Ang Lee is an interesting film maker. He’s made high profile, Oscar nominated gear like Crouching Tiger, Hidden and Dragon, Brokeback Mountain and Life of Pi. He’s made a prestige English drama with Sense and Sensibility. He’s made a big old comic book stink bomb with Hulk. He’s not just a foreign born director who’s crossed over to English language success. He really is an international film maker who isn’t scared to take on any story or location. I think the only movies of his I’d actually seen before now were The Ice Storm and Life of Pi. And as much as I know I should be familiar with his work, I’m really not. But now I’ve made a start by watching his first feature, Pushing Hands.
Chu feels isolated in his new country and resists the American way of life as much as possible. He’s basically just a cranky old bastard, set in his ways and determined to hate everything about America. Until he meets Mrs Chen (Lai Wang), another recently arrived Chinese octogenarian who’s struggling to fit in to her new world as well.
There are culture clashes, generation clashes and physical clashes. You see, Chui is a tai chi and martial arts expert, and he gets to show off his moves more than once. Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t an action movie in any way, the martial arts are only used sparingly and usually only to illustrate a thematic point.
About half way through, I started to get a little bored and frustrated with Pushing Hands. It seemed to be nothing more than an exercise in showing how younger generations are too impatient, selfish and cocky to appreciate their noble, wise elders who’ve been there and seen it all before. But then the movie started to explore Chu’s own stubbornness and lay a little blame on both sides.
Even though Lee had an English speaking co-writer, I still felt the dialogue was the biggest let down in Pushing Hands. Some of the exposition is really obvious, as characters tell each other things they both clearly already know, but the audience needed to learn so the story could continue. And more than once, an actor would awkwardly deliver a line that seemed like it was written by someone who’s first language probably wasn’t English.
Apparently Pushing Hands is part of a thematic trilogy about generational conflict. I can’t say I’m super excited to see the other two entries, but it has made me want to finally check out his bigger movies like Crouching Tiger and Brokeback Mountain.