Pushing Hands

Main Story:
Understanding China: Five films

Tuî Sh u
(1992, directed by Ang Lee, starring Bo Z. Wang, Sihung Lung, & Lai Wang)

Famed Crouching Tiger director Ang Lee’s first film, and named for a tai chi move that emphasises the importance of balance, Pushing Hands offers a more light hearted way to think about the cultural conflict between old and new. The film tells the story of an older tai chi master who moves to the United States after many years of political harassment in China.

The father moves in with his son, who has just received a PhD in computer engineering and his son’s American wife. Brilliantly shot, the film’s visual framing captures the clash between traditional Chinese culture and modern western lifestyle, which is represented as materialistic efficient, and goal-oriented and the trouble the tai chi master has in adapting to his western life.

The film evokes these conflicts forcefully in several chaotic scenes featuring the family eating together. For example, during one meal the son talks to his wife in English who wants him to eat more vegetables and get a loan to buy a larger house, while his father is urging him in Mandarin to eat more meat and complain about the violence in US TV and his son demanding to leave the dinner table. As in Shower, the central theme is the conflict between traditional values and the new ideas. Unlike Shower, however, Pushing Hands focuses on the need for compromise and accommodation and gives an ambiguous sense of continuous struggles between the two. Indeed, as in tai chi, however, in yielding there is strength and the film seeks to find a balance between the old and new.