Pushing Hands and Fine Line
October 27, 2013
Produced by Taiwan’s state-run Central Motion Picture Corporation but shot entirely in upstate New York with a primarily American crew, Lee's debut feature immediately establishes his identity as a transnational filmmaker. When an elderly grandfather emigrates from China to Westchester to live with his son, his white American daughter-in-law Martha and their son Jeremy, the family struggles to relate to one another across generational and cultural divides. This family melodrama introduces themes that will recur throughout Lee’s career: the search for identity at the intersection of tradition and modernity, and an ambivalent connection with a flawed and at times destructive father figure. This film is the first of Lee's script collaborations with James Schamus, who would go on to produce eleven of Lee's twelve features, and write or co-write nine of them, becoming an essential part of the director’s vision and voice.
Lee’s award-winning thesis film for NYU parallels a young man running from the Mafia and a young woman hiding from the INS, and its blend of the comic and the melodramatic sets the tone for the first feature films to follow. The title refers to Manhattan’s Canal Street, which separates Chinatown from Little Italy.