Confucianism and Taoism in Ang Lee’s films

Peng, Zhenzhu (2015) Confucianism and Taoism in Ang Lee’s films. MA dissertation, University of Portsmouth.

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    This dissertation aims to explore Confucianism and Taoism across the range of both Ang Lee’s Chinese and English-language films, maintaining that the conflict between Confucian ethics and Taoist freedom is the recurrent philosophical preoccupation throughout Lee’s work. It is this thematic continuity that defines Lee’s auteur status.
    Following a brief introduction, the main principles and long existing tension between Confucianism and Taoism will be explored briefly in chapter one. To understand the thematic continuity, Lee’s background and filmmaking are both relevant and crucial, and that is the main concern of chapter two. Since traditional auteur theory often failed to grant Lee’s auteur status, a brief review of the auteur theory and criticism on Lee’s failure as an auteur will be provided in chapter three.
    Lee’s philosophical preoccupation will be mainly analyzed from chapter four to six: Repression, Rebellion and Resolution. The investigation of repression in Sense and Sensibility (1995), Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000), and Brokeback Mountain (2005) reveals that repression in Lee’s films is represented as not limited to Freudian terms of sexual repression, but mainly as the weight of culture tradition, the social and ritual propriety that regulate human behaviour.
    Through many of the protagonists who rebel against social constraints in various ways, Lee’s films explore Taoist quest of freedom. The interrogation of rebellion will be focused on Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, and Brokeback Mountain as well as The Ice Storm (1997) and Lust, Caution (2007). In the earthly worlds Lee’s characters inhabit, the protagonists could only find redemption through momentary freedom. Those fleeting moments indicate the spirit of Taoist freedom, the possibility of individual’s free will prevailing in a world where everything from political power to social norms denies its very existence.
    In Lee’s resolutions, the dynamic of Confucian ethics and Taoist freedom is demonstrated through two ways: one is the resurrection of Confucian orders, the other is the ultimate pursuit of Taoist freedom, even at the cost of one’s life. To some degree, the binary opposition between Confucian ethics and Taoist freedom is mutually constitutive and thus interdependent.
    In analyzing the conflicts between Confucian ethics and Taoist free will in Lee’s films, the traditional signature theory could be challenged in its failure to grant Lee as an auteur. Lee’s authorship can be assessed through his thematic signature in the consistency of philosophical themes rooted in Chinese origins, although less obviously shown from Western perspective.

    Item Type: Dissertation
    Departments/Research Groups: Faculty of Creative and Cultural Industries > School of Media and Performing Arts
    Depositing User: Jane Polwin
    Date Deposited: 09 Jan 2017 10:14
    Last Modified: 09 Jan 2017 10:14

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