Having just moved from Beijing, elderly tai chi master Mr. Chu (Sihung Lung) struggles to adjust to life in New York, living with his Americanized son Alex (Ye-tong Wang). Chu immediately butts heads with his put-upon white daughter-in-law, Martha (Deb Snyder), a writer who seems to blame him for her own paralyzing inability to focus. But when Chu begins teaching tai chi at a local school, his desire to make a meaningful connection comes to fruition in the most unexpected of ways.
Presented in a stunning new 2K restoration, PUSHING HANDS is the debut film from Oscar-winning director Ang Lee, forming the first chapter in his “Father Knows Best” trilogy, which depicts the tensions between the traditional Confucian values of the older generation and the realities of modern life. Co-written by collaborator James Schamus, PUSHING HANDS was selected by the 1992 Berlin International Film Festival and won three Golden Horse Awards, paving the way for Lee’s worldwide success with films such as Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and Brokeback Mountain.
WHAT WE THOUGHT
Ang Lee has one of the most eclectic resumes in film. Because of that he has movies I like a lot and some I just can’t get into. I knew of Pushing Hands, but had never seen it until now. You can see touches of him in the movie, but if you are used to his big films like Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, Hulk and Life of Pi you might be in for a surprise.
It’s not a single location film, but a lot of it takes place in the small home of a wife, husband, their son and the husband’s father who just moved from China. The wife isn’t Asian and doesn’t speak her father-in-law’s language. He doesn’t speak English. She stays home to write, he gets in her way and it’s one big culture clash. She wants to get along, but the communication barrier is difficult as is the culture barrier for him. He soon starts teaching tai chi at a local school and finds others he can be himself around. He realizes he’s too much and tries getting a job washing dishes in a Chinatown restaurant. His son wants his father with them, but knows his wife is struggling with her writing.
It’s another universal story of cultural differences and the problems that can arise. No one wants to hurt anyone’s feelings, but that’s not real life. If someone is in the way and you can’t explain to them what you need from them, it’s difficult. Lee crafts a relatable story and one he probably understands himself.
My one issue with the film is the wife character. I just couldn’t get into the actress playing her. I don’t know if she’s supposed to come across as unlikable, but I didn’t like her. Yes she’s supposed to butt heads with her father-in-law, but I didn’t find myself rooting for them to get along in the slightest.
I’m sure this Pushing Hands restored release will be a big hit with fans. It’s the first film in Ang Lee’s original trilogy and I can see fans eating this up. I liked it, but didn’t love it. I think a different actress might have worked better, but I did like the story and Lee’s realistic daily life portrayal.
- Round Table discussion with filmmakers James Schamus, Ted Hope and Tim Squyres, moderated by film critic Simon Abrams
- 16-page booklet with new essay by NYU Cinema Studies professor Zhen Zhang
Running Time: 105 minutes
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1 Widescreen
Language: English & Mandarin with English Subtitles