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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.

billy

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.

anglee

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.

real

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.

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 Celebs

Chinese Comedian Li Dan under Fire for Promoting Lingerie Brand with Sexist Slogan

Underwear so good that it can “help women lie to win in the workplace”? Sexist and offensive, according to many Weibo users.

Manya Koetse

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Popular talk show host and comedian Li Dan (李诞) has sparked controversy on Chinese social media this week for a statement he made while promoting female underwear brand Ubras.

The statement was “让女性轻松躺赢职场”, which loosely translates to “make it easy for women to win in the workplace lying down” or “make women win over the workplace without doing anything,” a slogan with which Li Dan seemed to imply that women could use their body and sex to their advantage at work. According to the underwear brand, the idea allegedly was to convey how comfortable their bras are. (The full sentence being “一个让女性躺赢职场的装备”: “equipment that can help women lie to win in the workplace”).

Li Dan immediately triggered anger among Chinese netizens after the controversial content was posted on his Weibo page on February 24. Not only did many people feel that it was inappropriate for a male celebrity to promote female underwear, they also took offense at the statement. What do lingerie and workplace success have to do with each other at all, many people wondered. Others also thought the wording was ambiguous on purpose, and was still meant in a sexist way.

Various state media outlets covered the incident, including the English-language Global Times.

By now, the Ubras underwear brand has issued an apology on Weibo for the “inappropriate wording” in their promotion campaign, and all related content has been removed.

The brand still suggested that the slogan was not meant in a sexist way, writing: “Ubras is a women’s team-oriented brand. We’ve always stressed ‘comfort and wearability as the essence of [our] lingerie, and we’re committed to providing women with close-fitting clothing solutions that are unrestrained and more comfortable so that more women can deal with fatigue in their life and work with a more relaxed state of mind and body.”

Li Dan also wrote an apology on Weibo on February 25, saying his statement was inappropriate. Li Dan has over 9 million followers on his Weibo account.

The objectification of women by brands and media has been getting more attention on Chinese social media lately. Earlier this month, the Spring Festival Gala was criticized for including jokes and sketches that were deemed insensitive to women. Last month, an ad by Purcotton also sparked controversy for showing a woman wiping away her makeup to scare off a male stalker, with many finding the ad sexist and hurtful to women.

 
By Manya Koetse
with contributions by Miranda Barnes

Spotted a mistake or want to add something? Please let us know in comments below or email us. First-time commenters, please be patient – we will have to manually approve your comment before it appears.

©2021 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com.

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China Memes & Viral

“Hi, Mom!” Box Office Hit Sparks ‘When My Mum Was Younger’ Trend on Weibo

The touching Chinese hit movie “Hi, Mom” has sparked an emotional trend on Weibo.

Manya Koetse

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The movie Hi, Mom is all the rage in China, where social media is flooding with hashtags, photos, and texts celebrating moms and the bond between mothers and daughters. One big discussion is focused on all the things daughters would tell their younger moms: “Please don’t marry dad.”

If you could travel back in time and meet your mum before she had you, what would you say to her? What would you do?

This question is the idea behind Hi, Mom (Chinese title Hi, Li Huanying 你好,李焕英), the box office favorite in China this Spring Festival. The movie is directed by Jia Ling (贾玲), who also plays the female protagonist. For comedian Jia Ling, who is mostly known for her sketches during the Spring Festival Gala, this movie is her directorial debut.

Hi, Mom tells the story of Jia Xiaoling (Jia Ling) who is devastated when her mother Li Huanying has a serious accident one day. Jia is especially grief-stricken because she feels she has not become the daughter she wanted to be for her mother. When she finds herself transported back in time to the year 1981, she meets her young mother before she was her mum, and becomes her friend in the hopes of making her happy and change her life for the better.

From the movie “Hi, Mom”

Li Huanying is also the name of Jia Ling’s own mother, who passed away when Jia was just 19 years old. Jia Ling reportedly did not make the movie because she wanted to be a director, but because she wanted to tell her mother’s story.

The film has become super popular since its debut on February 12 and raked in 2.6 billion yuan (over $400 million) within five days. On day five alone, the movie earned $90 million.

The movie has sparked various trends on Chinese social media. One of them is an online ‘challenge’ for daughters to post pictures of mothers when they were young. The hashtag “Photo of My Mother When She Was Young” (#妈妈年轻时的照片#) received 120 million views on Weibo by Wednesday. Another hashtag used for this ‘challenge’ is “This is My Li Huanying” (#这是我的李焕英#). The hashtags have motivated thousands of netizens to post photos of their mother before she became a mom.

The trend has not just sparked an online movement to celebrate and appreciate mothers – it also offers an intimate glance into the lives of Chinese older women and shows just how different the times were when they were young. This also gave many daughters a new appreciation of their mothers.

“I used to have many wishes,” one female Weibo user wrote: “But now I just hope to make my mum happy.” Others praised their mother’s beauty (“My mum is so pretty!”) and said that they are proud to look like their mom, although some also complained that they had not inherited their mother’s looks.

The trend has also provided an opportunity for a moment of self-reflection for some. Seeing the unedited photos of their younger mothers, some called on female web users to stop losing themselves in ‘beautifying’ photo apps that alter their facial features, saying they will not have normal photos of themselves in the future that show their true (and unedited) natural beauty.

 

“Don’t marry dad, don’t believe his sweet talk.”

 

There is also another hashtag trending in light of Hi, Mum. It is “If You Could Go Back to Before Your Mum Married” (#如果穿越回妈妈结婚前#) and started with one popular fashion influencer (@一扣酥) asking her followers what they would want to tell her.

“Don’t marry dad. Don’t believe his sweet talk,” one person replied, with many others also writing that they would want to tell their younger mom not to marry their fathers: “I would tell her to look for someone who loves her, and not for someone she loves,” one person responded.

“Please leave dad,” another Weibo user writes, adding that her father drank too much and would hit her mother.

“Don’t feel like you need to marry because you’re older,” another daughter writes: “Don’t get into a ‘lightning wedding’ and don’t care so much about what other people say.”

“Live for yourself for once,” a blogger named ‘Zhi Zhi El’ wrote, with another young woman named Yumiko writing: “Don’t close your bookshop, be independent and confident, don’t listen to everything dad says, and don’t become a housewife.”

But there are also those who are happy with the way things turned out: “Mum! Marry dad! He’s good!”

In the end, most commenters just want one thing. As this Weibo user (@·__弑天) writes: “Mum, I just hope you have a happy life.”

 
By Manya Koetse
with contributions by Miranda Barnes

Spotted a mistake or want to add something? Please let us know in comments below or email us. First-time commenters, please be patient – we will have to manually approve your comment before it appears.

©2021 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com.

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