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<Lust, Caution> Articles Collection
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PostPosted: Fri Oct 19, 2007 2:12 am    Post subject:

Ang Lee's look at 'Lust, Caution'

October 08, 2007 6:00 AM

Academy Award-winning director Ang Lee has made a movie about illusions. About what's real and what's imagined. About the stories we tell ourselves and the power they have over us. About patriotism, politics, love and betrayal.

"And it's about sex, too," he says, coyly.

Ohhhhhh, it sure is.

So much sex that "Lust, Caution," a subtitled flick set in Japanese-occupied China during World War II, was slapped with a rare NC-17 rating.

"First of all, I didn't know that rating still existed," Lee says with a laugh. "It seemed like that rating showed up in the early '90s and then disappeared."

The Motion Picture Association of America dusted it off for this occasion.

Lee, who won an Oscar for his direction of 2005's "Brokeback Mountain" and broke into an elite class of directors with the much-lauded 2000 martial arts film "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon," insists that he isn't worried about the rating. Nor was he worried about it, he says, during the 12 straight days he and a skeleton crew spent filming three intricately choreographed sex scenes in a small sepia-toned room.

"It's a small exercise on life and death," Lee says by phone from Seattle before a screening of the film.

The 52-year-old director has thought and talked a great deal about sex in conjunction with this movie, based on a short story by the beloved Chinese writer Eileen Chang, who died in 1995. It follows a young Chinese student who transforms herself at the behest of a patriotic group of friends plotting to kill a vicious Japanese collaborator. To get to him, she must seduce him.

Along the way, in the midst of so much pretending, she, too, is seduced.

She has to pretend "so sincerely, it's real," Lee explains. "And who's to say real sex is not like that? That it's not about performance for each other.

"It's not just a physical act. I think it makes an immediate chemistry that can be a catalyst to love and to many complex emotions ... and by all means it's great material for drama, which is meant to examine humanity. But we're shy to show it."

Lee says he is particularly shy. When he first read Chang's short story three years ago, he was appalled — "I was like, 'How dare she?' " — but the tale haunted him.

"It just kept coming back. I could feel the writers calling on me," he says. "Even recently I still felt like she was watching us, up there."

To do the story justice, the director says, the intimacy between the hardened intelligence officer (played by Tony Leung) and his innocent temptress (Tang Wei) needed to be profoundly honest, even in moments where it's jarringly cruel.

"It was very difficult for me to go through making those scenes," explains Lee, who plotted the tiniest details of each shot and verbalized every move he wanted his actors to make. "It's not natural. We're taught to be shy, to be subtle and modest about this. And we all have this sense of privacy. To peel that off and expose — it can be disturbing."

The movie claimed top prize at the Venice Film Festival and has received positive reviews in China and Taiwan, but Lee is cognizant that it "seems to be really tailored to the Asian audience," with references to historical events and cultural traditions, such as the recurring presence of mah-jongg, a classic tile game.

As the film is released in the United States, Lee is most worried about the reaction his young star Wei will receive. Because of that, he says, the bedroom scenes were edited to focus on the drama between the two characters.

What remains, he hopes, are glimpses of an entanglement that "will provoke viewers to read more into it — more than just sex."
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PostPosted: Fri Oct 19, 2007 2:58 am    Post subject: Re: <Lust, Caution> Articles Collection

Info wrote:
Million thanks to summertime for her efforts in collecting a wide range of materials on <Lust, Caution>. As there are numerous articles on the movie, I try to gather them together under this thread as far as possible.

You're very welcome Info Smile

It's been my pleasure Smile

I'm not very techie - is it possible to merge existing threads into one thread, instead of deleting and re-posting - that could save work/time for you Smile

TGIF ! Thank God it's Friday !!

Last edited by summertime on Fri Oct 19, 2007 3:21 am; edited 1 time in total
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PostPosted: Fri Oct 19, 2007 3:19 am    Post subject:

Lee comes home to northern California film fest
By Kirk Honeycutt

Sun Oct 7, 2007 8:34pm EDT

SAN RAFAEL, California (Hollywood Reporter) - The tribute to Ang Lee at the Mill Valley Film Festival was something of a homecoming for the Oscar-winning director of "Brokeback Mountain" and "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon."

When the Taiwanese filmmaker brought out his first movie, "Pushing Hands," in 1992, the San Francisco Bay Area festival "was the only place in the world that would show my film," Lee told the audience Friday. "Even Sundance turned it down."

Then in 1997, Mill Valley screened his suburban drama "The Ice Storm" when he was still a virtually unknown director. When he finally returned to Marin County several years later to live for the better part of a year while doing special visual effects at George Lucas' Industrial Light and Magic for "The Hulk," he was world famous, having made the most successful Chinese-language film ever with "Crouching Tiger."

Lee's latest film, "Lust, Caution," an intense psycho-sexual drama set in Japanese-occupied China during World War II -- which has opened to significant box office in Asia, especially Taiwan and Hong Kong, but divided Western critics so far -- kicked off Mill Valley's 30th anniversary celebration on Thursday.

So his love of the area and of its festival, one of the key regional festivals in the country, was unmistakable, as was the emotional response to his work by a packed house.

Between film clips from his 10 feature films, Lee relived his cultural and cinematic education. He spent the first 23 years of his life in Taiwan, including college and military service.

"I was culturally rooted and I didn't speak English," he noted. "I didn't learn to speak English until after (1995's) 'Sense and Sensibility.' I felt sorry for the actors I had to direct."

His initial love affair was with the theater, not film. Standing on stage, facing an audience for the first time, an experience he re-creates in "Lust, Caution," thrilled him. There was also, he pointed out, no filmmaking tradition in Taiwan at the time.

Coming to New York and not knowing English well, he knew he could not act so he moved into directing. In delving into Western stage drama, he had to break with his own cultural biases.

"Eastern tradition in drama is the search for harmony," he explained. "Western tradition is the search for conflict, the total opposite of how I was brought up."

Ultimately, Lee found theater to be too focused on the actor, not the director, so he switched to studying film at New York University.

"As soon as I touched film, I knew I had found my thing," he said. "If you don't speak English and can direct 'Sense and Sensibility,' then anything is possible!"

It took six years before he made his first film, a period of his life he admits was "depressing." Two things changed this: He met James Schamus, who has worked as a writer or producer or even his "entourage" on every project since. Lee also won both first and second place in a screenwriting contest in Taiwan so he used the prize money to make "Pushing Hands."

His first three films, "Pushing Hands," "The Wedding Banquet" and "Eat Drink Man Woman," were all serio-comic family dramas set within the Chinese-American community in New York.

"Now I'm making all these tragedies," he joked. "I don't know what happened to me."

In each of these films, "I separated myself into the various parts. The characters were all me," he said. "It is all close to my own family life." Even his own 6-year-old son played the boy in "Pushing Hands."

While Lee is not a religious man, he said, "Buddhism seems to make the most sense to me. I don't practice it, but I meditate and use its thinking a lot." However, he sees a lot of Christianity in his work: "'Brokeback Mountain' represents the loss of Paradise," he explained. "Western drama has a lot to do with the loss of Eden."

"Sense and Sensibility," his fourth film, marked the first time he became a "Chinese director," he said. Before, with mostly Chinese actors, his only concern was the "best way to show the actors." But when communication was difficult with an all-English cast -- "young Kate Winslet was the only person I could relate to" -- he resorted to a more cinematic means of expression.

"That film was the first time I used a wide shots and a composed frame," he said. "I didn't know how to talk to the actors. I was shy. So I used framing and images to act for the actors. This way I used cinema to tell the story; I used space and distance."

As to why producer Lindsay Doran selected someone who spoke poor English to shoot a Jane Austen story, he said, "My theory is that she could not get a proper English director. No, I'm not joking. I think they were sick and tired of (English period pieces).

"She told me one hot British director said the worst thing to do is hire an English director. She also told me of all the people she interviewed, I was the only one who after reading the script talked about the humor. One German director said, 'What humor?'"

Lee got a solid laugh when moments later he insisted that "making a movie about repressed English people is actually quite easy for a Chinese director."

While working on "Crouching Tiger" (2000), following "The Ice Storm" and "Ride With the Devil," two films that were not very successful, he worried that he might be headed for a third failure.

"The genre of martial arts is like pulp fiction," he said. "It is not meant to be art. Like chocolate and cheese, you shouldn't mix them."

His worries proved to be in vain.

Of his two war films, "Ride with the Devil" (about the American Civil War) and "Lust, Caution," Lee noted that he is interested not so much in battle scenes as the "war inside human beings." Where love should be in "Lust, Caution," instead sado-masochism reigns. His concern lies in "good people's bad ideas." His villain, played by Tony Leung, could just as easily be a good man, but war's cruelty has corrupted his soul.

Of filmmaking in general, Lee noted that he is "hands-on with everything from writing the script to the sound mixing and the timing, getting the colors right. I love the technical side of moviemaking. I cannot be a producer, someone who oversees things. I have to be involved in every detail."

Reuters/Hollywood Reporter
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PostPosted: Fri Oct 19, 2007 3:34 am    Post subject:

Confronting Sexual Themes Head-On
By Andrew Huang

Newsweek International

Oct. 15, 2007 issue - From "The Wedding Banquet" (1993), about a gay Taiwanese man in New York who feigns marriage to satisfy his parents, to "Brokeback Mountain," Lee, 52, has never shied away from difficult themes or bold sexuality. "Lust, Caution" is no different; it earned a rare NC-17 rating from the Motion Picture Association of America for its explicit sex scenes. Lee spoke by telephone with NEWSWEEK's Andrew Huang. Excerpts:

HUANG: What appealed to you about Chang's story?

LEE: Very little Chinese literature describes sex. [Chang's story] is one of the few daring ones. It tells us what women get from sex. It scared me for quite a few years, but I decided to do it.

How was making "Brokeback Mountain" different from "Lust, Caution"?

The material of "Brokeback Mountain" is very far away from me. I mean, American gay cowboy, that's as far as you get from my personal experience. I was able to make art out of it. Physically I was very relaxed making it. But with "Lust, Caution," the materials, the characters and the textures are very close to me. It's very intense physically. It reminds me where my culture comes from.

What was the hardest part?

Well, obviously, the sex scenes. You can't just take it easy because people make pornographic films. It's very difficult physically and psychologically. People think you have the framework, and then you decide how deep you want to go with the sex scenes because they usually are functional. But to me how they landed decided how the movie would unfold. So I actually shot them relatively early. Then they served as the anchors to decide how to craft the second half of the story.

Philosophically, what is filmmaking to you?

It's the way I discover myself and understand the world.
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PostPosted: Fri Oct 19, 2007 6:29 am    Post subject:

Beyond 'portraying gay cowboys for America'

October 6, 2007 at 9:21 AM EDT

For China, Taiwan-born director Ang Lee's latest film is far more taboo than Brokeback Mountain, Leah McLaren writes

Who can figure Ang Lee?

Even now that he is sitting before me, looking like an overgrown schoolboy in a boxy tweed jacket and mismatched trousers, it seems impossible to fathom how this mild-mannered and self-effacing husband and father of two could also be one of the most versatile artistic powerhouses in contemporary Hollywood. No ball cap, no cigar, no egotism, or directorial histrionics here - all the guy gives are simple, thoughtful, soft-spoken answers to my rapid-fire questions. It is the Toronto International Film Festival, after all, and all we have are the requisite 10 minutes in a room at the InterContinental. I am harried, panicked, desperate to ask about the myriad of moments in his films that have moved me to delight or despair. Lee, on the other hand, is perfectly still, hands folded, regarding the situation from a distance, like a spectator rather than a subject.

This sort of enigmatic calm is a lovely human quality, but it is no help at all for the hungry reporter desperate for a sound bite. Within minutes, I am pulling my hair out. How to get an anecdote - or even a straight answer - out of the man who baffles the world by his refusal to be pinned down?

"I like to be a good film student and learn as much as I can," he says, in response to the old versatile-director question. "I'm an avid filmmaker."

Well, duh, I think. You're Ang Lee.

A Taiwanese-born graduate of New York University film school, Lee moved to the United States in 1975. His body of work, I probably don't need to tell you, is as brilliant as it is varied. What other contemporary director could move so seamlessly from period piece (Sense and Sensibility) to family drama (The Ice Storm) to fantasy adventure (Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon) to a comic-book adaptation like The Hulk?

In his latest offering, Lee takes on sex and suspense in the mannered world of Japanese-occupied China. It's a period, Lee says, that he has spent most of his life obsessed with, if only because it is so rarely depicted.

"It's a part of history that's regarded as shameful in China and Taiwan. The country was occupied and people lived under a collaborated government. Most people there have never seen images from that time - certainly not moving images. It's a taboo that's just opened."

While much advance ink has been spilled on the graphic nature of the sex (and it is fairly explicit), Lee says the idea of exposing the behind-the-scenes politics of Chinese history for an international audience seemed far more shocking in the broader scheme of his career.

"It's very scary," he says, laughing. "A lot more scary than portraying gay cowboys for America."

While it may be difficult at first to see any similarities between Lee's films, on closer inspection, a theme does emerge - specifically, that of the outsider or imposter. Just like the star-crossed lovers in Brokeback Mountain, the coupling in Lust, Caution occurs between two people with much to hide from their society and each other.

Tang Wei, a captivating newcomer from mainland China, plays a college student who becomes a resistance spy and the lover of a powerful collaborator.

"For this movie, I'd just entered the gate of performance," she told me in a later interview. "Ang helped me to hone those skills."

Despite their difference in age and gender, Lee said he strongly identifies with Wei's character in the film. "She has to make believe in order to survive and although it's an extreme example, I understand that. In her normal life she is an outsider, she's nothing.

"Similarly, I am an outsider to reality. I am an insider to the opposite of many cultures. I'm an insider to a tradition in classical Chinese culture that is like a forgotten dream and so I very much believe in movies and the make believe."

He mentions a scene in the movie in which Tang Wei sings a classical Chinese folk song to her cynical lover in a Japanese restaurant, causing him to weep. "That performance is something I very much identify with," he says. "In fantasy, I am the insider."

Membership clearly has its privileges, as Lee's fantasy world has led him to triumph in virtually every genre the medium has to offer.

"I didn't have a plan as a filmmaker," he insists. "I didn't have a checklist to say to the world I can do this and I can do that. It was never like that for me. If something hit me as interesting, I'd do it."

And is there any other type of fantasy this enigmatic outsider would like to try?

"Only comedy," he says. "I've never tried something pure and broad that doesn't mean anything. I'd like to."
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PostPosted: Fri Oct 19, 2007 6:50 am    Post subject:

Ang Lee hopes to film a comedy

Ang Lee wishes he knew how to quit them.

Tragic tales of forbidden, thwarted love, we mean.

His latest -- following in the saddle sores of Brokeback Mountain -- is Lust, Caution, an espionage thriller set in Japanese-occupied Shanghai during World War II.

Tang Wei portrays a gorgeous Chinese spy for the U.S.-backed resistance who seduces a high-ranking government official (Tony Leung) in order to orchestrate his assassination. Suspense and heartbreak ensue when she becomes emotionally attached to -- and sexually excited by -- her target.

"There's a similarity," Lee says of the disparate dramas. "Both are dealing with taboo subjects -- gay cowboys and a woman's sexuality against the backdrop of patriotic war ... You always have to find new ways to tell love stories."

As with Brokeback and the bulk of Lee's films (The Ice Storm, even The Hulk), the characters in Lust, Caution are undone by their inability to express pent-up desires -- or reconcile them with their actions.

"For Brokeback, because it's a western, they don't talk much. You have to use body language and eyes and tempo and pace. For this one, because they're Chinese, they don't say much. But I like that. Even when they're talking, there's always subtext -- what they're saying and then what they're really saying."

Nor is it a coincidence, he believes, that both films are based on short stories penned by female authors.

"They're more daring. Our social structure is patriarchal -- the man makes the rules for his convenience. When a woman is not conforming, it can be inspiring and deconstructive ... They come from different angle. When they're gutsy, there's nothing like them. A man would never dare to write like that. No man could never be that brutal. Both men and women can be honest -- it's not a gender thing. But I think somehow they come from a different angle that's against social convention. It can be scary to us."

Tang, a Beijing drama student marking her feature-film debut, was chosen after an estimated 10,000 contenders were auditioned.

"It's her first real job," Lee says. "When I first met her, I couldn't make the decision, but I had a hunch it was her. She has a classic disposition, a look -- you feel like the story belongs to her."

Yet, Lust, Caution, which won the top prize at the Venice filmfest, has generated its share of controversy as well, thanks to graphic sex scenes between Tang and Leung.

Tang, who has been promoting the movie since it premiered at Venice, admits via a translator that, "At first everybody talks about the love scenes because it's very different from other love scenes. Later, they will think of the theme and the story because there is a lot of emotion in the film that is so special."

In the meantime, she's just trying to get used to watching herself on-screen.

"The first time I saw the film, I said, 'Oh my God, it's so different than what I imagined.' Every detail is magnified ... I'm not used to seeing myself on the big screen."

As for Lee, he is contemplating what he might direct next. Turns out it may, for once, not involve a tragic romance.

"I hope to do a comedy," he reveals with a smile.

"A carefree comedy."
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PostPosted: Sat Oct 20, 2007 2:48 am    Post subject:

'Lust' in translation
Chinese starlet talks about spy tale & its NC-17 sex

Posted on Wed, Oct. 3, 2007

TORONTO - IT'S THE typical movie-starlet story of a beauty queen making her movie debut in a film that calls for a lot of sex and nudity.
Only this time we're not in the world of late-night made-for-cable flicks.

The beauty is former Chinese Miss Universe finalist Tang Wei, a stage actress, writer and director whose hero is the late Swedish filmmaker Ingmar Bergman, and the film is, "Lust, Caution," Ang Lee's elegiac spy tale set in World War II Shanghai.

We spoke with Wei, her interpreter - the actress speaks some English, understands a little more - and co-star Tony Leung at the Park Hyatt Hotel during last month's Toronto International Film Festival. Wei and Leung had just arrived from the Venice Film Festival and while we were speaking, director Lee was jetting back to Venice to receive the festival's Golden Lion award for best film.

Even though her suite was 100 degrees (her choice), Wei was in a jovial mood and not just because of the film's warm reception. Wei said she's happy all the time and brings her happiness with her wherever she goes.

I told her she should bring her happiness to Philadelphia. (When she learned we had squirrels and pigeons here - she's a big fan, they're scarce in China - she said she would be happy to visit.)

There's not much happiness in "Lust, Caution," in which the 27-year-old actress (she turns 28 Sunday) plays Wong Chia Chi, a politically-charged university student recruited as a spy to befriend the wife (Joan Chen) of the powerful Mr. Yee (Tony Leung). Yee is a Japanese collaborator, head of the secret service and a key target for assassination.

Soon, Wong, the once-innocent agent, is both seducer and seduced into an NC-17 relationship with Yee in sex scenes that are graphic, passionate and angry. Who's in control? Is either of them in control?

In trying to explain the relationship, Wei used a Chinese proverb, which, she admitted, may get confused in translation: "After being eaten by the tiger, the spirit has to bring more sacrifice to the tiger."

So is she the sacrifice? Does she give up all power to this tightly-wound older man?

"When she's alive, she is his," Wei said. "And when she is dead, her spirit is his."

And this is a good thing?

She smiles. "It's very romantic."

Maybe that's also getting confused in translation.

Not romantic are scenes in which Yee rips off Wong's clothes or smacks her head against the wall when she tries to take control via a striptease. (Wei began a brief demonstration of her dance at this point, momentarily causing her interviewer to forget all his questions.)

She said that Lee, the cast and crew took good care of her during production of the difficult sex scenes, "like teachers and older brothers."

"I was very lucky," she said. "The more they protect me, the better, and it allowed me to open up to the best of my ability."

Wei's co-star, 25-year film veteran Tony Leung, was also seeking protection. Often cast as the tough, handsome guy, Leung was attracted to the role of Yee because he "never played this type of character before. Yee was more ambiguous. It was very challenging to me."

As for Yee's relationship with Wong, so full of feeling but lacking in affection, Leung said, "Men in power never have compassion or emotions. This is how he survives."

Leung said that Lee gave him and Wei "plenty of time to know each other before shooting" and then shot the sex scenes with a small crew to minimize stress.

"I'm a very shy person," he said, "and Ang, too, is very shy."

When Leung signed on to "Lust," he had no idea just how much lust lay in store for him.

"Only after I agreed to the movie did Ang tell me there were love scenes in the movie," he said.

For his next project, Leung is back in China filming the historical epic, "Red Cliff," with John Woo directing.

Wei is looking for a next film and dealing with her first taste of fame outside of China. "I'm not thinking about being famous," she said, "just my next project."

And now that she's being photographed and followed everywhere she goes, she is, of course, taking the happy view.

"All the photos," she said, "are a good way to keep a record of how I change over the years." *
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PostPosted: Sat Oct 20, 2007 3:04 am    Post subject:

Ang time
Lee approaches Lust with Caution


10/3/2007 11:35:20 AM

In the mood for Lust: Ang Lee goes NC-17. By Peter Keough

“Yeah, it’s very hard,” says Ang Lee — with no apparent double entendre in mind — about shooting the sex scenes in his NC-17-rated Lust, Caution. “It might not be hard for some people. But for me and for Tony [Leung, who is in the scenes, does indeed seem hard], it was pretty hard.”

In fact, Leung, a 45-year-old veteran admired for his performances for such great Asian directors as Wong Kar-wai and John Woo, proved much shyer in shooting the graphic sequences than did the 27-year-old Wei Tang, who was making her movie debut. Leung plays Mr. Yee, a brutal Chinese collaborator during the Japanese occupation. Wei plays the woman recruited by the underground to seduce Yee and lure him into an ambush. Put clothes on them and set the film in 1962 and the situation would be similar to the role playing in Wong’s In the Mood for Love (2000), in which Leung starred. Did Leung or Lee draw on that film for this one?

“Not at all,” says Lee. “Actually, I tried everything to avoid it. The scene where she seduces him and draws him into the apartment — the way they walk, it reminded Tony of that movie. He was upset because he wanted it to be different. That was the second scene he shot, so when I saw that reaction, I knew I had work even harder to get away from that movie just to get him to function.”

Working with Wei was much easier. “It’s her first movie,” says Lee. “But she’s pretty natural when you put her in the zone. She’d do anything as long as she was in the part. She’s almost like a child actor. The difficult part was that I had to coach her in the different skills.”

Different skills? It turns out that Lee himself “designed” all the origami-like positions assumed by his actors.

“I was guilty of designing those shots,” he admits. “The only way I could pull them off was to make them dramatic and ornate. They were designed with a thematic purpose, and this made it easier for actors. So they are pure dramatic, cinematic pieces rather than my own sexual fantasies. Though I suppose there might be an element of that.”

The scenario of an older, famous actor engaging in graphic sex with a younger neophyte in a major movie can’t help but bring to mind Marlon Brando and Maria Schneider in Bernardo Bertolucci’s Last Tango in Paris (1972). “Sexually, I think Last Tango in Paris is nowhere near what we do,” Lee scoffs. “Even though I’m a great admirer of it.”

But the similarity also reminds one how Schneider later described her experience in the film as awful, and how in 1975 she spent some time in a mental hospital. Other actresses have also suffered career or personal problems after appearing in graphic scenes: Kerry Fox in Intimacy, Chloë Sevigny in The Brown Bunny. Does Lee worry that the same fate might befall Wei?

“Oh gosh, I hope not. I try everything to protect the actors — and not just in terms of the sexual scenes, but as a whole career thing. Before she was nothing, and now she’s getting so much attention. I try every step of the way to protect her and educate her — make sure she’s going on the right path. I want to help her find her next project. I do the best I can. But I have not sent any young actor in my career to a mental institution. And so far, there has only been praise for her performance.”

Is he tired of everyone focusing on the sex in his movie?

“I don’t mind if the focus is on those three scenes. Though I think the whole movie is pretty sexy.”

All right, cut to the chase. Did they really do it?

“I can’t answer that question. Either way, it’s kind of awkward. But I can tell you this — they’re great actors.”
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PostPosted: Mon Oct 22, 2007 2:40 am    Post subject:

Ang Lee's hard sell

Pretty much everyone figured that Ang Lee's Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000) would be a hard sell in most of the world, given that it was in Chinese, yet it won Oscars and made a profit. Likewise few people thought Lee's gay-themed cowboy movie Brokeback Mountain (2005) would catch on with audiences, yet it did.

And now people are saying the same thing about the Chinese filmmaker's latest high-risk venture, Lust, Caution. Based on a short story by the Chinese writer Eileen Chang and now in limited release, the Chinese-language drama unfolds in Shanghai during the Second World War and follows a group of radical students angling to assassinate a Japanese collaborator, Mr. Yee (Tony Leung). The security surrounding Mr. Yee is formidable, and so one of the female students (Tang Wei) agrees to become his mistress. Doing so, however, means relinquishing her soul, her spirit and especially her body to the sexually deviant Mr. Yee.

"I still believe in the term 'hard sell,' and for obvious reasons," Lee says. "And it's harder with Lust, Caution. Most theatres won't show it, because it's being released NC-17. Now we have to overcome that obstacle too, and convince people that NC-17 is a respectable rating. That takes some work.

"Reading subtitles is an issue," Lee admits. "And it moves at its own pace (running 156 minutes), which I think is necessary. Crouching Tiger was Chinese-language too, but it was action and fantasy and costumes and all of that, and this is drama.

"Yeah, it's not an easy sell," he concludes. "It's probably harder than the other two, but of course there are exciting elements. Hopefully everything that makes it a hard sell will also make it exciting. I believe it's a good movie. I did my best effort, and so did everyone working on the film. I think it's a good film, and I think it's a special film."

Though many moviegoers will focus on the film's vividly depicted rough sex and its spy-thriller plot, Lee -- speaking by telephone, in reasonably good English, from a Manhattan hotel -- considers Lust, Caution to be much more than those elements alone.

"I very much identify with the girl's journey," says Lee, who will turn 53 on Oct. 23 and counts among his other credits The Wedding Banquet (1993), Sense and Sensibility (1995), The Ice Storm (1997) and Hulk (2003). "It's through playing and pretending, and by moving away from reality, that one reaches one's true self. So the truth and reality seem to play on the opposing sides and, dramatically, I think that's very interesting. It's very existential, and as a filmmaker I totally relate to that."

Tang, 27, delivers a daring, emotionally charged performance, displays plenty of flesh and manoeuvers into sexual positions that might shame some porn actresses. Lee auditioned countless actresses, he says, before settling on Tang. "She seems to be a person coming from my parents' generation," he says. "That's just her natural disposition, and it was a big reason why I chose her out of 10,000 actresses. Then, also, she's a very talented actor -- but that's not enough. We went through an eight-month period of hard work, preparation, training on job."
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PostPosted: Mon Oct 22, 2007 2:41 am    Post subject:

The passion (and lust) of Ang Lee
John Wheeler

Issue date: 10/4/07

Ang Lee sits uncomfortably, tension swelling in his shoulders as he fiddles with his hands. His posture is reminiscent of his Academy Award acceptance speech from two years ago, where his gracious smile and awkwardness gave him an air of humility and modesty that often seems foreign among the Hollywood elite.

He sits as though he would rather not be here, in this little hotel room, at this little round table, being asked questions about "Lust, Caution" - his new film about a young woman named Wong Chia Chi, who seduces a Japanese sympathizer as part of a plot against his life during the occupation of China in the 1930s and '40s.

I wonder a little if it would be possible for this great director to seem more put off, and I answer my own question with one I direct at him.

"Ms. [Joan] Chen said that when you shot the last scene in the film that you broke down, you were crying. I was wondering what about the film resonated so emotionally with you?"

Lee looks straight at me. I see an intense sadness welling in his face. He gives a startlingly honest answer: "It's so huge, so sad, so profound. I don't know what hit me. I was wrecked emotionally, and my nerves were on the brink of breaking down."


The effect of the scene ran deeper than that. While every actor I interviewed about the film attested to Lee's calmness and focus as a director, the impact of "Lust, Caution" shattered the director in ways none expected.

"All of a sudden I couldn't take it," Lee said. "Usually I'm pretty cool on set. [Chen] caught something that never happens to me: I showed emotion. I just lost it. It took me nearly two months to get out of that phase."

"Lust, Caution" may be Lee's most personal film, both to him as a filmmaker and to me as a filmgoer. I confessed to him after the interview that the final scene made me cry as well.

One of the film's themes is the thin line between fantasy and reality that actors, in this case spies, must tread. Chen said this is what first attracted her to the somewhat diminished role of the sympathizer Mr. Yee's wife.

"The only reason that I thought it would be an interesting character is that she knows of everything and yet she puts on this act. All four characters in this film are putting on an act, and I think Mrs. Yee is the most fluent."

The façades the characters in "Lust, Caution" hide behind, and the ways in which those façades break, were at the core of the emotional impact of the story for Lee. It resonated with his actors as well, causing them to disappear into their characters' lives.

"I lived with the character for such a long time, maybe one year," said Tang Wei, a young actress making her feature-film debut in the starring role. "I don't know; maybe now she's still with me. I think what she thinks. I want what she wants. I love who she loves. I think that me, Tony [Leung] and Ang are immersed in the characters, one with the characters."

Wei said she struggled with her character because she matures over the course of the film. Lee had to guide her from na'veté to experience, creating a further emotional bond with the movie.

"He told me that my performance was supposed to go through three stages and that I wasn't at the right place," she said. "At first, I didn't understand what he meant, but when I finally got it, I cried because it felt like, 'Oh my god, I'm not a virgin. I'm a woman now.'"

Wang Leehom plays Kuang, the college student who draws Wong Chia Chi into the plot against the twisted Mr. Yee (Leung). Leehom looks every bit the metrosexual Chinese pop star he is, yet he speaks English with an eloquence that betrays his American upbringing.

"When you're young, you want to do something, to be able to change the world in some way," Leehom said. "I think that's such a precious part of growing up, that we all start off like Kuang."


"Lust, Caution" is representative of an important trend in Asian cinema: the famous director making a Chinese film to play to a world market as well as the local one.

The film displays an understanding of the culture representative of, as Lee puts it, "an honored guest": He is an American director working in China, "an insider and an outsider at the same time."

But Lee never loses sight of the film's relevance to China. In fact, that's one of the things that seemed to be making him so nervous, as well as so emotionally involved.

"I was afraid in Chinese society, what would they think of me doing something like this?" he explains. "Is it possible to make in China a film putting the female sexuality against the backdrop of the whole patriotic war against the Japanese? It's never been done before. That scared me more than the sex."

The sex which Lee refers to earned the film an NC-17 rating from the MPAA but was the only thing cut out by Chinese censors. While the scenes carry heavy emotional weight and are important to developing the two main characters, Lee and his actors seem relieved that the true heart of the story was not harmed. The overt "lust" of the film may be gone in China, but Lee professes that the concept runs much deeper than just sex.

"Lust in Chinese also means color, the texture of life. It's nothing but the projection of your own self," he says. "And you should be cautious not to be fooled. As long as there is a relationship people are performing. It becomes very hard to define which part is your true self and which is not."

The image of Ang Lee fidgeting in his chair sticks in my mind even now, just as the images from his film stay with me as I sit here typing this. When he first walks into our little room, he notices a glass of water left by Chen, with lipstick on the rim - a motif from the film, and pauses in subtle recognition, as though the emotional sacrifices that give the film its beauty continue to follow him even now.
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PostPosted: Mon Oct 22, 2007 12:31 pm    Post subject:

Ang Lee's 'Lust, Caution' has sense and sensuality
BY LEWIS BEALE Special to Newsday

September 25, 2007

Ang Lee remembers what it was like when he decided to make "Sense and Sensibility," his first English-language film. The condescension. The whispering that this Taiwanese director couldn't possibly "get" the Jane Austen source material. The feeling that even his attempting to film such a classic was sheer chutzpah.

"I tried to talk my way out of it," Lee says today. "Why can't I do it? Film language is universal. I got help, thanks to Emma . Thank you this, thank you that, I learned this. ... But the truth is when you pay enough attention, you can do anything. If you're a talented filmmaker, you can make it happen. But condescending is annoying, and back then I couldn't really react. Nobody asked Martin Scorsese why he made "Kundun." 'What do you know about Tibet?' Nobody asked."

Surging to the forefront

No one questions Lee about his choices anymore, although the 52-year-old director, who is as low-key, deferential and self-critical as they come, says it wasn't until he won an Oscar for "Brokeback Mountain" that "people stopped asking me, 'Why are you making American movies?'"

The fact is, Lee has surged to the forefront of his profession, segueing smoothly among genre pictures ("The Hulk"), dramas ("The Ice Storm") and Chinese-language computer-generated imagery fantasies ("Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon"). Now, seven years after directing the multiple-Oscar-winning "Crouching Tiger," he's back with another Chinese film, "Lust, Caution," which opens Friday and might be the most controversial work of his career.

Set during Japan's occupation of China in World War II, the film tells the story of a young student (Tang Wei, making her film debut) recruited by a resistance organization and given the job of seducing a collaborator (Tony Leung), who will then be assassinated. The picture is long, leisurely and extremely well-acted, and exhibits lush production values. But it is "Lust, Caution's" extremely explicit sex scenes - which have earned it an NC-17 rating and will be cut for the Chinese market - that will really get people talking. If nothing else, audiences will wonder how Lee got his actors to do what they do.

"They're good actors," he says simply. "It's a step-by-step process into the role, into the world [of the film]. The actors have a very firm belief in the characters, their motivations. It's well explained from shot to shot, moment to moment. Of course, the first couple of days are difficult, but gradually you just make the leap."

"The most helpful thing was that Ang, Tony and the director of photography were so nice and professional," Tang says. "They made me feel comfortable, so we were able to just focus on our work. Of course we rehearsed, and the love things we discussed before. So a lot of it was not just demands from Ang, it was a collaboration. They protected me, and I felt comfortable and wanted to give back more hard work to the film."

A sensitive subject

Yet it wasn't only the sex scenes that were a cause for concern. Lee says he avoided the project, based on a famous Chinese short story, for years. Part of it was the politics: acknowledging a collaborationist government during World War II has long been a sensitive subject in China. The other issue was Lee's own fears.

"It's female sexual psychology, combined with our most patriotic war against the Japanese," he says. "That's frightening. If something frightens me, then it hooks me. It means under my consciousness, my personality, there's something else in myself that I am curious to take a peek at. It takes a lot of courage, courage to face yourself. Whatever it is, I'll resist until I feel it's my destiny to make the movie."

Lee admits "Lust, Caution's" plot bears more than a passing resemblance to Alfred Hitchcock's 1946 classic, "Notorious," but that's OK by him. He's more concerned that the film will be accepted in Japan, a country that has shown a reluctance to acknowledge the crimes it committed in China during the war.

"I think the portrayal of the humiliation of the Chinese is relatively mild, rather than going for the atrocity," Lee says. "I don't think it's what the movie needs. Once you see the Chinese bowing their heads, that's enough. In Venice ['Lust, Caution' won the top award at the recent Venice Film Festival], the Japanese press and distributors appreciated the film. I hope the humanity, the drama, prevails. It's a pretty mild depiction of history."

Lee takes a sip of hot tea. He's just jumped from Venice to the Toronto Film Festival to New York, and is obviously fried. It's clear he wants to go home to his house in Westchester County, where his life, he says, is "really boring. I do cooking, hang around, a little bit of gardening and house chores, and get yelled at by my wife."

It sounds like a peaceful counterpoint to the filmmaking process, which, for Lee, is draining. "I'm very boring, weak and shy in real life," Lee says. "In movies I get totally absorbed and do a lot of brave things. Making movies, people listen to me; I seem to be a good leader. I don't know how I do it. It's painful to watch. It drains me. And sometimes makes me want to stop doing it.",0,5523655.story
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PostPosted: Mon Oct 22, 2007 12:34 pm    Post subject:

All the right people

The success of Ang Lee’s Lust, Caution is largely due to the stellar performances of the cast, especially that of the three lead actors – Tang Wei, Tony Leung Chiu Wai and Wang Leehom.

For the female lead character, Wang Jia Zhi, Lee and his crew saw and auditioned over 10,000 actresses before settling on relative newcomer Tang Wei. “I couldn’t find any known actress who fit the character’s disposition and look so I decided to go with a new one,” he said. “The benefit of this is the freshness she has – people will identify Tang Wei as Wang Jia Zhi and no one else.

The role of the severe and sadistic Mr Yee was a lot simpler to cast – the ever-reliable Tony Leung was Lee’s first choice for the role all along. “Leung is a director’s dream actor. He not only acts well, listens to you and is hardworking; his moral sensibilities as an actor are in the right place – he is always willing to help others as well,” said Lee. “Apart from his having a hard time speaking Mandarin, I could see no other weaknesses.”

The casting of the American-born Taiwanese heartthrob singer Wang Leehom in the role of rebel cell leader Kuan Yu Min was another simple matter. Lee had wanted someone who represented the “ideal hero” that is so often portrayed in Chinese films.

“I chose Wang because he looked like all those heroic characters in the old movies I saw when I was young. Those characters who were always handsome, positive, full of sunshine, and always getting the girls!” Lee said with a laugh.

Lee has an explanation for why the filming of the movie took such a toll on the actors.

“The actors were so willing to accept the world I created and the new personalities they discovered within themselves. They actually became Mr Yee, Wang Jia Zhi and Kuan Yu Min.

“Like Wang Jia Zhi’s character, we were so deeply engrossed in our performances and after pretending to be someone else so much that it turned out to be more real to us than expected.

“Therefore, when it was time to return to reality, it was not only difficult to adjust; but I think we were also quite reluctant to do so as well.”
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PostPosted: Fri Jan 04, 2008 4:26 am    Post subject:

Happily dogged by controversy

The director of Brokeback Mountain has got critics' tongues wagging again with his new movie. Yet Hollywood's most controversial film-maker is still happiest at home, looking after his children and his chickens

James Robinson
Sunday December 30, 2007
The Observer

Taiwanese director, producer and scriptwriter, Ang Lee. Photograph: Nicolas Guerin/Corbis

Ang Lee returned to his native Taiwan earlier this month to pick up the best director prize for his new film Lust, Caution at the Golden Horse Awards, regarded by many as the Asian Oscars. Taking the podium to collect the last of seven gongs, he startled the assembled industry executives by ending his acceptance speech with the cry: 'Go Taiwanese film!'

It was a moment of uncharacteristic exuberance from the acclaimed 53-year-old director, a 'shy human being' who left his homeland for America 30 years ago to pursue a career in cinema against the wishes of his disciplinarian parents.

Since then, Lee has followed an unconventional path to the top of the Hollywood tree, making cult movies in Cantonese and English that weren't always well-received before stumbling into the mainstream with the most unusual of them all, the mystical martial arts film Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, that won three Oscars in 2000 and made him a household name.
He followed that with Hulk, a critical and commercial flop that was panned by critics; the New York Times described it as: 'Incredible, but only in a negative sense: incredibly long, incredibly tedious, incredibly turgid.'

But Lee's adaptation of Annie Proulx's novel Brokeback Mountain, released two years ago, restored his status as a director of global importance, as well as winning him three more Academy Awards, and that reputation could be cemented still further this week, when Lust, Caution, a two-and-a-half-hour epic, opens in the UK.

Set in 1940s Shanghai, the film is ostensibly a spy thriller about wartime espionage at the height of China's bitter conflict with the country's Japanese occupiers, but like Brokeback Mountain, it explores themes of sexuality and desire. Against the dramatic backdrop of the city's imposing colonial architecture, it tells the story of Wong Chia Chi, a young woman recruited by the resistance to seduce a collaborator, Mr Yee, who finds herself dangerously attracted to her prey. The puzzle for the film's protagonist and for audiences is to figure out where the deception ends and the genuine passion begins.

Like his unconventional western that scandalised much of conservative America with its honest portrayal of a gay love affair, Lust, Caution is a controversial movie. Rumours of its sexually explicit scenes began to emerge from the set months before its release, and US censors handed it an NC-17 certificate, the equivalent of the old 'X' classification. But although that will limit its audience, and the amount of money it makes, it is unlikely to diminish its impact, if only because its three carefully choreographed sex scenes are realistic enough for some American critics to wonder whether they may even be real.

Lee insists they are staged and has defended them as 'pivotal parts of the story', but he has also said they were the most difficult he has ever shot. 'I'm a shy human being. After half a day, we had to stop, it was so exhausting. To verbalise the feelings and lead the actors through those acts and witness how much they devote to it, it's very painful. Usually, we don't go there. I don't intend to go there again.'

Critics are divided about the film, which opened in America to mixed reviews in October. 'Lee is a true master,' said Rolling Stone, 'and his potently erotic and suspenseful film casts a spell you won't want to break.' Variety declared: 'Too much caution and too little lust squeeze much of the dramatic juice out of a two-and-half-hour period drama that's a long haul for relatively few returns.'

The film's restrictive rating means its distribution will be limited, but, unusually, Universal Pictures didn't press for cuts to be made to secure a better classification and a wider audience. 'They kept saying this year we have other films that will make money,' according to Lee, a comment that demonstrates the immense industry clout the Chinese director now wields from his home in New York, far removed from the politics and power games of Hollywood.

Married with two sons, Lee lives a stubbornly conventional family life, despite his wealth. He owns a four-bedroom house in the affluent New York commuter town of Larchmont, where he has lived since 1986, but his backyard is home to a chicken coop rather than a swimming pool, his children do not attend private schools and he rarely socialises with his 'showbiz friends'.

His close collaborator, Tim Squyres, the Oscar-winning editor who has worked with him on 10 of his 11 films, describes Lee as 'a quiet man' and 'a normal suburban dad. He's very amiable in a quiet sort of way. He doesn't throw temper tantrums; he's not needy. He's not high maintenance. He's not one of those big Hollywood personalities who throws big parties at home at the weekend.'

When the two men where editing Lust, Caution in New York, Lee would often drop his youngest son Mason at school before arriving for work. A decade of shooting films overseas has taken him away from his family for long periods and he has expressed regret about missing his children's formative years, telling one interviewer recently: 'I feel bad. I missed [eldest son] Haan in a fencing competition. I missed all his games. I missed most of his teenage years.'

Born in the agricultural south of Taiwan, Lee's upbringing was unremarkable and there was little to suggest he would one day become the country's most famous cultural export.

One of four children born to teachers who fled the mainland after the nationalists were routed by Mao Tse-Tung's communists, he fell in love with the cinema as a teenager and began consuming American films voraciously.

'He knows more about American westerns from the 1930s to the 50s than I do,' Squyres says. 'He doesn't come from a traditional Chinese film background at all. Even his Chinese films don't feel foreign to Westerners because he's so suffused with a Western cinema sensibility. He certainly doesn't think of himself as part of any movement or tradition. I don't think there's an Ang Lee style of film.'

Teenage Lee skipped university, to the disappointment of his parents, to attend Taiwan's National Arts School, arriving in America to study theatre in Chicago and film in New York after completing his national service in 1979.

After graduating, it was six years before he managed to land his first film, Pushing Hands, and his young family spent the ensuing period living off the income of his wife Jane Lin, now an assistant professor of pathology at New York Medical College. The experience has imbued him with a work ethic that has seen him produce almost a film a year since then. Lee's approach to film-making is equally disciplined, although some who have worked closely with him have complained he can be demanding. He shot more than seven hours of footage for Lust, Caution's opening three-minute scene, and actors are rarely mollycoddled.

'I would not call him nurturing,' says Squyres. 'His approach to actors is not to make everyone happy and comfortable. He creates a certain amount of tension and discomfort.'

Kate Winslet, who starred in Emma Thompson's adaptation of Sense and Sensibility, which Lee directed, claims he asked actors to write essays about their characters before filming began. Not every Hollywood star is a fan, although others are said to enjoy the intellectual rigour he demands of them.

Lee's career so far has been characterised by an uncanny knack of defying box-office logic, but not always for the better. Brokeback Mountain, which may prove to be his masterpiece, was conceived as a small movie with an art-house sensibility, but became a global hit, and Crouching Tiger found an audience few subtitled films ever reach, becoming the biggest grossing 'foreign' film in history.

But the comic-book romp Hulk was a cinematic miss that should have been a hit. It is too early to say how Lust, Caution will fare critically or commercially, but however it is received, Lee's standing in the film world is unlikely to be diminished and his popularity in his homeland will prove enduring.

Although his octogenarian mother still lives in Taiwan, Lee is an infrequent visitor and his appearance at the Asian Oscars marked a rare return to a country where he is feted and revered in equal measure. According to Squyres, who accompanied him on the Taiwan trip: 'He was followed everywhere by the paparazzi. He's like a rock star over there.'

Typically, that is attention Ang Lee doesn't covet, preferring the anonymity of suburban America. 'Here I can live a normal life. In Taiwan, I'd be like Michael Jordan walking down the street.'

The Ang Lee lowdown

Born Chaochou in rural Taiwan, one of four children. His father, Sheng Lee, who died in 2004 at the age of 91, was the head teacher at Tainan First Senior High School, and his mother, who still lives in Taiwan, was also a teacher. Met his wife Jane Lin, a microbiologist, after moving to American to study theatre and film. They married in 1983 and have two sons, Haan, 23, and Mason, 17.

Worst of times The critical panning for Hulk, his first major movie after the hugely successful Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. The New Yorker described it as 'an earnest and laborious picture'.

Best of times Feted for his 2005 masterpiece Brokeback Mountain, which won three Academy Awards and elevated him to the A-list of Hollywood directors.

What he says 'I'm just a pretty regular dad. I basically drive Mason to his friends, pick them up, take them home.'

'Truth can be painful and frightening ... it's uncomfortable, but I feel compelled to communicate with other people.'

'I'm a drifter and an outsider. There's not one single environment I can totally belong to. My cultural roots are something illusive.'

What others say 'I adore Ang Lee. I think he's a genius. So sweet, so humble and such a strong director at the same time as being such a gentle man. He's wonderful to be around.' Actress Anne Hathaway.,,2233377,00.html
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PostPosted: Fri Jan 04, 2008 4:38 am    Post subject:

The clash of symbols
By Stephen Phelan

Director Ang Lee had to bridge a cultural cahsm to present his new film for a global audience

CHINESE LITERATURE is more drawn than written. In a language composed of characters, as opposed to letters, each word becomes a picture, and every sentence a montage. As Ang Lee has put it, in particular reference to the title of his new film Lust, Caution, "the shape itself means something". Pieces of that meaning have been lost in the translation from its original Mandarin name Se, Jie. On paper, the first character, se, might allude not just to sex but to life, and to colour, while jie may mean "warning" or "renunciation", but could also represent a ring, which is a recurring symbol within the story.

According to Lee, Chinese audiences have been slightly shocked by the juxtaposition of the two, even before watching the film, which already has a worldwide reputation for its erotic intensity and explicitness. Western audiences will see more of this, in cinemas which are not subject to China's censorship laws. But they may also feel that they are somehow missing something.

"There is a lot of universality to it," says Lee, in a London hotel room around the corner from the Odeon Leicester Square, where Lust, Caution will later have its red-carpet premiere before opening in the UK on January 4. "People in Taiwan are moved just the same as people in the States. But if you don't understand the language, I think that you romanticise it. That distance makes the story more romantic. To a Chinese audience, it is probably more realistic. It seems to me that I have never made a movie so specific to China, with so much difference between East and West. And I am pretty good at bridging those two." It is not characteristic of Lee to admit to being good at anything.

Famously anxious in his work, as well as in person, he makes movies in the same way that Tolstoy is said to have written books - both resolved and tormented - and cannot discuss them without looking pained or frightened, resting his hand flat against the side of his face. "I ... enjoy ... talking about them," he insists, speaking very slowly and quietly, in not-quite-fluent English, with an accent that still sounds undecided between his native Taiwan and his adoptive home in the US. "I think it is maybe theraputic for me ... " He does not deny that almost all of those films - his debut feature The Wedding Banquet, his first American studio picture The Ice Storm, his international breakthrough hit Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon - have been the products of personal or professional crises. And as a man who has described himself as "repressed", Lee made life especially difficult for himself in choosing to adapt Se, Jie, a strange and cruel short story by Eileen Chang, into a long and graphic psychosexual spy film.

"To make a movie like this, you have to let that repression out," he says. "It is very painful for someone like me, and I wouldn't want to do it again, but you always have to find something new if you're honest about your work. You have find another level of fear for it to feel real. Otherwise you are sorta faking it, like faking an orgasm, ha ha, which is kinda boring." The sex scenes in Lust, Caution required full-frontal nudity from lead actors Tony Leung (who has become, over the last two decades, perhaps the most charismatic screen presence in the world) and Tang Wei (a relative newcomer who was cast in the role after 10,000 women had auditioned), but also prolonged and repeated displays of physical and emotional violence that exhausted the cast and crew. "As soon as we finish shooting," he says, "we all get sick. Everyone. Seriously. Boom."

This was not a new experience for him. Lee is often described as a sensitive film-maker, although this does not explain to his own satisfaction why every film he makes should appeal to so many more women than men. "You see it especially in China, if you go to my movies," he says.

"Any of my movies, whether it is a family drama or The Hulk Lee's only action blockbuster, an artful comic-book adaptation which was released to general bewilderment in summer 2003, is now regarded as one of the most resounding failures in recent Hollywood history. The audience is always a sea of women. Maybe a few men, with their wives or their girlfriends. The rest, all women. That is very frustrating for me."

Lee takes these things so personally that he seems to absorb each movie into himself. The themes of the script, the problems encountered during production, the reviews, awards and box office receipts - all of this is internalised, for good or ill. In the case of The Hulk, the pressures of trying to please himself, the studio, and the crowds, only added to the inherent creative tension of telling a silly yet serious story about the purest, greenest rage.

"Hulk was to do with anger, so you tune into that, and anything can make you mad. Internally, externally. The Iraq war. Physically, it was such a big endeavour that my body was protesting. I had problems with sleep. Then the distribution of that film really hurt me. And the negative comments. After that I thought of retiring, seriously. I am proud of Hulk, and I love film-making forever, there's no stop to it, but I just didn't think I could take any more." He went on to make Brokeback Mountain, a relatively affordable and manageable adaptation of E Annie Proulx's short story about the long-term, high-risk affair between a ranch-hand and a rodeo cowboy, only because it provided an opportunity to end his career on "a more benign note, so to speak".

"That project moved me and scared me too," says Lee, "but I was thinking it was such a small movie that it wouldn't matter. It was a story about love, and on set you could feel it, and when we finished I thought it would be OK if this is my last film. How wrong was I?"

Brokeback Mountain turned out to be, in his words, "my salvation", winning him an Oscar for Best Director in 2005. Nowhere in the world are the Academy Awards taken more seriously than China, which has a smaller, poorer film industry than its reputation suggests. There is no shortage of movie-lovers, but the majority prefer American exports, and particularly romantic Oscar-winners such as Titanic. Lee and his regular producer and screenwriter James Schamus were able to trade on their golden prize to fund and shoot an expensive and provocative film that effectively throws stage lights onto one of the many shadows in China's modern history. "I feel like I have the clout to do this," says Lee, "that probably no other director has in the world at this point. Certainly, no other Chinese film-maker would be allowed to do it."

SET in the late 1930s and early 1940s, Lust, Caution is the story of a young student actress drawn into a plot to seduce and assassinate a high-ranking member of Wang Jingwei's puppet government, despised then and now for their collaboration with the Japanese invaders who had occupied most of north and east China. In that time and place, Eileen Chang was a popular author condemned by contemporaries whose own fiction then tended toward revolutionary rhetoric and barely-disguised Communist Party propaganda. When Mao and his followers established their People's Republic in 1949, there was no room in it for her supposedly bourgeois tales about the love lives of Shanghai's semi-Westernised women. While her books were being erased from the collective memory, Chang left for Hong Kong and the US, where she began writing Se, Jie in the 1950s. It was not finished or published until 1979, and remained widely unknown and unread in her home country until after her death in 1995.

Today, that story is considered Chang's first and final attempt to address the politics of the period directly, if only to reassert her conviction that history is just background noise against which everyday melodramas are enacted in private. "This thing we call reality is unsystematic," she once wrote, "like seven or eight phonographs playing at the same time, each with its own tune, forming a chaotic whole. And though my characters are weak ... average people, they are the ones who bear the burden of our age." Chang herself was living proof, having apparently imagined this story out of bitterness over her own failed marraige to Wang Jingwei's chief of judiciary, whom she abandoned in exile because of his infidelities.

Hulk aside, Lee has never made a film set in the present day. "I like elegiac feelings. Melancholy. I am not a hip person, so I don't know what's going on now. But I have a fantasy, an illusion of history, and in some ways it is more real than what I see around me, which I don't trust. That's why I make movies. History doesn't go the way I want, ha ha." In the case of Lust, Caution, he wanted to preserve something of Chang's era. "If I don't do it, then the old people will die, my parents' generation will be gone, and nobody will remember the collaboration, the repression, the shame. Young people, Western people, non-Chinese people might not get it, but I feel the urge to save something on celluloid before it slips through our fingers, into oblivion."

The autobiographical aspect also seems to have attracted Lee - the fact that Se, Jie was such an atypical and unsafe piece of Chang's work, almost three decades in the writing. He relates to her passion, and the care she took to conceal it. Most specifically, he responds to a scene from the story in which the protagonist Wong Chia Chi rides through Hong Kong on a tram with her fellow student actors, elated after making a show-stopping stage debut, but too genuinely modest to discuss it.

"She's awakening," he says. "She feels the power." Lee felt the same way when he fell into acting at Taiwan's National Arts School, having failed twice to qualify for an engineering degree, thus creating a well-documented and long-standing rift with his father, which was only recently repaired. Lee alters and expands the scene in question, which comes closer to film magic than any other in his movie, and may even run counter to Eileen Chang's argument that no harmony is possible between the personal and the historical.

"That is a classic scene," he says, as if someone else directed it, "because it means something to me, and to the character, and to all Chinese people. It sounds silly, but if people don't see Chinese people being shy, then they will forget that's how we used to be.

"Because we're not shy any more, and 10 years from now that shyness won't exist even in memory. I feel missionary, making this movie." This is an unfortunate choice of word, given that the film itself will likely be longer and better remembered for its sex scenes - except, of course, in China, and the other Asian nations where the most explicit footage was cut, with Lee's participation. "People ask me, Why did you cut your own movie?', but if I don't then it does not come out at all in my own country. And you know, it's a milder version, but that audience will still get the story, the feelings. They will still get the shock when she lets the traitor go. Just the idea of this film, and allowing it to be filmed, is a big step forward in China."

Presumably, most of that audience will be women? "Yes. I can't explain that, except to say that I am not a macho man. I try to do macho things in this film, all the killing, burning, demolishing, brutality, confusion, but I seem to be more interested in the woman who is sleeping with the traitor. If she comes, does that make her a traitor too? These are the questions that keep me making movies. Is there another way I can live my life? Can I be a better person? Is this the angel side of me, or the devil side? I ask myself these things, but then I always go on to the next project."

Lust, Caution is released on January 4
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PostPosted: Fri Jan 04, 2008 4:53 am    Post subject:

Ang Lee's Lust, Caution could buck the NC-17 trend

It's been given a rating which usually signals box office doom in the US. But this is a director who made money from a movie about two gay cowboys.

Geoffrey Macnab

Hot fuss... Ang Lee's censor-bating Lust, Caution.

The deceptively mild-mannered Ang Lee is set to provoke a censorship row with his new feature, Lust, Caution (which received its world premiere in Venice yesterday). The Mandarin-language espionage thriller might best be described as a cross between Alfred Hitchcock's Notorious and Nagisa Oshima's In the Realm Of the Senses. It's clearly the very graphic sex sequences that have earned the film its NC-17 rating in the US, where it will be released later this autumn.

Generally, when mainstream directors receive NC-17 ratings, they promptly retreat. The label is regarded as a kiss of death for US releases, and most cinema chains refuse to show films branded with it. Lee, however, is reportedly insisting that his film is shown in its full 156-minute glory.

It's a magnificent piece of filmmaking, albeit one that takes some time to click into gear. Other directors condense huge novels into tidy 90-minute features. Lee's method is to take short stories and slowly expand them into epics. This is what he did with Brokeback Mountain. It is a trick he has performed again with Lust, Caution, based on a short story by Eileen Chang. The richness of his approach lies, as ever, in his painstaking attention to detail and his ability to register the most subtle nuances of tone and expression.

This, though, isn't what will sell the movie or provoke outraged comment. Nor will the extraordinarily prolonged and bloody scene in which the student protagonists kill a man for the first time. (They stab him, bludgeon him, throw him down the stairs, but still he refuses to die.) What are bound to cause controversy are the extraordinarily graphic sex sequences.

The film tells the story of a young drama student, Wang Jiazhi (Tang Wei), drawn into a plot to assassinate the shadowy Mr Yee (Tony Leung), a collaborator with the Japanese in the Shanghai of the early 1940s. Mr Yee is a cold and brutal man. While his wife (Joan Chen) and her friends play Mah Jong and discuss their favourite restaurants, he oversees the torture and killing of resistance fighters. Wang is ordered to get close to Mr Yee in order to prise him out into the open. In the end, they begin a very violent, sado-masochistic affair. Their feelings for one another teeter between love and utter loathing. They instinctively distrust one another but can't hide their mutual fascination. At times, it is as if they hope that through their extreme and acrobatic sex together they can finally work out each others' motives and true personality. This is as much a tale of amour-fou as it is a thriller.

What is likely to make Lust, Caution difficult for the US censors to push under the carpet is its sheer artistry. This is palpably not an exploitation picture. The sex - which isn't shown until relatively late in the movie - is not gratuitous but is fundamental to the characterisation of the two leads. To cut it would be to undermine a core part of the storytelling. Thanks to Lee's reputation (topped by that directing Oscar for Brokeback Mountain), Lust, Caution now stands at least a chance of becoming one of the first NC-17 title to be taken seriously and contend for major awards. As a foreign language movie, it remains a tough sell. Nonetheless, you won't see many performances this year that are better than Tony Leung's chilling but melancholy turn as the mysterious Mr Yee.
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