HONG KONG — Ang Lee said he never intended "Brokeback Mountain" to be a social statement about homosexuals, amid speculation the gay cowboy romance lost the Oscar best picture race because of its subject matter.
The movie won best director for Lee — making him the first Asian winner of the prize — as well as best musical score and best adapted screenplay Sunday at the Oscar ceremony, but it lost the best-picture award to "Crash," despite having racked up several other major film awards.
The upset prompted speculation that the U.S. Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences wasn't prepared to hand its top prize to a movie about gays.
But the Taiwanese director said he never approached the love story between two ranch hands set in conservative Wyoming as social commentary.
"For me, 'Brokeback' isn't rebellious at all. It's a very ordinary movie. People call it groundbreaking or what not. It puts a lot of pressure on me. But I didn't feel this way when I was making the movie," he said at a press conference for Chinese media held in Los Angeles earlier this week and aired Wednesday on Hong Kong television
"This is the way gays are. It's just that they have been distorted. When two people are in love and are scared, that's the way they are," he said.
"Brokeback Mountain" has received mixed responses in Asia.
Its distributor in mostly Muslim Malaysia decided not to release the movie. The movie was welcomed in Hong Kong and Lee's native Taiwan, but banned in mainland China.
While Chinese society generally does not actively persecute gays, the topic remains taboo.
In mainland China, where the communist government still maintains a tight grip on ideology, censors keep gay content away from most mainstream media. But China's official psychiatric association no longer considers homosexuality deviant and gay-themed movies are available on pirated DVDs.
Despite the ban, China heaped praise on Lee for winning the best director award.
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"Ang Lee is the pride of Chinese people all over the world, and he is the glory of Chinese cinematic talent," the official China Daily newspaper said Tuesday in a front-page news article.
Lee said earlier he believes that Asians are more tolerant of gay subject matter than Americans.
One of Lee's first films, "The Wedding Banquet" was about a gay Chinese man who fakes a marriage to please his traditional parents. It won five Golden Horse Awards — the Chinese-language equivalent of the Oscars.
However, Lee said he is somewhat of a rebel at heart.
"I had to fight with my background ... but I also had to live in the general environment. People have to be categorized. That's very annoying. Don't you find that annoying? Life shouldn't be like that. The world isn't like that. There's a lot of complexity. There are exceptions," Lee said.
Lee faced resistance for pursuing a career in film when growing up in Taiwan, a traditional, academically oriented society that looks down on the entertainment business.
He said movies are a form of dissent.
"That's why we make movies. Otherwise, we just have a leader issue an order and we all follow. Why else would there be filmmakers like us? Why else would people lock themselves in a dark room and watch a movie together?" Lee said.
Lee expressed disappointment about the movie's Oscar best-picture loss, especially after it won four Golden Globes, including best picture, the Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival and four British Academy Film Awards.
"We've won every award since September, but missed out on the last one, the biggest one," Lee said.
But he added that feeling disappointed "is human nature. And it wasn't for myself. I led a whole team of people."
Lee said the process of marketing "Brokeback Mountain" was tough.
"My work was really hard. I had to fight many battles. Personally, I don't like doing press, but once a film is on the Oscar track, for half a year you're fighting the same battle," he said.
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