Why the comic timing was right for Ang Lee

  • @arifa_akbar

He is one of Taiwan’s greatest film directors who has picked-up the highest honours in cinema over a glittering 20 year career.

Yet Ang Lee, whose accolades include an Oscar for his gay love story, Brokeback Mountain, yesterday revealed that he found it “nerve-wracking” to direct his current comedy, Taking Woodstock, after 13 years of making serious dramas.

Speaking about his film which is a light-hearted take on the 1969 rock festival, Woodstock, starring the comedian, Demetri Martin, which is vying for the Palme D’Or at the Cannes Film Festival, he said it was a challenge for him although he had “yearned” to make it.

“Since my movie, The Ice Storm, I have made six tragedies in a row over 13 years. I was yearning to make a comedy without cynicism, and after 13 years, I have earned the right to do so…

“I was very happy but it was nerve-wracking at the same time. In comedy, if people don’t laugh, you have failed. At least in drama you can say they didn’t understand it,” he said.

The experience had left him with an appetite for more comedies, he added.

“The goal in the future is doing a comedy that is broad and has more meanings,” he said.

He stumbled across the idea while waiting to appear on a San Francisco talk show to discuss his film Lust, Caution in 2007, when he met Elliot Tiber, a writer who was on the show to discuss his memoir on which Lee’s film is based.

Mr Tiber had written about his real life attempt to reinvigorate his parents’ failing motel business by hiring out rooms to the New York organisers of the summer festival on a nearby dairy farm.

The festival became one of the strongest symbols of the 1960s and its ‘peace and love’ themes epitomised an era.

Lee was 14 and living in Taiwan when Woodstock took place, he said. Now, he regards it as a key moment in history that captures the innocence of the age as well as its optimism.

“It’s an iconic symbol. Woodstock been romanticised as being perfect – studying it now I know it was dirty, filthy, a mess – but it was peaceful and I don’t know if that could be pulled off today,” he said.

The film has been given an R-rating in America for its graphic nudity and psychedelic scenes of drug taking.

The British actress, Imelda Staunton, who is cast as Mr Tiber’s uptight Jewish mother, spoke of her “surprise” at being picked for the part and admitted her role had been a difficult one to master.

Lee’s film is in contention with 19 others including Quentin Tarentino’s Inglorious Basterds, (sic) Pedro Almodovar’s Broken Embraces and Ken Loach’s Looking for Eric, which is screened tomorrow.

Meanwhile, Sally Hawkins, the star of a new film, ‘We Want Sex’, spoke about her success at the Golden Globes earlier this year for her role in Mike Leigh’s Happy-Go-Lucky. She said directly afterwards, she received a flurry of offers from American and British directors, most of which she discounted.

“There is only a certain amount of really good material out there at any one time. Initially, there was a sudden rush of stuff, some of which made me think ‘how can I be right for this?’ I filtered through the stuff,” she said.

Her latest project recounts the events of 1968 when women factory workers at the Ford Dagenham plant in Essex downed tools to take on their American paymasters and demand equal pay for women.

The title of the film refers to a strike led by the women in which they forget to unfurl a protest banner which read ‘we want sexual equality’.

It also stars Bob Hoskins, Rosamund Pike and Jamie Whinstone. Its director, Nigel Cole, in talks with Miranda Richardson to be cast as then Secretary of State for employment, Barbara Castle, who befriended the women strikers and became a key player in the passing of the equal pay act of 1975.