"Tiger" pounces but misses big Oscars
HONG KONG, China -- "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" picked up four Academy Awards, but missed the two that would have made Oscar history for a film made in Asia.
The tally for the front-runners stayed agonizingly close through the night but it was the last two awards -- the coveted best director and best picture -- that made it clear it was not to be the Tiger's year.
The cast and crew of the martial arts fantasy said winning four out of the 10 nominations garnered by the film was "more than enough" and it encouraged them to do even better next time.
In the end, "Gladiator" walked away with five Oscars, including best picture, and "Traffic" four, including best director for Steven Soderbergh.
Ang Lee had been favored to win the year's top directing prize after he won the award for best feature film director earlier this month from the Director's Guild of America.
This is only the fifth time over the last 53 years that the winner of that award has not gone on to win the Oscar.
But Lee and "Crouching" still made Academy history Sunday night by being the first Asian film to win the foreign-language film award. It also picked up Oscars in art direction, cinematography and best original score.
Regardless of the award tally, Asia clearly made its mark on this year's star-studded show.
"Crouching Tiger's" stars Michelle Yeoh and Chow Yun-fat were invited to present and cellist Yo-Yo Ma performed of the haunting score by Tan Dun.
Do the genre justice
It was the first time Lee had been nominated for the top Oscar honors in a career that defies easy classification.
Lee's movies cross cultures and genres, veering from drama/comedies about Chinese family dynamics -- the so-called "Father Knows Best" trilogy -- to "The Ice Storm," a critically-acclaimed tale of American family breakdown in suburban Connecticut in the 1970s.
Lee originally pitched the idea for "Crouching Tiger" to his producers as "Sense and Sensibility with kung fu." But doing a martial arts film fulfilled a childhood fantasy for Lee.
". . . to pursue a China that is fading away in our heads," he said, in a nod to the many members of the cast and crew who are of Chinese origin but live outside China.
Lee, speaking at the Sony Pictures gala party after the ceremony was optimistic and modest: "I have ideas on how I could make it better, (with) more dramatic juices. I'm thinking that with action, maybe I could do it better. I'm a novice."
The film had already made industry and Oscar history several times over. It was the first foreign-language film to win double-digit Oscar nominations and the first Asian film ever nominated for best picture.
Most importantly for future foreign films and Asian films in particular, "Crouching Tiger" is the first subtitled film to break the $100 million box office mark in North America.
Cinematography, art, and score
Hong Kong's Peter Pau won the Academy's best cinematography prize in a nod to the dynamic fight scenes along with special effects that have the actors gliding across rooftops and swinging on bamboo.
Pau, one of Hong Kong's top cinematographers who have collaborated with directors like John Woo and Tsui Hark, is the first Chinese cinematographer to win the Oscar honor.
Backstage, Pau said that in visualizing the film, he tried to recall the style of traditional Chinese watercolor painting.
Chinese-born composer Tan Dun, who won the Academy Award for best original score, called the film "an overture for a new era."
A composer of world renown as well as Lee's friend and neighbor in New York, Tan Dun told reporters there were no cultural boundaries in music.
"I have really no boundaries in my mind, so tonight it's not just happiness for Chinese, because with Crouching Tiger it's an overture for a new era," he said.
The Oscar for best art direction was the first award of the night and Tim Yip's conception of classical China brought the movie the first of its four awards.
Future Asian films
Lee says "Crouching's" honors were encouraging to film makers and watchers in Asia, where the Oscar results were seen ultimately as a triumph for Asian film and Asian talent.
The cast and crew were drawn from around the Chinese diaspora, including Taiwan, Hong Kong, mainland China, Malaysia and the United States.
Malaysian-born Michelle Yeoh said the cast and crew are focused on what the movie did win, not what it did not. "All of us understand we are here and our movie has done exceedingly well."
"We all learn every day and that's the magic about film making. There might never be another Crouching Tiger. There might be something that's even better than Crouching Tiger," she said.
Reuters contributed to this report.
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