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China Arts & Entertainment

Ang Lee the Chameleon Director and Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk

Ang Lee’s new film Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk is the talk of the day on Chinese social media. The cutting-edge yet criticized blockbuster is the latest addition to the Chinese director’s filmography of wildly different movies.

Manya Koetse

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Ang Lee’s new film Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk is the talk of the day on Chinese social media. The cutting-edge yet criticized blockbuster is the latest addition to the Chinese director’s filmography of wildly different movies. But diverse as they are, Ang Lee’s films have typical characteristics in common. In that regards Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk is a quintessentially ‘Ang Lee-an’ movie.

The latest movie by renowned Chinese director Ang Lee (李安), that premiered at the New York Film Festival on Friday, became the number one trending topic on Sina Weibo on Sunday, October 16.

With over 73 million topic views, Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk (#比利林恩的中场战事#) became Weibo’s talk of the day.

Ang Lee’s latest film is an adaptation of the novel by Ben Fountain that is also titled Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk (2012). One of the reasons the movie is such a hot topic is its use of novelty techniques, with a special use of 3D and an increased frame rate of 120 frames per second shot with 4K HD cameras that makes the picture look extremely real. Its official release will follow on November 11.

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The story revolves around Billy Lynn (Joe Alwyn), a 19-year-old American soldier who is glamorously honored in the USA after returning home from Iraq. While Billy is struggling with his experiences in the war overseas, he also needs to deal with the surreal “Victory Tour” he is receiving in his home country and tries to reconnect with his family.

Although international media have criticized the movie for its “hyper-real” effect due to its incredibly high frame rate, many Weibo users cannot wait to see it – especially because they have high expectations of Chinese “master” director Ang Lee.

Ang Lee is known for internationally acclaimed movies such as The Life of Pi (2012), Brokeback Mountain (2005), Sense and Sensibility (1995), or The Wedding Banquet (喜宴, 1993).

“Ang Lee is a chameleon filmmaker whose signature seems almost invisible in his multicolored work.”

What is notable about Ang Lee’s films is how they seem to be so wildly different. From smoking cowboys in the American mountains to pale ladies in 19th century England, Ang Lee is a chameleon filmmaker whose signature seems almost invisible in his multicolored work.

sensebrokeback

Ang Lee’s work as a director is characterized by his multifariousness, as Lee experiments with diverse and often controversial themes and techniques.

Ang Lee was born in Taiwan in 1954. He graduated from the national film academy in 1975 and continued his studies in Illinois and later New York. Since his first movie in 1992 (Pushing Hands 推手), Lee has consistently collaborated with American screenwriters, actors, and production companies.

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Although Ang’s first films involved China-related storylines, the 1995 Sense and Sensibility was Ang’s first film that had nothing to do with China. His major international breakthrough came with the award-winning Brokeback Mountain, that especially caused commotion due to its portrayal of gay love.

It might seem as if Ang’s movies are so varied that they have nothing in common at all. But besides the fact that many of these works include experimental features in terms of narrative or technique, there are also some overarching themes or characteristics in Lee’s work.

“Lee’s ability to be such a huge cross-cultural influence is unique.”

Born and raised in Taiwan, Ang Lee grew up with Chinese cinema. When he later lived and studied in America, he became familiar with a different cinema tradition.

The influence of both Chinese and American cinema, but also Ang’s personal experience of living in a new culture as an immigrant, are visible in his work.

Especially in Ang’s earlier films, the filmmaker worked with both Chinese and American actors and focused on the themes of culture clash and immigration.

But on a deeper level, Ang’s films are also characterized by their transnationality. By being a true ‘multicultural’ director, Ang cannot be marked as being either a typical ‘Chinese’ or ‘American’ film director. Instead, he is more culture-neutral and seems to leave any judgment over the films’ narratives to the audience.

Chinese actress Zhang Ziyi once said about Lee:

“Lee’s ability to be such a huge cross-cultural influence is, I think, unique. His Taiwanese upbringing, which kept him deeply rooted in the Chinese way of being and living, combined with his well-informed understanding of Western movies and filmmaking techniques have allowed him to speak to those two worlds in a way no other director has.”

Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk also deals with the clash between the situation in Iraq and modern American society. Billy Lynn is faced with the glitter and glamor of his heroic American “victory tour” that poses a stark contrast to his experiences in the battle of Iraq war. “It is sort of weird being honored for the worst day of your life,” protagonist Billy says at one point.

“Great romance needs great obstacles and textures.”

Another important recurring characteristic of Ang’s films is its representation of complexity within family relations. In Ang’s movies, family is more than a blood relation; it is a social network with certain inescapable codes and rules. The main characters often struggle to adapt to them and have troubles finding their own way in the sometimes smothering family webs.

Although it might not be at the heart of the story, the connection between Billy and his family, namely his anti-war sister (Kristen Stewart), plays an important role in Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk.

A third typical Ang Lee film feature is the impossible love affair. In an interview with Garth Franklin, Ang Lee once told:

“I think great romance needs great obstacles and textures. Romance and love are abstract ideas, an illusion. How do you make that? I think, most of the time, obstacles help build the romance. It helps to envision and make it feel real to you.”

“I’ve been using repression, the struggle between behaving as a social animal.”

A final but significant feature in Ang Lee’s films is the repression of emotions. Ang Lee explains:

“I’ve been using repression, the struggle between behaving as a social animal. You’re seeking to be honest with your free will, less conflict. I think that’s an important subject with me. That’s who I am, how I was brought up.”

Repression of emotions is prevalent in all of Ang’s films, but probably most visible in Brokeback Mountain since the acknowledgment of their homosexual feelings is such a taboo for the two main characters.

Although Ang Lee has been called a ‘director of gay cinema’ before, the issue of sexuality is not as important as the theme of repression that often comes with it.

Together with the obstacle-filled love affair (the cheerleader who wants a mystical war hero), the aspect of repressed emotions is clear in Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk, as it is the story of a “hero who doesn’t want to be a hero”, because everyone wants something from him and he does not know how to deal with it (Collider 2016).

Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk has not been receiving rave reviews directly after his first screening. Most critics agree that there seems to have been more attention to technical features of the film than its narrative depth and that it does not do the film much good.

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Nevertheless, Ang Lee has pleaded viewers to “please give this a chance”, and to “have an open mind.” Ang Lee is not afraid to be a pioneer of new cinema techniques, even if he is criticized for it – in that regards, Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk is very much an Ang Lee film.

On Weibo, many netizens are excited about the much-anticipated movie. “I am already preparing to go and see Ang Lee’s next work,” one netizen writes. “I am a die-hard fan of Ang Lee, and I expect this film to be a great work again,” another Weibo user says.

Ang’s films are about cultural contrasts, love with obstacles, individuals that struggle with the codes of family culture, and especially people repressing their emotions – all transnational themes that also play a role in Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk. In this way, his latest work, as innovating and controversial as it may be, is once again a typical ‘Ang Lee-an’ work of art.

– By Manya Koetse
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To read recent reviews of Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk, go, for example, to The Guardian or US Magazine.

Sources (other sources linked to within text)
* “Ang Lee: Asian audiences more accepting of gay subject.” China Daily 21 jan 2006. 12 juni 2007. <http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/english/doc/200601/21/content_514390.htm>
* Franklin, Garth. “ Interview: Ang Lee, Brokeback Mountain.” Dark Horizons. 7 dec. 2005. 12 jun. 2007. http://www.darkhorizons.com/news05/brokeback2.php
* Martin, Fran. “The China Simulcrum: Genre, Feminism, and Pan-Chinese Cultural Politics in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon”, in: Chris Berry en Feii Lu (eds), Island on the Edge: Taiwan New Cinema and After, Hong Kong: Hong Kong UP, 2005: 149-159+163-164+188-190
* Zhang, Ziyi. “Ang Lee”, Time. 30 apr. 2006. 12 jun. 2007.
<http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,1187225,00.html>

©2016 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com.

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Manya Koetse is the editor-in-chief of www.whatsonweibo.com. She is a writer and consultant (Sinologist, MPhil) on social trends in China, with a focus on social media and digital developments, popular culture, and gender issues. Contact at manya@whatsonweibo.com, or follow on Twitter.

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China Arts & Entertainment

‘First Lady of Hong Kong TV’ Lily Leung Passes Away at Age 90

Chinese netizens pay their respects to veteran actress Lily Leung Shun-Yin (1929-2019), who passed away on August 13.

Manya Koetse

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Lily in 1996, image via Sing Tao Daily.

While the Hong Kong protests are dominating the headlines, the death of Hong Kong veteran actress Lily Leung Shun-Yin (梁舜燕) has become a top trending topic on social media site Sina Weibo under the hashtag “Hong Kong Actress Liang Shunyan Dies from Illness” (#香港演员梁舜燕病逝#).

Lily Leung, image via http://www.sohu.com/a/333418087_161795.

The actress was born in Hong Kong in 1929. She starred in dozens of television series, including the first TV drama to be locally broadcasted. She became known as “the first lady of Hong Kong TV.”

Leung acted for TVB and other broadcasters. Some of her more well-known roles were those in Kindred Spirit (真情) and Heart of Greed (溏心风暴).

Leung, also nicknamed ‘Sister Lily’ (Lily姐), passed away on August 13. According to various Chinese media reports, the actress passed peacefully surrounded by family after enduring illness. She was 90 years old.

“I’ve seen so much of her work,” many Weibo netizens say, sharing the favorite roles played by Leung. “I always watched her on TVB while growing up, and will cherish her memory,” one commenter wrote.

Another well-known Hong Kong actress, Teresa Ha Ping (夏萍), also passed away this month. She was 81 years old when she died. Her passing away also attracted a lot of attention on Chinese social media (
#演员夏萍去世#).

Many people express their sadness over the fact that not one but two grand ladies from Hong Kong’s 20th-century entertainment era have passed away this month.

“Those people from our memories pass away one by one, and it represents the passing of an era,” one Weibo user wrote.

“Two familiar faces and old troupers of Hong Kong drama – I hope they rest in peace.”

By Manya Koetse

Spotted a mistake or want to add something? Please let us know in comments below or email us. Please note that your comment below will need to be manually approved if you’re a first-time poster here.

©2019 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com

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China Fashion & Beauty

The Mulan Makeup Challenge: Traditional Chinese Makeup Goes Trending

Recreating the Mulan make-up look was the biggest beauty challenge on Chinese social media this July.

Manya Koetse

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Will traditional Chinese make-up make a comeback because of Disney’s Mulan?

Since Disney released the official trailer for its live-action Mulan movie earlier this month, Mulan is recurringly appearing in the top trending lists on Chinese social media.

Among all the different topics relating to the upcoming Mulan movie, the Mulan make-up challenge is one that jumps out this month.

The Disney live-action trailer showed a scene in which Mulan, played by Chinese American actress Crystal Liu Fei (刘亦菲), has a full face of betrothal makeup. The original animated Disney movie also features a full makeup Mulan.

Although there was also online criticism of the ‘exaggerated’ makeup, there are many people who appreciate Mulan’s colorful makeup look.

On Weibo, many showed off their skills in copying Mulan’s makeup look this month.

By now, the hashtags “Mulan Makeup Imitation” (#花木兰仿妆#) and “Mulan Makeup Imitation Contest” (#花木兰仿妆大赛#) have attracted over 300 million views.

Makeup such as lipstick has been used in China as far back as two or three thousand years ago.

Makeup vlogger Emma Zhou explains more about Tang Dynasty (618-907) makeup customs here; the skin would be whitened with rice flower, followed by the application of ‘blush’ (pigment of strong-colored flowers) to the cheeks and eyes in a round shape, to emphasize the roundness of the face.

A floral-like decoration would be placed in between the eyebrows.

The yellow forehead, as can be seen in the live-action Mulan, is also known as “Buddha’s makeup,” and was especially popular among ladies during the Tang Dynasty. A yellow aura on the forehead was believed to be auspicious (Schafer 1956, 419).

Although contemporary Chinese makeup trends are much different than those depicted in Mulan, traditional makeup seems to make somewhat of a come-back because of the Disney movie, with hundreds of Chinese netizens imitating the look.

Beauty bloggers such as Nico (@黎千千Nico, image below) receive much praise from Weibo users for their makeup look. Nico wrote: “I even opened the door for the delivery guy this way!”

It is not just girls imitating the look; there are also some boys showing off their Mulan makeup.

Although many still find the Mulan makeup look exaggerated and even “laughable,” there are also those who think it looks really “cool” – of course, depending on whether or not the application is successful.

Want to try it out for yourself? There are various amateur tutorials available on Youtube (in Chinese), such as here, here, or here.

The Mulan make-up hype will probably continue in 2020; the Mulan movie will come out in late March.

To read more about Mulan, please see our latest feature article on Mulan here.

By Manya Koetse

References

Schafer, Edward H. 1956. “The Early History of Lead Pigments and Cosmetics in China.” T’oung Pao, Second Series, 44, no. 4/5: 413-38. http://www.jstor.org/stable/4527434.

Spotted a mistake or want to add something? Please let us know in comments below or email us. Please note that your comment below will need to be manually approved if you’re a first-time poster here.

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