Brokeback Mountain

Ang Lee hails from Taiwan, but that hasn’t stood in the way of his innate ability to tackle English and American subjects with the kind of intelligent, mature authority that distinguishes most of his work. His films, including the Jane Austen adaptation “Sense and Sensibility” (1995), ’70s suburban drama “The Ice Storm” (1997) and sweeping martial arts epic “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” (2000), have earned critical raves and significant Academy consideration.

But Lee has never gotten a gold statuette to call his own. “Brokeback Mountain,” the director’s delicately handled tragic romance about two cowboys in love, could change that.

Critics and audiences have been swooning over the film at festivals from Venice to Toronto. And Lee, always the shape-shifter, pulls off an intimate study of the American Midwest that is characteristically heartfelt and true.

GENESIS: “When I read the short story four years ago, I got choked up. It’s just simply a brilliant piece of writing, of great American West literature, a great love story, set in the milieu of a realistic American West. And then it was also a mysterious gay love story. This idea of ‘Brokeback Mountain,’ that the guys spend 20 years chasing after that idea and couldn’t get to it, is about the illusion of love. And for me, that’s a great ingredient for a love story, but a very strange one. And because of that particularity, it felt very universal. And then I went ahead and did ‘The Hulk,’ and I was exhausted. But this story about missing love still haunted me.”

VISION: “To balance the film’s two elements: The masculine elements of the Western and then the real genre of the film, which is a romantic story, and a gay one. Usually in our social and cultural conventions, they’re opposing each other, but I had to make them work together, which was the main interest of this particular material.”

CHALLENGES: “Technically, the hardest thing was the aging. It’s a short epic story, only 30 pages long, but it wants you to feel 20 years of epic scope.”

MAGIC: “It surprised me how good the actors were. I deliberately chose younger actors, people under 25, and that innocence goes a long way to the end. It’s scary how good they are.

“One scene that jumps out is the tent scene when they make out for the first time: I think they’re very brave, not only with good performances, but they show us private feelings. Usually you don’t get that in lovemaking scenes.

“They take a great risk, and the only way to get out of that risk is they have to be really good.”

NEXT: “I don’t know yet. I have a couple of films that I’m preparing. I’m very tired of bigger productions. I think I’ll be interested in a small production, a drama. The material is just as challenging, but production-wise, it’s easier.”

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