was a gamble but he’s one director who is always up for a challenge. First he tackled making chinese language films but employed the techniques and stylistic approaches he learned here. Then, with a critically appreciative audience in his camp for such films as Eat Drink Man Woman and The Wedding Banquet , Lee made the period piece Sense and Sensibility , the acclaimed family drama The Ice Storm , and the western Rode With the Devil . But it was his kung fu update Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon , that made Lee a talent to reckon with — and one with the subtle skills to handle a film as provocative as this love story between two cowboys.
The L Magazine: what did you look for in casting this film?
Ang Lee: Usually I just seek a good actor. I love to work with actors. I think their disposition and the way they look at cinema, they have to carry certain things. Heath carried that western thing and Jake is that romantic leading man. I wanted to make sure that when audiences see them moving around it will take the least effort to prove that they have it. It will take one look and you get a lot.
The L: Have you wanted to do something set in the west?
AL: It was just this script. It hit me. Of course I can always rationalize why it hit me after I make [a film] but when they hit me I usually don’t know why. It could be something that I wasn’t familiar with but this film hit a core emotion in me. This is a post western. It happened in a part of America where most foreign people don’t know about except through Hollywood movies. It’s the other side of America that is really influential to the world. That strikes me as something interesting. I made this movie to try and find out more.
The L: did you relate to one character more than the other?
AL: Heath. He’s the anchor for the movie. He carried the thing I always carry in my movies, which is repression. He had more inner conflict. Also I relate to him more just in the way I relate to the movie. He carried that western thing. The non verbal culture, the tough conservative with the fear and violence. That vulnerability. He carries all of that. He’s more of a macho lover. For Jake, I think he carried more of the movie part of [it as] a romantic love story. For me he’s one of those classic American leading men. He’s dreamy, romantic and he embraces emotion. He’s smart and bright and he carried those ingredients for me in the movie. Naturally I’m more repressed than outgoing.
The L: To you were these characters gay or just guys who fell in love because of the circumstances?
AL: To me they’re gay because of their sexual inclination. Jack is more obvious. In the short story it’s very hard to tell. It’s a mystery. So is the script. But as players, I think we need to know at heart what physically arouses them. I do believe that they are attracted to each other. Even though one character denies it.
The L: There is a scene where Ennis is in the background
washing his clothes naked and Jack is in the foreground...
AL: Ennis is more innocent that way. He’s unaware of his feelings. But when they hit, it’s very strong. It’s not like he’ll tip over to show affection. I think the scene is evident that it hit him pretty [intensely] even though it’s confusing to him. Jack Twist doesn’t need a sex manual; he knows what to do. He’s very dominant.
The L: Recently, Jackie Chan said that American films were hurting Asian cinema. what do you think?
AL: That’s such a big question I can’t even answer it. That’s a phenomenon throughout the world; you really have to struggle to make mainstream movies. But there are always cheaper movies to be made — art house movies and independents. It’s more and more easy for people to watch Hollywood movies. In the past, people who thought they had class watched American films and the lower class just watched Chinese films because they didn’t want to read subtitles. They were mainstream but poorly made. Now that’s disappearing; they can’t compete. Hollywood movies are more aware of the world market. It used to just be Hong Kong but now Korea is picking up on that. It’s getting difficult for chinese films to survive in the industry. Is Hollywood to blame? I don’t know. It’s very hard to compete with Hollywood.