Many film enthusiasts are familiar with the work of award winning director Ang Lee, but many may not know that Lee studied at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign in the early stages of his career. The Taiwanese born director graduated with a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Theatre in 1980.
Lee studied at the National Taiwan University of Arts before enrolling in the University of Illinois' Theatre program in 1978. While he earned his BFA in just two years due to transfer credits from his previous studies, he was able to explore all aspects of theatre such as acting, directing, dramatic literature, and scenery and lighting design. Robert Graves, former theater professor, Dean of the College of Fine and Applied Arts, and advisor to Ang Lee also notes that Lee spent time in the University of Illinois' Asian Library reading texts that were not available to him in China during the Cultural Revolution. These texts were potentially a great influence on Lee in terms of providing an artistic perspective outside of a pro-socialist context (Graves 2014).
Speaking of his time at the University of Illinois, Graves notes that Lee was a great student, always worked hard, and exhibited innate leadership skills. Lee was initially interested in acting, but due to difficulty speaking English, gravitated towards directing. He played a drunk in a pantomime play called "Tuesday," and also directed numerous plays at the Armory Free Theater. Lee was also a fantastic cook, and would often host gatherings at his apartment for the cast and crew following productions (Graves 2014).
Lee met his wife, Jane Lin, at the University of Illinois while she was pursuing her Ph.D. in molecular biology. His two children, Haan and Mason, were born in Urbana. At the Oscars one year, Lee proudly introduced them to fellow Urbana-ite Roger Ebert as his "two Urbana children" (Ebert 2005).
Lee is perhaps best known for his award winning films "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon," "Brokeback Mountain," and most recently "Life of Pi."