Oscar-winning Taiwanese director Ang Lee said Sunday he has low expectations for his new spy thriller Lust, Caution in the United States, because it is a “very Chinese” film that may be alien to American audiences.
“Its pace, its film language — it’s all very Chinese. I also used Western film noir. It’s a new start for me. It’s not very audience-friendly for a market like the U.S. It’s not their subject matter,” Lee told a forum for young directors in Hong Kong.
He acknowledged that Lust, Caution could marginalize him in the U.S. market after he gained mainstream recognition with films like the martial arts hit Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and the gay romance Brokeback Mountain, which won him a Oscar for best director last year.
Another obstacle is the film’s rating in the United States of NC-17, which bans viewers younger than 17.
Lust, Caution, which won the top Golden Lion prize at the recent Venice Film Festival, is based on a short story by famed Chinese writer Eileen Chang. It’s about a group of patriotic students who plot to assassinate the intelligence chief in the Japanese-backed Chinese government during the World War II era.
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Hong Kong actor Tony Leung Chiu-wai plays the intelligence official, Mr. Yi, while newcomer Tang Wei plays Chinese student Wang Jiazhi, who seduces Yi to pave the way for the assassination.
The movie also features Joan Chen from The Last Emperor and Chinese-American pop star Leehom Wang.
Hollywood trade publication Variety reported earlier that the movie features lovemaking involving “provocative” sexual positions, implied oral sex and full frontal female nudity.
Using a baseball pitching analogy, Lee likened his new movie to a “curve ball” for his producer James Schamus.
Speaking to reporters after the forum, Lee said an edited version of Lust, Caution— with fewer sex scenes — recently cleared Chinese censors. China does not have a ratings system, so Lee had to provide a version suitable for all ages.
He said the cuts did not compromise the movie’s plot and character development, but dampens some of its emotional intensity.
Lee called the sex scenes the “crux of the movie.”
“Many of the actors’ best performance came in the sex scenes. For me, it’s an ultimate performance,” the director said.
Lee also said he thinks the Chinese-language movie market has the potential to overtake the English-language market, but that it will take time to cultivate a film culture in mainland China.
China had “denied its own cultural roots and the development of film in the past few decades,” he said, apparently referring to the political upheavals and strict ideological control under communist rule.
“When it comes to culture, you can’t organize the Olympics, train your athletes to death and win the most number of gold medals, or hire the world’s best designers to build the world’s biggest buildings,” Lee said.
“To strive to surpass Hollywood on this barren land is unrealistic,” he said.
Lee also revealed that Lust, Caution went over its $12 million budget and that he had to front another $2 million.
He said he is waiting to read the script for the planned Hollywood romantic comedy A Little Game, which Schamus is writing, but hasn’t signed on to direct. Variety reported in February that Lee was attached to the project.
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