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PostPosted: Thu Jan 10, 2008 3:01 am    Post subject:

Proceed with Lust, Caution

The explicit sex scenes in Ang Lee's film are justified, argues James Christopher. But not all films have such integrity...

It may well become one of the first dinner-party talking points of 2008: what did you think of the sex scenes in Ang Leeís Lust, Caution? There are scenes so explicit it may well change the way other directors feel emboldened to approach sex in the future, and not just because we see Tony Leung throw female co-star Tang Wei across a bed and penetrate her from behind. Perhaps I imagined it Ė such is the power of Leeís directionĖ but I swear you see Leungís erect penis. In fact, I am told, you just see his testicles. Well, still . . .

Are these scenes necessary, or acceptable? Lee isnít an exploitative director but the sex goes on for an epic amount of time in an epic amount of detail. But I would argue that these scenes are justified: taken in the context of the film, they directly reference Leeís bigger concern, the tortured relations between China and Japan as reflected in the struggle and dangerous attraction between Leung and Wei. These are two people who are not what the other thinks they are, but have an honesty about sex that is far more revealing than either expected. The sex is so explosive because it is set in a country where intimacy of any kind is proscribed. For me, sex and explicit sex can be absolutely justified as a way of explaining character, motivation and plot.

The debate around sex and cinema, gratuitousness versus art, has raged since Marlon Brando flung Maria Schneider face down and reached for the butter in Last Tango in Paris, breaking not just the taboo of showing sex on the big screen but a sexual taboo itself Ė anal sex. Before then, Hollywood approached sex only gingerly while the censor prowled during the Thirties, Forties and Fifties; an era when sex was implied, rather than applied, in cinema.

Lauren Bacall could just about get away with telling Bogie to ďjust put your lips together and blowĒ in To Have and Have Not (1944); while The Big Sleep (1946) featured a number of scenes featuring suggestively smoking prostitutes. And God Created Woman (1956), featuring Brigitte Bardot, was considered outrageous at the time, and featured Bardot in lusty form.

Sex emerged as a joke in theCarry Onfilms of the Sixties and Seventies and in films such as Confessions of a Window Cleaner. Last Tango demanded that it be taken seriously; that the sado-masochism that Brandoís character enjoys explains him.

Another film of the same era, Nick Roegís Donít Look Now (1973), features brilliantly cut scenes of Julie Christie and Donald Sutherland making love; and that again adds a layer to their Venice-set nightmare.

I know many viewers will find Lust, Caution unwatchable because it is so explicit. Doubtless many more will be offended. The Chinese censors trimmed the film by a whopping seven minutes. The British Board of Film Classification has allowed the film to be released untouched here with an 18 certificate. The prevailing liberal view adopted by the BBFC is to do as little snipping as possible if the sex (and/or violence) is integral to the story, and not a gratuitous addendum.

Therein lies the rub. For many of the great and good in this country the so-called art-house masterpiece has been getting away with kinky murder. Even seasoned critics can be taken aback by films that seem to crash through the boundaries of ďgood tasteĒ in ways guaranteed to shock.

I was left reeling by the nine-minute rape and murder of Monica Bellucci in Gaspar Noťís terrifying film Irrťversible in 2002. The appetite for torture pornography in slasher flicks such as Eli Rothís Hostel horrifies me almost as much as the BBFCís refusal to censor any gratuitous part of it. But there is a profound gulf between these two films in what they are trying to achieve, and whom they are aimed at. Ir-rťversibleis an extraordinary experiment in perception and time. Hostel is as morally vacant and intellectually ambitious as those famous old staples Emmanuelle(1974) and Deep Throat (1972).

More recently, 9 Songs, by Michael Winterbottom, clearly aspired to art, but the acting (its two leads were unknowns) was so bad that it became memorable for its emphasis on sex Ė and was an embarrassing failure as a result. The oral sex in Patrice Chťreauís Intimacy (2001) was more memorable than the film itself.

Michael Hanekeís The Piano Teacher (2001), however, featuring Isabelle Huppert as a woman who went to porn cinemas before cutting her own vagina, was brilliant and the explicitness integral to understanding the character. In Leeís own Brokeback Mountain (2005), the sex between the two men was glancing, though the furore it caused showed how combustible gay sex could be in the minds of a mainstream audience.

Films tend to be edited and distributed in terms of demographics: what we think is suitable for children, teenagers, and adults. This is not quite as straightforward as it seems. Whatís suitable for London, New York or Paris is quite frequently regarded as the work of Satan in Bible-bashing Kansas. The result is that few ratings systems match up from one territory to the next.

Yet things are changing exponentially. Cheaper films and the internet are hastening less pedantic attitudes to censorship. There is no question that screen sex is getting far more explicit and graphic.

Thereís almost a tangible aura of flexibility about the film classification in this country, and on the whole that is no bad thing. Yet no matter how radically our tastes shift, one personís art-house sex will always be another personís porn.

There are still vital functions for organisations such as the BBFC to fulfil, especially when it comes to filtering out child pornography, cruelty to animals and scrutinising sexual violence. There are dangers particularly with nonconsensual sex and rape depicted for entertainment value. But for better or worse movies have defined our attitudes to sex. Directors will continue to push the boundaries Ė and lest we think that Lust, Caution means weíve gone to hell in a handcart, after youíve mulled the sex scenes at the dinner party, I bet Ė in the end Ė youíll have more to say about the sterling performances of Tony Leung and Tang Wei and Leeís own brilliant direction. How was it for me? Pretty damn good.
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PostPosted: Thu Jan 10, 2008 5:37 am    Post subject: Australian review

From The Age:

'Fang' Lee: cruel but true

January 11, 2008

Ang Lee pushes his actors to the brink, Stephanie Bunbury reports.

ACCORDING to film-buff legend, Ang Lee is the industry's Clark Kent. Under that mild-mannered exterior ó consisting of a gentle-to-inaudible speaking voice, self-deprecating manner and an overall Zen calm ó lurks a driven obsessive, a Caligula among directors who will stop at nothing to realise his vision.

Hard to believe here in Venice, where he receives phalanxes of eager interviewers with unflagging politeness in the garden of one of the city's grandly faded hotels but this is the man Hugh Grant dubbed "Fang Lee" after making Sense and Sensibility with him. Even laid-back Heath Ledger said after Brokeback Mountain that the director ó who was smiling beatifically at his side as he spoke ó drove him and Jake Gyllenhaal to the outer limit of physical endurance in freezing temperatures.

And now we hear that masterly Hong Kong actor Tony Leung was so exhausted by shooting the sex scenes in his new film, Lust, Caution, that he was close to collapse. Lee, he said later, always wanted more: another detail, another way to film a scene, another layer of self peeled away to reveal the rawness beneath.

The sweaty realism of these scenes ó inviting the inevitable question "did they or didn't they?" ó has been the film's chief talking point since it won the Golden Bear at the Venice Film Festival in September last year. So did they? "I leave that to you to decide," says Caligula in the softest voice imaginable. What he is prepared to admit is that, as usual, it was very difficult. Ten minutes of sex, real or not, reportedly took a gruelling 100 hours to film.

"None of us enjoys it," Lee said at the time. "By nature it's very uncomfortable, draining and painful." They are not pornographers, he said; his own instinct was to look away as the camera rolled. Even directing the actors beforehand was excruciating because, as he talked through these scenes, he had to expose himself and his own desires. "We're just common people. It felt pretty harsh. But we used the pain. We enjoyed the pain." The scenes were crucial to the unfolding story of an affair between sworn enemies.

Lust, Caution is set in Shanghai during the Japanese occupation of China, before and during World War II. It is immersed in its troubled time and seedy place; you can practically smell the camphorwood. Accordingly, it opens with a game of mah-jong between society ladies, the rattle of the tiles somehow suggestive of the splintery relationships of these women and their men.

Mah-jong, says Lee, is "an enclosed war. It is about power, suspicion and calculation". Filming the game is an intrigue in itself. The glances at table soon reveal, for example, that the young and glamorous Mak Tai-Tai (newcomer Wang Tei) has more than a passing acquaintance with the hostess' sinister husband, Mr Yee (Tony Leung).

Mr Yee is a man of position. But we know his position is dependent on his quisling collaboration with the occupying forces, on whose behalf he tortures and executes anyone suspected of rebel tendencies. What he doesn't know is that his plaything, Mrs Mak, is idealistic nationalist Wong Chia Chi, sent by her student cell to seduce him and lure him to his death at their hands.

Or does he know, in fact, that she is not what she seems? As an interrogator, Mr Yee also has a strong line in pretence. The only certain thing for him, it seems, is pain; you know where you are with a bruise. "There is a line where she says 'I hate you' and he says 'I believe you, even though I don't believe anything any more' ", Lee muses.

"I think it's true. That pleasure you feel when someone is smiling and being tender to you: you don't know if they are pretending or not. Through their lovemaking you can see he wants the truth, though he doesn't know what that is any more." Sex becomes a kind of interrogation, escalated by violence, through which they both "have an actual taste of love, although of course they have to deny it."

Like Brokeback Mountain, Lust, Caution is a film of epic scale ó almost three hours ó spun from a short story. The story written by Hong Kong writer Eileen Chang was a mere 28 pages but it had a profound impact on Ang Lee. "I was raised in a patriarchal society, very patriotic, with a lot of grand illusions," he says. His own parents were exiles who clung to the old ways, schooling him in the manners and mores of a China that had been destroyed by modernity, just as surely in Taiwan as on the mainland.

To see that lost and venerated world through the prism of female sexuality was extraordinary ó and a far more terrifying taboo-buster for him, he says, than a story about gay cowboys. Chang's story, he says, revealed that the familiar story of patriotism had its dark side. "They (historians) tell you about the glorious war. They don't tell you it is very hard to kill someone. They tell you that the women spies seduced the men and killed them. They don't tell you about the sex," Lee told The Guardian.

The story immediately struck him as "very cruel and very true" in the way it paralleled two kinds of hostile relationship: the subjugation of one nation by another and the relationship between a man and a woman. Lee recoiled from Wong's betrayal of her country for this rat of a man but he recognised it as real. There comes a moment when she must choose whether to deliver him to his death or not. "And at the moment when the guy looks her in the eyes, it breaks my heart. This is such a fragile moment, the way your heart is raised to her."

In some ways, he says, Wong Chia Chi is his alter-ego. She comes to her role in espionage through student theatre. "When she goes on stage, it changes her life. She went out with her friends on a high. Exactly the same thing happened to me when I was 18," he said an interview with the online magazine indieWIRE. Through performance, she discovers herself. "She knows she's playing a part. Yet by playing a part she reaches the truth. I think what they both feel is very real, even though they have doubts.

"It's like me making a movie ó somehow your task is not the reality of you but it is probably the truth of what you are, some hidden power inside."

What this film and Brokeback taught the long-married Lee, he told The Guardian, is that he is a desperate romantic at heart. And when Wong Chia Chi spends her afternoons at the movies, weeping with Ingrid Bergman and sighing over Cary Grant, it could be him up there.

"I think movies do draw a theatrical character. Going to a movie, hiding in a dark house: she cries easily, which explains how she cries so easily on stage. And I figure that the mannerisms, the way she behaves, the way she plays Mak she could take from an international movie star like Ingrid Bergman. In a way she is in her first movie."

This was, indeed, Wang Tei's first film. "I didn't want the regular or popular look Ö The first time she walked in, I just had the sense that she's Wong Chia Chi. She has a disposition that belongs to my parents' generation. In real life, she's probably a fish out of water because she's so different."

Wang Tei's acting experience was limited to a few television appearances. He says she put herself entirely in his hands. "I think Tang Wei doesn't know what happened," he says with a laugh. "Tony, on the other hand, once you have set the camera and the lighting, he knows the deal. It is like there is an implicit understanding of what I want to do and we do it. So I think it was more of a challenge for him."

Eileen Chang was herself a film critic; in the 1960s she started writing screenplays. Even the short story on which Lust, Caution is based was written like a film, says Lee. "It has inter-cutting, flashbacks, all those things."

He did not adapt it directly, however. "I think of it almost like jazz," he told the Hollywood Reporter. "You take a theme, then you take off. (The story) is only 28 pages long and a lot of things are suggested. Also, she's such a writer, you cannot merely translate what's on the page; you would only look stupid." Instead, he said in a companion book about making the film, he kept "returning to (Chang's) theatre of cruelty".

"You keep finding so many things in the writing that suggest there are so many layers. You just get deeper and deeper and you realise you are in her trap. It does feel like hell sometimes. You get moody; you get obsessed."

The actors had to travel that journey too. "We had actors willing to strip naked, go for the ultimate performance and see if they came out alive." Of course, he drove them to the brink. "That's the thrill," he says. "We tried to elevate a hellish experience to an artistic level that will speak to people. Then people think you're honest." He laughs. "Instead of crazy." He is still speaking just above a whisper but you catch the gleam of a fang.

Lust, Caution opens next Thursday.
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PostPosted: Fri Jan 11, 2008 2:47 am    Post subject:

Ang Lee: A passion too hot for China

Director Ang Lee talks to David Gritten about 'Lust, Caution', the stylish and sexy follow-up to his big hit 'Brokeback Mountain'

Ang Lee's films are a rebuke to those convinced that literary works must necessarily be diminished and simplified in transferring to the big screen.

Lee's method is precisely the opposite: he can take a sparse, short piece of writing and expand it greatly, adding his own preoccupations to the existing text, to create a film with an epic quality.

The Taiwanese-born director, who has lived in New York for the last 30 of his 53 years, performed this trick to dazzling effect a couple of years ago with the gay western Brokeback Mountain, adapted from Annie Proulx's short story. Now he has done it again, nearer to his original home.

Lust, Caution is a film based on a short story by Eileen Chang, one of China's most popular writers. It is a visually ravishing espionage thriller, set in Shanghai in 1942, during the Japanese occupation of China. Its main character is Wong Chia Chi, a young actress in a patriotic stage troupe opposed to the invaders.

Her colleagues plan to assassinate a local businessman, Mr Yee, who collaborates with the Japanese. Her task is to gain his confidence by becoming his lover. She succeeds, but to her surprise finds herself emotionally overwhelmed by their love-making, and her loyalties become tangled. Newcomer Tang Wei plays Wong, while the impossibly suave Tony Leung, best known from In the Mood For Love, is Mr Yee.

advertisement"There were 28 pages in [Chang's] short story," Lee tells me when we meet at the Venice Film Festival. "But I found some dark, obscure elements. There's something inside it full of meaning, pregnant with meaning. That was what I took from the book to adapt it. I had to go outside the novel, but stay faithful to what [Chang] wrote."

One element that features strongly in Lee's film, but is only hinted at by Chang, is the sexuality in the relationship between Wong and Yee. Lee depicts it explicitly, though not salaciously. Shooting the sex scenes between Tang Wei and Tony Leung was, he says now, "incredibly painful".

"We spent 11 or 12 days shooting them, and it was very intimate," he recalls. "There were only four of us on the set [himself, the two actors and the cinematographer]. It was closed to everyone else. The scenes were so emotional that it was exhausting. After two shots, I felt spent."

Yet, as Lee says, these scenes are crucial: "She [Wong] has to act in such a way as to earn Yee's trust. He's like an interrogator. And through that sincerity, the ultimate performance for an actress, these two people reach something they have to deny, which is love.

"That's a poignant point to make. I've hardly ever seen sex scenes that have to carry that kind of weight, and they're pivotal for this movie. I said to myself, if this film isn't good enough, I won't use those scenes. So I'm glad it all worked out."

In China Lust, Caution has been seen in an expurgated form - though in Hong Kong the sex scenes have remained intact. In either form, it is a massive hit, topping the local box-office charts for six weeks.

But in America, the film has received an NC-17 certificate, reserved for films that contain explicit sexuality. In a limited release, it has grossed less than $5 million. In contrast, Brokeback Mountain (admittedly not a foreign-language film) took $80 million.

The two films seem very different, but Lee, while stopping short of calling them companion pieces, finds common ground between them.

"They're both based on short stories, written by strong women," he says. "They're both about doomed, impossible, romantic love. They deal with obligation versus free will. They tend to be epic. And, in both of them, repression plays a part."

Repression is a theme with which Lee identifies strongly, on a personal basis. In person he seems controlled, even-tempered, almost serene. But he has spoken in the past about a seething inner rage that surfaced more than once during his one brush with a mega-budget Hollywood film, The Hulk. Lee, it turns out, identified with the title character.

And, though most work colleagues marvel at his calmness in times of crisis, others have seen him lose his temper spectacularly. It happened a few times during the making of Lust, Caution. "Sometimes, the movie was driving me to it," he admits with a shy grin. "One day, the weather was all wrong. Sometimes, you have to get angry to get things done. At these times, I sense I'm becoming like my father. I get angry, but I'm not good at expressing it. I have a lot of repression. So repression is what I make movies about."

Whether or not Lust, Caution becomes an award-winning film, it is likely to be recalled as the debut of the luminous Tang Wei. She was chosen after an auditioning process during which Lee's casting directors surveyed 10,000 young actresses.

Lee says her period look clinched the part for her: "She reminded me of my parents' generation, some of my teachers. She has a classic look, a small mouth. She couldn't get cast in China. No one paid attention to her. But the first time I looked at her, I thought: this is a story that could happen to her.

"I could easily have taken the only really big star in her age range, my friend Zhang Ziyi [who appeared in his Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon], but I didn't believe this story could have happened to her."

One sees what he means. Zhang Ziyi is a composed, beautiful actress with a confident screen presence, whereas Tang Wei is an ingťnue - just right to play the virginal Wong.

It's hard to see what draws Lee to these stories of impossible love: after all, he and his wife Jane Lin have been contentedly married for 25 years, and have two sons.

"We get along very well," he says, smiling broadly, "but now I've passed my mid-life crisis, I'm aware of what's missing from my life. That's why in my last two films I've been pursuing romance.";jsessionid=YDFLLSMGLGUVNQFIQMGSFFWAVCBQWIV0?xml=/arts/2008/01/02/btchina102.xml
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PostPosted: Fri Jan 11, 2008 4:30 am    Post subject: Ang Lee interview

Interview: Ang Lee Rolls Back the Years

By Martin Croucher
Epoch Times UK Staff

Jan 11, 2008

From comic book anti-hero vehicle The Hulk to costume drama Sense and Sensibility , it may seem that veteran film director Ang Lee has dabbled in most cinematic genres. But his latest offering, Lust, Caution , proves he still has what it takes to push the boundaries of modern cinema.

The film, Lee's second Chinese-language piece since Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon in 2000, is set in pre-revolutionary China during the Japanese World War II occupation.

It follows a young woman (newcomer Tang Wei) as she uses her actress's skills to seduce and lure to his death, the head of the secret service (Tony Leung), who is conspiring with the oppressors.

Culminating in three graphic and censor-baiting sex scenes, Lust, Caution has been given an NC-17 rating in the US, and charts an intense cat and mouse game between the two protagonists whose roles are constantly shifting.

Based on a short story by Eileen Chang, the film documents the struggle between the nationalist party (KMT) and the collaborationist government. The period it dramatises is rarely depicted as it is an ignoble one for the current Communist government who spent more of that time building their own power base against the KMT than they did fighting the Japanese.

Lee told The Epoch Times : "We have never discussed this period of history on the screen before. It is a period that is very difficult to avoid. Therefore we dug it out and got permission to film it. I felt this is very precious and extremely valuable. It had never been filmed and it hasn't been taught in schools on both sides of China.

"Both the Taiwan and mainland governments don't allow mentioning this Wang Jingwei regime. They called it the 'Wang puppet regime'; the traitor and running dog that helped foreign invaders.

"During seven to eight years, that regime governed a vast area of China. This is never even mentioned. It is very strange. This part of history was filmed for the first time in this movie. I think, aside from our curiosity, it is also a blank part of history, at least on the screen."

The film is partly shot in Hong Kong and Shanghai, where Lee says he hoped to get a flavour of China as it was before it was irrevocably altered by communist revolution.

Speaking generally about the changes in China over the past 50 years, he said it was a great pity that much of the traditional culture had been lost.

He explained: "Five thousand years of history, how can it not be a pity? It's the root of Chinese culture. When people talk about where we should go, you also have to talk about where we are from, right?

"The young generation don't even know where to look for their culture. They don't have that experience. You can't look for it in the history books. You are not sure if history books are true or not. Many materials are false. "When we are losing our culture Ė and we Chinese are losing our culture very fast Ė one strives to retain it. If my generation doesn't do it, it will be gone."
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PostPosted: Fri Jan 11, 2008 4:47 am    Post subject: Shanghai as third character in Lust, Caution

An extremely informative and well researched (French) historical background article on the city of Shanghai in the 20's and 30's and under Japanese occupation, that strives to illuminate the context in which the attraction between the two main characters, Wong and Yee, ignites.
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PostPosted: Fri Jan 11, 2008 4:58 am    Post subject: "A cinematic gem"

"A cinematic gem, to be savoured with a glass of champagne"

As I read the incoming French reviews, it's clear that French critics are raving about Lust, Caution (while British critics are divided, though less so than Americans, as a majority of Brit reviews seem to have been ecstatic).
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PostPosted: Fri Jan 11, 2008 10:15 am    Post subject:

Ang Lee celebrates golden success of "Lust, Caution"
By CNN's Mairi Mackay

LONDON, England (CNN) -- Ang Lee could be having a good year -- but he's not sure. "I got a Golden Lion," he says, in an exclusive interview with CNN. "I got a Golden Lion," he repeats, chuckling as if he can't quite believe his luck.

He was awarded the top prize at the prestigious Venice Film Festival for his latest film "Lust, Caution" -- an erotic tale of espionage and blurred morality set in Japanese-occupied Shanghai during the Second World War.

"By a jury fully made of directors, so that means something," he adds, extraordinarily deferential for the filmmaker whose success in 2005 with "Brokeback Mountain" confirmed his status as a heavyweight auteur.

In person the Taiwanese director is quiet and measured -- almost shy. But behind the reserve is a man who brought one of the most sexually explicit films of recent times to our screens; he also persuaded the draconian Chinese authorities to let him shoot in Shanghai.

Despite the furore over the sex, "Lust, Caution" is an essay in deceit and repressed emotions which has won over both fans and critics -- particularly in Asia. Read our review of "Lust, Caution."

"It is a phenomenon, it is a cultural phenomenon," says Lee looking a bit more confident as he describes the film's extraordinary performance in the continent.

Lee thinks that some of the film's success is due to the historical backdrop that he has so faithfully re-created. In mainland China, the Cultural Revolution robbed the population of huge chunks of their history. Seeing history reflected on the screen for the first time has been poignant for the Hong Kong Chinese and the Taiwanese as well as the mainlanders.

"I think it is a catharsis. Something they've been yearning to see all their lives. The repression. The sadness of being Asian," he explained.

Eileen Chang, the most beloved of all Chinese authors, wrote the novella "Lust, Caution" that the film is based on. Lee read it and thought it deserved a movie.

"The short story was just extraordinary," he told CNN. "Beautiful and cruel at the same time. She was inspired by movies, and structured the story as a movie. We just had to fill in the spaces she laid out," he said.

It has been in Taiwanese cinemas for 11 weeks and is still pulling in the crowds, with many returning for repeat visits. Asian critics are enamored, too. The film recently swept the board at the Taiwanese equivalent of the "Oscars," the Golden Horse awards, winning seven gongs including best director for Lee, and best actor and best newcomer for Tony Leung Chiu Wai and Wei Tang respectively, the film's co-stars.

It has had more modest success in the United States but Lee thinks the film has a cultural resonance for Eastern audiences Western audiences just don't get.

"Female sexuality, the psychology of it, and patriotism on the other side. That's very frightening for the Eastern people I think. Almost like taboo," he continued.

Lee says rumors that Chinese censors cut 20 minutes out of the film before it could be shown are untrue, but he has had to make sacrifices. He personally cut seven minutes -- of mainly sex -- out of the mainland Chinese version. He calls it the "light version".

"I've never tried to be a hero, I just tried to make the movies how I intend them to be made," he sighs.

"I had thought of not releasing it there but I think it's more influential that the movie plays out there," he explained.

But for all the hype that surrounds the graphic sex scenes, Lee is adamant that they are the heart of the story.

"They are the weight and anchor for me. In the script it's not describable. I don't think I'd know how to craft the second half without knowing the sex scenes."

But that doesn't mean it was an easy thing to do. "It's a very painful experience because we were shy," he said.

The three scenes were shot in twelve days at the beginning of the shoot and the director managed to persuade the actors to put themselves entirely in his hands.

"All I had to do to the actors was just seduce them with the idea that this was the ultimate performance," Lee says hinting at the single-mindedness and passion that lie behind his reserve.

"Lust, Caution" is his most personal film yet and Lee says he is a different person during the filmmaking process. "This movie has the most part of me yet in it," he told CNN. "In normal life, I'm like the student leader -- pure, nice person, honorable, clean -- but when I actually do a job, I get down and dirty," he says. (Hugh Grant, whom he directed in "Sense and Sensibility," famously called him "Fang Lee".)

Wei's performance as Wong Chia Chi, variously called a revelation and a sensation, proved the director's initial gut feeling: "When I met her I had the feeling that it's her story, I just had the feeling. Her disposition reminds me of my parents. The way she held herself, the way she talked. I felt like she is destined to play this part," he said.

He was wary of giving an unknown actress such a prominent role, but when she outperformed 10,000 other actresses in the screen test, Lee began to believe she could do it.

A total newcomer, she acts opposite Tony Leung Chiu Wai, the Asian matinee idol famous for his collaborations with Wong Kar Wai in films like the exquisite "In the Mood for Love" (2000.) Lee describes him as a man "looking like a mouse" and used his delicacy to create sympathy with an idealistic man who has become a monster.

"I've never seen anybody play scared that good like in this movie. At the same time he has to unleash that violence. He is a very complex, twisted character,"

Lee gives actors and crew a hard time but drives himself even harder.

Indeed, Wei Tang remembers getting three to five hours sleep a night for the whole 118-day shoot and says Lee got even less.

"He never stopped, never rested. When we finished work every day, we would rest. But he never did," she said.

It could be something to do with his perfectionism.

"Chinese film exhausts me because I would like to match it up to Western filmmaking," he told CNN. "But to match up everything culturally, technically, industrially, it's a far fetch. It's a lot of personal effort making every detail count," he said.

"It is also a lot more personal. The experiences you draw are more personal, more painful."

So far, he has no future plans. Rumor has it that he is in charge of the Beijing Olympics' opening ceremony with Zhang Yimou (Hero, House of Flying Daggers) and, Steven Spielberg but denies all knowledge of what the format will be.

There are no other movie projects in the pipeline either: "I'm still recovering from this film. I'm still talking. Still rationalizing what I do."
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PostPosted: Mon Jan 14, 2008 4:26 am    Post subject:

War, not sex, makes the history books

Geoffery McNab
January 12, 2008

SOMETIMES people plan their holidays around movies. Harry Potter obsessives try to track the locations populated by the teenage wizards. New Zealand sold itself to holidaymakers on the back of The Lord of the Rings. Hong Kong, though, found a burgeoning market in cinematic sex tourism last year, thanks to an art-house film director.

Ang Lee's latest movie, Lust, Caution, was released in China in an expurgated print, with its graphic sex scenes removed. In Hong Kong, however, the scenes remained and Chinese film-lovers made the trek to the city to see the film as the director intended. It was a rapturously received smash in the autonomous province.

The story of a group of young dissidents in '30s and '40s China hatching a plot to kill a brutal politician, Lust, Caution might have been expected to bowl over audiences in the US, too. After all, Americans are used to sex on screen and Lee's previous film, Brokeback Mountain, had been a critical hit there. This time, however, they have been lukewarm. Lee, though, had foreseen the problems that Americans might have with it.

The sex wasn't the problem. If anything, the destructive and violent love affair between student actor Wong Chia Chi (newcomer Tang Wei) and the politician Yee (Tony Leung) was the movie's main selling point, even if those scenes attracted the dreaded NC-17 certificate, a rating that scares off US multiplexes. What American audiences really seemed to struggle with was the slow-burn narrative style, the near three-hour running time and the probing, painstaking way in which it explored aspects of recent Chinese social and political history.

I meet Lee in the ballroom of an old Venetian hotel. In late afternoon the room is dark and shadowy. It makes a suitable backdrop for a discussion of a work as ambiguous and unsettling as Lust, Caution.

The Taiwanese director is unapologetic about his film. "The pacing relates to the information that is given," he says. "We Chinese need to go back to the world we used to live in.

"It's a lot of fun for the Chinese to watch the first half, to remind us of our innocence and how things used to be. Then comes the real deal. But for non-Chinese, you don't get that benefit. I am sure the Chinese viewer will have a blast, but when the Western viewer reads subtitles, it is very frustrating. You have that feeling: what the hell is going on. But I had to make the movie right for myself and for the Chinese audience."

A complex espionage thriller set in Shanghai and Hong Kong during the late '30s and early '40s, Lust, Caution is not a crowd-pleaser in the vein of Lee's Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. Instead of gravity-defying martial artistry, it consists mainly of characters talking. When there is violence - for example, when the students try to assassinate a man who has a Rasputin-like aversion to dying - it is realistic and dismaying. When they plunge a knife in the man's stomach, it bounces out.

And, like the violence, the sex is dealt with equally frankly. "They [historians] tell you about the glorious war, the fight. They don't tell you that it is very hard to kill someone. They tell you that the women spies seduced the men and killed them. They don't tell you about the sex."

Lee laughs wearily as he explains his attempts in the film to look behind the official stories about Japanese occupation of Shanghai. Just as he did in Brokeback Mountain (when adapting Annie Proulx's story for the screen), Lee has taken a short piece of fiction and fleshed it out, giving it an epic quality. Lust, Caution is based on a 28-page story by Eileen Chang. "She writes about women's sexuality and feeling for love during the most macho war we have had. It is like - how dare she!" Lee says. "It is very gutsy work. That triggers me to investigate my own upbringing and patriotism."

It quickly becomes apparent, for Lee himself, how personal and even autobiographical Lust, Caution is. For example, Yee's very specific gait is based on that of Lee's father. The director admits to a close identification with the spy played by Tang Wei, too. "When we were doing the movie, I used to joke that I carry the head and purity of the idealistic student Kuang Yu Min, the heart of Wong Chia Chi and the balls of Mr Yee," Lee says.

He then adds that Tony Leung has projected aspects of Lee's own character into Yee. A curious remark, certainly, given that Yee isn't a remotely sympathetic character. He is a quisling, collaborating with the Japanese and overseeing the torture and killing of Chinese rebels. Then again, it is Yee's personal and sexual life that intrigues Lee. "I desire it but I cannot do it. I make it into a movie. He projects a lot of that part of myself. It is a romance I never really experienced that I was longing for. It is almost like a dream."

Like the students, whose high-minded ideals are shaken when they get their hands dirty with plotting and assassination, Lee says he has been "shocked by reality, naive in some ways, not really knowing what to do in an adult world, like a big kid".

As for Wong, he identifies with her because "it seems that only by pretending, by getting far away from reality, she can reach her true self Ö to touch the real you that you try to cover up".

Meanwhile, Lee relished the chance to recreate his parents' era and their way of thinking. His preparation was exhaustive. For instance, he and his casting directors saw 10,000 actors before finally choosing Tang Wei. Leung testifies that Lee was a ferociously demanding director, always asking for that little bit more, the different way to do the scene, the extra detail. The scenes that were the hardest to shoot were, inevitably, the sex scenes.

The director says he felt extremely uncomfortable filming them. He was conscious that he was first engineering some extremely raw and intimate moments, and then intruding on them. "For this project, I had to strip down and get to the heart of the darkness in some way." His instinct, he says, as he filmed Leung and Tang Wei making love was to look the other way. "I don't make pornography, so when you get down to that, it is very painful to shoot. You fight with your moral sense. You are deeply confused. It is embarrassing to coach the actors through it - to verbalise and to give indications. You are revealing your secrets when you are shooting like that." The sex scenes were shot on a closed set with only four people present: the couple, the director and the cinematographer.

Lee defends the sex scenes as being utterly integral to the film. Yes, it is inevitable that the scandal surrounding these scenes will dominate discussion of the movie. "That bothers me. It gives me sleepless nights." He and his collaborators have done their utmost to make the best film they can and all the journalists want to talk about is the sex.

At a press conference earlier in the day, he had answered the sex questions patiently enough. Did they really do it? To Lee, that isn't the right question. What is important is that the audience has to believe in the scenes. Look at the eyes, not the bodies.

In the end, though, Lee's real preoccupation isn't the sex. Nor is it the politics. Nor is it the chance to bring back to life an era in Chinese history that is in danger of being forgotten. Like Brokeback Mountain, it is an emotionally charged story of a forbidden love. Lust, Caution may begin as an espionage thriller in which the politics and social history are foregrounded. By the final reel, though, it has turned into a full-blown weepie. At its core, this is a film about romantic obsession - "doomed, impossible romantic love".

The middle-aged director, who is happily married, grounded and emotionally stable, just can't help but be drawn to tales of mad passion. "After Brokeback and this one, I do believe deeply inside that I am a romantic," Lee says. "I was never romantic in real life. That is why I have to make movies about it."

The Guardian
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PostPosted: Tue Jan 15, 2008 2:00 am    Post subject:

Ang Lee Explores His Sexy Side

ďEach time they have intercourse, itís like a conversation ó and sex is the ultimate body language,Ē says Ang Lee in our current issue. Lee was refreshingly frank and specific about the NC-17 sex scenes in his new film Lust, Caution, which takes place during the Japanese occupation of Shanghai, as a young Chinese radical (Tang Wei) seduces a brutal collaborator (Tony Leung). He had much more to say in our interview, during which Lee, a proud alum, sported an NYU T-shirt ó including his belief that shooting Hulk was his midlife crisis.

Thereís almost no sex in your earlier films. Why are you attracted to sex now?

Itís true. Itís something I have not really been confronting. Iím not a romantic. In life I didnít have much experience with romance. So I guess a lot of things I never really dealt with. Now Iím dealing with these things, after having a kind of midlife crisis I think. Itís like I went through a childish stage through Crouching Tiger and Hulk. And now Iím in a beautiful rebellious, romantic stage. Iím such a late bloomer. I should have done this when I was thirtysomething. But Iím 52. Up to Sense and Sensibility I felt I was doing very similar things. Sex has been teased, but itís not really dealt with.

Was part of the attraction also that Tang Weiís character is theatrical: an actress who becomes a spy?

By playing the bad girl, she actually found a touch of what she is, the real her. In this sensual contact, she has to surpass the ultimate scrutiny from the interrogator, her lover. Thatís ultimate acting to me. Thatís what we, as filmmakers, do: Try to earn the trust from the audience, try to win them over, by pretending. But in the path, you touch the real self.

Why is the first sex scene ó when they meet again after almost having a liaison years earlier ó so rough?

When they first meet, Tonyís character is younger; he has ideals. Then three years later, heís in this shithole in hell. He hates himself so much. Heís public enemy number one, and he knows it. So when we were shooting, I knew how I wanted to block the scene, all the whips and belts and whatever, but then Tony did a subconscious thing: He grabbed Tang Weiís hair and banged her head against the wall. That I didnít think of. Tonyís a very mild-mannered man. I said, ďWhy are you so angry?Ē He said, ďI just followed an impulse basically. I thought of this man ó how happy he was three years ago. When I see her again three years later, I really want to resume where I left off, but I know I canít. Three years heís been thinking, Maybe I should have gone upstairs with her ó and now Iím just very pissed.Ē

The sex becomes a kind of metaphor for the occupation, right?

Well, the first one we did was that close raping scene where he beat her up. I think that scene sort of anchored the psychology of the movie and their relationship, as itís anchored within the political atmosphere of the occupation. The resistance is talking about whores. And the man-woman relationship is the ultimate occupy-or-be-occupied, predator-and-prey relationship. When I think about it: Whoís occupying who? At the end of that scene, when she gives that wicked smile, she looks back at him, like, "Is that all you can deliver?" Itís very hard to tell whoís manipulating who in that position.

Tonyís character is very conflicted in bed.

Only through animal acts can he release what heís repressed.

You make very specific decisions with the sexual positions, the way you pose your actors.

Well, itís not like thereís a relationship, and then thereís body contact. You canít separate the two of them. She so needs fatherly love. Thatís why I put her in the fetal position often. It gradually tells you that she needs a father, protection, love. So thatís the position I felt would represent it. When the music rises, and they come and they hug, she climaxes through crying. And he totally gives in for a moment. You can see visually how they feel for once. But theyíre not looking at each other. They canít show this to each other.

And it gets very kinky from there.

They have to be contorted to squeeze the truth out, so to speak. So I used their bodies to allow them to inflict their emotions on each other.

óLogan Hill
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PostPosted: Tue Jan 15, 2008 2:48 am    Post subject:

Q&A with Ang Lee

By Rebecca Winters Keegan
Tuesday, Oct. 02, 2007

Ang Lee has made a habit of teaching Hollywood how little it knows about audiences, proving broad crowds would embrace a gay Western (Brokeback Mountain) and show up for a subtitled martial arts flick (Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon). With his new film, the NC-17-rated, Mandarin-language spy thriller Lust, Caution, the Oscar-winning director is once again ignoring the rules of commercial filmmaking.

TIME: You've said the three sex scenes in the film were harder to shoot than the martial arts scenes in Crouching Tiger. Why?

Lee: I'm a shy human being. I don't make pornos so I'd never done that before. To verbalize 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. After half a day's shooting we had to stop, it was so exhausting. You're so hyper... emotionally, sexually, everything is so charged up.

Porn is plentiful, so why are scenes depicting sexuality with emotion so rare in films?

Most sex scenes are about covering things up, rather than exposing. It's very technical. It's a function you have to get over with so you can get on with the story. We give our best shot in digging into what the characters are going through. The sex scenes are pivotal parts of the story.

Did you ever consider altering your film to avoid the NC-17 rating?

When I was making it, I didn't really care. After the film was done, [Focus Features CEO] James Schamus explained to me what NC-17 means, the distribution, the advertisement, what you're gonna lose. He explained it and that was that. He never said anything else. Everybody at Focus got kind of excited about taking on the battle. They kept saying this year we have other films that will make money.

Is it possible people will go see this film because they're titillated by the rating?

There are people who know about me who will be curious. That's a plus, but the plus is 10 points and the minus is 80 points.

The film takes place in Shanghai during World War II. It's based on a short story by Eileen Chang which is much more subtle in describing the relationships between the characters. Why did you choose to be so explicit?

I'm not a translator of the author. I took a hint from her. To me the boldness of the story was unprecedented, particularly against the backdrop of the most macho, glorious, patriotic war against the Japanese. It was very daring.

This was your lead actress Tang Wei's first film. Were you concerned by the demands of the role?

Yes and no. The thrill actors get, the liberation, to reach the other side of themselves, it's very exciting, very liberating. They learn a lot about themselves. So often Tang Wei said to me when I asked her is she was OK, "What are you talking about?"

If making this movie was so emotionally taxing, why did you do it?

Because you're not supposed to. Truth can be painful and frightening. Lots of people, whether you're making a movie or doing a painting, you feel compelled to be honest. It's uncomfortable, but I feel compelled to communicate with other people.,8599,1667513,00.html
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PostPosted: Tue Jan 15, 2008 4:05 am    Post subject:

Ang Lee shares 'Lust' for life, filmmaking

By Susan Wloszczyna, USA TODAY

TORONTO ó Ang Lee just flew back to this city's film festival after a quick stop in Venice, all the while toting a Golden Lion in a large box. And, yes, his arms are tired.

Actually, his whole being is exhausted after a quick trip to pick up the top prize at the Italian festival. He made the same journey when Brokeback Mountain took home the trophy in 2005.

This time, the win is for Lust, Caution, his espionage thriller opening Sept. 28 that is set in Japanese-occupied Shanghai during World War II. Beyond the fact it is Lee's first feature since taking the best-director Oscar for Brokeback, the movie has been gaining attention with its box-office-poison rating of NC-17.

The restrictive label is the result of three bouts of acrobatic sex between a collaborator with the Japanese (Tony Leung) and a seductive young student (Tang Wei), who goes undercover to set the stage for an assassination.

Just as the risk-taking Brokeback benefited from the awards attention, Lust, Caution needs similar help to attract more than the merely curious.

But Taiwan-born Lee, 52, and James Schamus, head of Focus Features and the movie's co-writer and executive producer, aren't about to cut a single frame of the explosive passion, save for showings in China, where Brokeback was banned.

"It's a miracle they let me do Lust, Caution there," Lee says. "This regime was never allowed to be portrayed on film before. I just hope in Taiwan I can show an uncensored version in every theater."

Lee, fortifying himself with sips of hot tea, talks about the depiction of lust in Lust, his continuing passion for boundary-pushing projects and the Brokeback aftermath.

Q: Your films often take a frank approach to the repercussions of desire and repression.Should we be surprised that you went for an NC-17?

A: Usually it's more subtle. I never really came from the exact desire, so to speak. It was never my thing. It's new territory. But it's Lust, Caution, and the lust itself is the theme of the movie. Not only lust for sex, but lust for life. I knew I wanted to go deep, I didn't know how deep. In making a movie, I'm a different person.

Q: At least the rating is making headlines.

A: People say it's the hottest sex scene they have ever seen. I don't know if it means they enjoyed it, because it is so intense. It's just the movie I wanted to make. I didn't care if it would lose money.

Q: What was it like to direct those episodes?

A: I coached the actors through the scenes and verbalized it. It kills. I'm embodying both of them. I end up playing both parts. With the girl, I put myself into her heart. It's driving me crazy. It's a film experience I never experienced before.

Q: Did the makingof Brokebackfree you somehow to do this?

A: That movie was easy for me, actually. I was kind of collapsing after the two big movies (2003's Hulk and 2000's Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon). I was wrecked. I sort of earned that relaxation making Brokeback Mountain, and I think people appreciated the modesty. It helped me recover my love for people and filmmaking. Lust, Caution scared me more. It came from a woman writer who examined female sexualities and challenged the patriotism of the Chinese. It was very brave of her.

Q: Why did you want to do another film in your native language and to shoot it in China?

A: The Chinese language takes so much more out of me. It's more personal, it's harder to make art out of it, and historically I feel more responsible to make it accurate. I'm kind of a big figure in filmmaking over there and also culturally. It's a lot of burden on my shoulders.

Q: There are more games of mah-jongg inLust, Cautionthan steamy encounters. Why do the women engage in these marathons?

A: The short story it's based on, which is 28 pages in Chinese, a quarter of it involves mah-jongg.

Q: You were annoyed at your Venice press conference when someone asked whether the sex was real and you replied, "Have you seen the film?" But isn't that a compliment?

A. It's hard enough to direct those scenes. It's very hard to talk about it.
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PostPosted: Tue Jan 15, 2008 5:58 am    Post subject:

Caution, Ang Lee crossing: a roundtable with the "Lust, Caution" director and star

Kimberly Chun

Ang Lee Ė the future of Hollywood-Chinese cinema? The filmmaker certainly displayed the analytical acuity and actorly touch required for the position, as he was interviewed about his film, Se, jie (Lust, Caution), shortly after its October release, alongside his star, newcomer Wei Tang, at the Ritz-Carlton in SF. Hereís a portion of the roundtable interview with various other journalists, with less shrift given to the questions and more to Leeís thoughtful, rambling responses. Spoiler alert: major plot points are discussed.

Q: May I start with the obvious question? Why did [Wang Jiazhi, played by Wei Tang] do it? Why did she make this decision to let him go?

Ang Lee: That is the question. [Chuckles]

Q: Is it one that can be answered?

AL: No, I think itís something deep inside - in the murkiest, most sensitive place, at the heart. Itís very hard to detect. You see how she struggles. How can she let China down? I donít know. When I read the short story, I thought, is it the diamond? Is she bourgeois? Is it because she had a good time in sex? Does she think she loves him? Does she think he loves her? All those things. Obviously she made a big mistake but a very sympathetic mistake, I think. So challenging, so frightful to recognize this. Being Chinese, to put female feelings and sexuality and their point of view amid war, the holy war against the Japanese in a patriarchal societal structure, itís unbelievable, the courage from the writer [Eileen Chang]. I couldnít believe she wrote that. I just couldnít believe it and for a long time I thought thereís no way anyone will make this movie. But then it just came calling. Yeah, itís a profound question to me that doesnít really have an answer. She just did it. Personally I think she did the wrong thing. It was very painful.

Q: What did you think of decision, Wei?

Wei Tang: She understands everything and she controlled herself. She controlled her life, and thatís good.

Q: Youíve both acted on stage but you [Lee] abandoned acting when you began directing. Would you say you have an affection for actors or suspicion or all of the above?

AL: Yes. [Laughs] I have sympathies and sometimes I also have sympathies because I probably know where they come from. Itís harder to get away from my scrutiny. Sometimes I feel like I have to judge them, push them this way and that way to see the truth myself. Sometimes I feel like I tear them apart. I sort of know how to both direct with and without a camera so to speak, to see kind of myself and expose myself to the audience, and I sort of hate to do that. Itís a big burden on my shoulders. I canít stop it.

But at the same time I see [the actors] as a part of myself - endearing and close to my heart. I see them as one person, as myself. And this did happen with her and Tony [Leung] and Wang Lee-Hom Ė at least with the three of them, I feel we were breathing together. They feel a certain way, I feel a certain way, and I just sync with them.

WT: I think every character is from him. And Mr. Yee [Leungís character] and the student [Wangís character] - the three all come from him. And in my character, Iím just like on the stage. What he wants me to do, when I canít do it, heís so angry. Because he is good on the stage, a very good actor. And when he thinks Iím not good enough, with the emotions, he asks for more and more and more. One day, his birthday, he wanted me to cry. I always can cry but I couldnít cry.

AL: That day I was so uptight she couldnít cry.

Q: Thereís some powerfully erotic material in the film Ė explain how you conceived that?

AL: I think I took the hint from the short story. I never read in Chinese literature what women get from sex. Not only did [Chang] do that but she even suggested that the way to get to menís heart is through the stomach and for women itís through the vagina. Itís that clear. So how can I not miss it? I think [Chang] did whateverís shocking to the literature and through her perspective examined patriotism, the big ideas.

All three of us, me and the two actors, are fanatic actors. We just want to see what an ultimate performance would be like. [Wang Jiazhi] has to put up a performance to withstand the scrutiny of an interrogator, to survive. And he wants to see the truth, even if that means inflicting pain.

I donít think the sex is something thatís there just for sexís sake. It generates chemistry, which triggers feelings and intimacies, and thatís pretty profound material. Theyíre both in denial of true love and need it desperately. So when I get two actors and they get on the bed, in very private shooting circumstances, would I let it sleep and regret it for rest of my life? So we decided to just jump in.

I think those scenes are extremely intense for me. The really sexy part is the scenes that are outside of the sex scenes like when they seduce each other. To me theyíre more sexy. So lust is lust for sex, lust for life.

Q: Those were amazing scenes. Of course you knew if you put the scenes in there youíd get the NC-17 rating. Is that the great price to pay?

AL: Itís kind of crazy if you think cautiously. When I did that scene I didnít care about that anymore. I just want to do the best thing Ė youíre in another zone. We worry about that later. Maybe the movie doesnít need that and itís just crazy, or maybe itís something great and never been done before, maybe. So just the maybe is good enough for us to jump in. I didnít weigh it. Just tried to do the best.

Q: Are the actors actually having sex?

AL: Itís a hard question to answer. [Laughs] I said once to a journalist, ďDid you see the movie? Why do you ask?Ē

Q: Itís a symbol of your success that people ask. Itís so vivid.

AL: The thing is Iíve never seen anything like that myself, hardly seen that, because youíve seen hot, steamy scenes with good performers. But not such intensity. Or you see real sex in porno films but you donít have dramatic motivation or exquisite performances. Itís just something so special. The rating, I donít know. At that time I saw it as other peopleís problem. We make the movie and support it. They donít force me to sell my house, my children, so I just keep on going.

Q: What should we know about China at that time? What did you know?

AL: Some overheard knowledge and when I start preparing the shoot I still did some research. Books, I talked to older people, 85 and above.

Q: Was your own family affected by WWII and the occupation?

AL: Yes, my motherís family was living in Beijing under occupation, and they were collaborators. And my father went with Chiang Kai-shek to the west Ė he was part of the resistance. So I heard the story of both sides.

Q: The relationship between the two lead characters Ė itís hard not to look at it as a political allegory. And also an allegory for men and women in general. Were you conscious of bringing that up?

AL: It was set up there. I didnít even have to work for it. I donít see myself making political films. Itís such a crucial part, important part of our lives; you just canít get away from it. Thatís how I see it. Yeah, during the first reading, I knew, the politics and sex - you canít get away from it.

Q: What does it say about men and women and how they act with each other in general?

AL: The occupier and being occupied. Giving yourself in and falling in love with occupier, though itís hard to say whoís the occupier. On surface heís the dominant one but think about her job and having permission to track him down and kill him. Sheís the killer. To me that culminates in the sex scenes. He really gets confused. Whoís manipulating who?

Q: Your films are so full of thwarted love. Why are you so attracted to those narratives?

AL: Iím not attracted to it. I think Iím obsessed! (Laughs) I donít really know what love is. I think if itís definable itís too small for me. When I think of love, romantic love, I think itís so grand, so mysterious, if we knew about it, weíd stop writing love stories 3,000 years ago. Weíd be all done and we just follow rules. Itís not so.

I guess: make it grander; make it impossible, at times even doomed. It makes you humble. Thatís my attitude towards romantic love. You just donít know. Itís weird. As far as Iím concerned, at heart, this is a really WEIRD love story. Itís really, really weird. (Chuckles) And itís a grand one, I think, to me.

Q: One of intriguing things is Wei Tangís character is a good actor and when you go into the sex scenes you donít know if sheís acting. How did you go about directing that?

AL: I think her main talent is almost like that of a child actor with gradually sophisticated acting skills. She never looses the innocent part. When I described a situation, she went into that zone, and the rest was taken care of, pretty much. So thatís her real talent. If I saw any signs that she was out of the zone or doing something mixed, I pulled her back. So itís a collaboration, itís also about how camera portrayed her: basically sheís a good girl doing a bad girl. The bad girl is interesting and exciting, and the good girl is boring. So two parts. I think anybody, especially actors, can relate to that quite naturally. Itís not that hard, I think. If you have that in mind and just tell them to not get excitedÖthe thing is to not overact.

Q: How did you choose your two actors?

AL: Tony, I knew right away. Heís the best. I was lucky. Just buy him a dinner. With [Wei Tang], we donít want to give the story out too much. First we talk. We screen-proof a thousand actresses to get to her. They just read some scenes, phony scenes, not even the script.

Q: What were the scenes you were thinking of when doing role?

AL: When I read her, it was the scene from tailor shop. That was kind of the final thing.

WT: [After conferring with the translator] We had three months training, and he gave me a lot of information about the character and the film, books. A lot of things to read and remember, and then how to walk, stand, and eat - even to think. I think itís very important, because most of the things were about how to perform. He wanted me to put a very pure face to the character but to throw away all the old ways before the film that I learned from my school. [Laughs] And from before school. After three months of training we had the rehearsal and covered all the movements we were planning, how to move head and hair.

But I never I thought, in the beginning, that I was nervous. They were very professional and I think with the sex scenes there were only four people, except for Tony and me, in the room. I just believed in myself.

Q: [With this film and Brokeback Mountain] youíve chosen two short stories. What is there in a short story that you can turn into epics?

AL: Elements. You know, you spend months and months writing the script, but what are the elements? Is it rich enough to go through the journey? Thatís what Iím seeing in those materials.

Q: In this particular short story by Eileen Chang what did you see?

AL: Well performance. Things about acting, performed not only as a stage play and parts but in general, in life. A big part about life is about performance. Think about sex - how much of it is about performance? To me thatís very important. Thatís what I do, too. So the illusion and disillusion is something I know I can dig into a lot. And even though itís short, you have enough indications of the story points - the theater group, the Chinese resistance, the Japanese collaboration and the government. How do they get from point one to two, up till when she loses virginity? How do they respond? Itís not written there - just a little bit - but you can imagine that. You can elaborate on that a lot. Itís full of potentials, and then the part in Shanghai. How do they go about that relationship? Itís very minimal, whatís written there, but you can feel the wealth of possibilities.

With Brokeback it was the story of 20 years. With each line you could feel what you felt in five years - each time you see them. Sometimes you can read book, and it can be described in three sentences, and sometimes in poetry Ė whoosh - you can expand your imagination. I think Iím intrigued by the possibility of the short story. [Changís story] is underdeveloped - I think she avoided a lot of details I really needed to know. It was written very smartly, actually. The way you go into it, itís not easy.

Q: Were you tempted to include her omniscient narrator?

AL: I think I did. Itís a very strange structure, I must say - the short story. We follow the girlís perspective and then at the end after sheís killed, it switches the narrative to Mr. Yee. I donít know if thatís legal! (Laughs) Or kosher. Itís totally unkosher. But itís very effective. It seems like the ghost of Wang Jiazhi has come to the heart of the man. Writing in a very ghostly way Ė itís haunting. Curious and haunting. I think I did inherit that but in a cinematic way. It does end with Mr. Yee carrying the death scene on - these six students - to him opening the curtain, carrying the weight of her killing and ends with the reflection of the shadow on the empty blanket.

Q: You donít depict their deaths or his atrocities.

AL: Yeah, that would be too real! That would be too objective rather than subjective. It has to be switched to more internal feelings that a man has to carry. You almost feel, living is painful and dying is a relief.

Q: Thereís pleasure and pain in creating art. Whatís most purely pleasurable part of it and what tortures you in the process?

AL: I wish there was only pleasure! They say, no pain, no gain. What you gain is pleasure but what youíre going through is quite torturous. Iím still kinda in that, sometimes having a sleepless night, and in the morning, I start crying because I feel like Iím in Mr. Yeeís torture chamber.

Q: Thereís a violent scene of a man brutally murdered. How much came from the story?

AL: That was James [Schamusís] idea as a filmmaker and producer. For the Chinese writer and myself, who so revere Eileen Chang, we just wouldnít change anything. So the middle section is really weak - three years pass and nothing is in short story. I had a feeling that Eileen Chang was writing about herself. So to take her life story and try to fit it into this is really wimpy and not effective.

I think the killing scene was a great idea, in developing other characters and what that would impact on her, to carry to the second half. Itís almost like a welcome to the second half. Not only for the shock value but that scene is what I call Bar Mitzvah. Itís her Bar Mitzvah to me. They let the girl lose virginity and the boys have to do their part. The poor guy walks into the wrong place at the wrong time and challenges their manhood, and they just have to deliver.

Thatís war. They taught us about war, the glorious fighting - nobody taught us killing someone is a crime. Itís very difficult to execute and itís very hard to kill someone. Itís gruesome. I think it should be shocking. People glorify a story such as this one - a woman sacrifices her body for her country and they donít tell you the feeling of sex and what they went through. Itís a legitimate and very good idea to open up the second half, which is about disillusion, about the way weíre brought up.

Q: You have a reputation for being very meticulous and precise Ė whatís the downside of that?

AL: I think thereís nothing wrong with preparation but if that means no intuition, thatís no good. It kills freshness. I do the research and forget about it. Thatís only to prepare yourself to be ready to react to the situation.

Q: For you to go back to shoot a film in the Chinese language - what did that mean to you? Youíre taking us into an Asian world, a western audience. What will they get out this?

AL: Thereís a Chinese tempo and vibe. This dramatic movie is less universal, unlike Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, which is a martial-arts fantasy tale. Itís less universal. But I believe the emotion and what I deal with is universal. I think going back to my cultural roots makes me more demanding. It has to leave a trace or mark. I think another mission is to introduce Chinese drama, something more authentic, less fantasy, as part of a cultural exchange. It has a different tempo and complexity and layers. I think that people who have to read subtitles will miss a lot, because you miss a lot of the acting, the great performances, and also the political information. You can understand it but itís hard to feel for it. But I donít want to reduce the volume and essence of what can potentially be a good movie.
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Location: Hong Kong

PostPosted: Tue Jan 15, 2008 6:04 am    Post subject:

Larchmont's Ang Lee will sacrifice audience for art


(Original Publication: September 23, 2007)

Ang Lee, Larchmont's Oscar-winning director, may never have had a more challenging day on the job. That's the sense you get when you hear him talk about shooting the sex scenes that earned his new film, the beautiful period piece "Lust, Caution," an NC-17 rating.

"It was very heavy," Lee says, recalling the atmosphere on the set, as he and his film's stars, Tony Leung and Tang Wei, navigated the erotically charged terrain. "Those were a very difficult two weeks for us."

For his trouble, Lee was hit with a rating that will make his movie off-limits to anyone under 18. His follow up to "Brokeback Mountain" won't be breaking box-office records.

Lee, of course, has never pandered to fickle audiences or to his film studio's bean-counters. From 1997's "The Ice Storm," the movie that served as his breakout with American moviegoers, to the hugely admired "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon," to the blockbuster "Hulk" and 2005's "Brokeback," Lee has cut his own unique professional path.

"Lust, Caution" represents another chapter in his unpredictable career. The film is set in China in the early 1940s, as the nation is occupied by Japanese troops. Wong Chia Chi (Tang) is a member of a student theater group that puts on plays about Chinese nationalism. Encouraged by the militant leader of the group, Wong befriends - and eventually couples with - Mr. Yee (Leung), a power player in the Japanese puppet government.

The relationship is a fraud. Wong's job is to lure Yee into a vulnerable setting, where he'll be assassinated. But against her judgment, Wong begins to develop feelings for Yee, a situation that plunges all involved into tumult and doubt.

The movie is based on a story by the well-known Chinese author Eileen Chang. Lee says he's moved by the tale's inventiveness, as it employs erotic themes to get at bigger ideas.

"Patriotism is something we never challenge, for the Chinese," he says. "But for a writer to use female sex psychology to examine it is really daring."

The sex is often graphic but entirely necessary to the story. Wong is tender, Yee is coarse. Their unlikely love affair reveals more about the couple than they could reveal through hours of conversation.

"I think people can see that it's a pivotal part of the drama," Lee says. The sex scenes are "relatively late in the movie. I think the audience is prepared to go along with it."

The scenes weren't easy to shoot. Lee says he made no effort to keep the mood light as his actors revealed themselves in front of the camera.

"If I do that, I don't think I can go through it. I don't know about them; I can't," he says. "On the contrary, it's very heavy, it's like hell.

"I have to believe in what we do ... so I kept pelting them with what it means, what they go through dramatically, so they're so into the character that they forget about themselves. That's what we went through, what I led them through, which eventually is like a second self. It gets so real it hurts."

Leung is an experienced actor who's appeared in internationally successful movies like "Infernal Affairs" and "2046." By contrast, Tang has never worked on a production of this size.

Lee was meticulous in casting for the role that she eventually won, bringing Tang in for at least five auditions.

The director, she says, "asked me a lot of questions: How I grew up, what my parents do for jobs, which kinds of books and movies I like and why, where is my college, what kind of theater I like - all these kinds of things."

"We screened through over 10,000 actresses to get to her," Lee says.

Dealing with performers of such disparate levels of experience was a challenge.

"Tony you just have to treat with respect. You just assume he knows much, which he does," he says. "She's more of a student. But they had to be in the same movie. I think I had to upgrade her acting skills. It took a lot of effort, not only from me but from the team.

"On the other hand, what I want from them is freshness. Actually that's harder on Tony than it was on her."

Since the mid-'90s, the 42-year old Lee has jumped back and forth between Chinese films and American movies. He likes it that way, he says, because it keeps him sharp.

"I think one benefits the other," he says.

"Doing an American film is more restful. It's easier with the support of a bigger film industry. There's a smaller, more independent kind of filmmaking in China. When I want to do something to this scale [in China], the production is very difficult.

"And also the texture - I draw from my own personal memories; it's just more personal. Therefore I'm more demanding. The pressure's on my shoulders. So psychologically it feels heavier, and physically I have to work three times as hard compared to an American film. I don't think I could do Chinese films back-to-back."

Lee says he believes the NC-17 rating for this film is fair, and he didn't consider cutting the film in order to get an R rating. Given its rating, its length - the movie runs more than two and a half hours - and its subtitles, "Lust, Caution" isn't the easiest sell of Lee's career.

"I expect mixed reactions," he says. "It's harder than 'Crouching Tiger.' It's a drama and it's a political backdrop.

"I think when you see it on the screen, it's quite fascinating. But I doubt it will get as much [of an audience here] as the Chinese audience. You have to work harder."
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Joined: 04 Jan 2008
Posts: 44
Location: Canada

PostPosted: Tue Jan 15, 2008 9:00 pm    Post subject: Another substantive interview with Ang Lee

Pour l'essentiel, l'homme est ce qu'il cache - Andrť Malraux
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Joined: 04 Jan 2008
Posts: 44
Location: Canada

PostPosted: Thu Jan 17, 2008 7:00 am    Post subject:

From L'Humanitť, an interview wtih Ang Lee entitled "Death and "the first time" are the end of innocence". Two (loosely translated) quotes about Tony:

Ang: "(Tang Wei) kind of embodied my alter-ego, because she's both innocent and playful. So it was pretty disturbing when she was in bed with Tony Leung...

Q: By choosing Tony Leung, were you trying to create a kind of evil sequel to WKW's In the Mood for Love?

Ang: I have to admit that parallels exist between the two movies. Every time Tony wears hair gel or we see him in a suit with a woman in a traditional Chinese silk dress, we think of the universe of Wong Kar Wai. In my portrayal of Shanghai in the 1940's (sic), I succumbed to the same fascination as WKW when he films the lost Hong Kong of the 1960's. I also find the 1960's style of dress very sexy. But my film takes place twenty years before... In reality, I pay hommage to Wong Kar Wai's style in one scene only. The one where I concentrate on the clicking sound of (Tony's) high heeled shoes. It made Tony very frustrated and enraged because he kept remembering In the Mood for Love. Apparently the filming of that movie was very traumatic for him.

Pour l'essentiel, l'homme est ce qu'il cache - Andrť Malraux
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