I’m still thinking about the intimacy of director Ang Lee’s comments following the screening of his Hulk, which received a lukewarm response upon its 2003 release. Lee is an Illini alum, and after one of the school’s a capella groups serenaded him (I will never get over how much I hate that aspect of universities), he discussed quite openly how his relationship with his tyrannical father informed the film. It is a bit funny that the film that brought this Oscar-winning director—he who is responsible for some of the greatest films of the last decade—is arguably his weakest. But Lee’s weakest is still fairly compelling, and indeed, his very psychological take on the Hulk purges the trapped, angry child that most of us carry around.
At first, it’s possible to miss Lee’s self-possession. He sits hunched and speaks quietly with a strong, if inflected English that he says has improved mightily from when he directed Brit actors for the talk-talk-talky Sense and Sensibility. But as he expresses himself, the unmistakable inscrutability of someone confident in their impressions and work emerges, someone confident enough in his gut instinct to make a range of films whose only real commonality is his own vision. He is also kind rather than nice, a fact that is evident in his sweet smile. (Discussing how people would come up to him to compliment Sense, he confessed, “I’d just want to punch [them] in the face.”)
About the making of the Hulk, Lee said that some post-9/11 angst wended its way in there. “It’s the only film I’ve made that I had nightmares about,” he said. When he approached the US military to use their equipment for the film, their only caveat, he said, was that they win. (An impossibility, obviously.)
He also talked some about working with the late Heath Ledger, whom he described as “the perfect cowboy” in Brokeback Mountain, I wanted Heath to carry the movie and Jake Gyllenhaal to steal the show. And that’s how it was.”