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September 23, 2007.
and fraught with violence, Ang Leeís Lust, Caution [Sie, Jie]
powerfully explores the story of a young woman who uses her sexuality to
gain the trust of a high-powered Chinese official Ė a high-ranking
collaborator with the ruthless Japanese occupiers during the 1940s.
Played by 27-year-old
newcomer Tang Wei, young actress Wong Chia Chi has joined a theater troupe
that becomes a resistance cell that decides to assassinate Mr. Yee (Tony
Leung), a vicious enforcer for the occupation government in Shanghai. The
married Yee becomes the object of her seduction, but the question eventually
emerges as to who is seducing whom. As they get caught up in the affair, she
loses sight of her original mission with deadly results.
Lee has become one of the world's greatest filmmakers, working comfortable
with genre formats (as in the kung-fu inspired, historical action film,
Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon), American-based stories (the Academy
Award-winning Brokeback Mountain and The Ice Storm) and more
traditional Chinese-language familial tales (such as Eat Drink Man Woman
and The Wedding Banquet). Using a languid storytelling technique, he
unpeels as much as reveals his charactersí motivations. Through
simple-yet-compelling stories, he also challenges conventions Ė about such
subjects as homosexuality among macho cowboys or about using openly erotic
scenes between Chinese characters Ė to load his films with subtle yet
unexpected touches of originality.
Were you familiar with the late writer Eileen Chang's short story of the
same name? It has been a classic since it was first published in the '40s.
When I was developing
this I was already quite a ways into finishing Brokeback Mountain. I
had known the material for years. At first I was shockedÖ this comes from a
writer who is most revered and loved but this wasnít like her other stories.
Itís obscure; not many people [have read it] or even read about it. She took
a femaleís view of sexuality to examine the most macho war against the
Japanese. That was pretty scary to meÖ. It was haunting material to me.
Tony Leung [Leung Chiu Wai] is like the Cary Grant of Asia. It's quite a
turn to have him play such an ugly mean character as top Japanese
collaborator, Mr. Yee.
Speaking of Cary
Grant, I think the movie is the reverse side of Notorious [Alfred
Hitchock's classic film starring Grant]. Itís challenging and very
interesting. I had wanted to work with Tony for so long, so Iím very happy
that at least I had a role that was in his age range, even though it was the
opposite [of roles he usually does]. Itís a great honor for me to change
direction at this part of his career.
Was there any
hesitation in casting him?
No. A great actor is a
great actor. Iíve never seen anyone play a traitor so well in Chinese film
history. Heís just a great actor. After a while, I said to him, ďLook youíre
such a great actor, if I donít torture you, then I donít do you justice.Ē
He was a directorís dream. If youíve seen the movie, it was something else
from what he has been used to doing. I only allowed one shot where he does
his old Tony-style, which is when she lets him go. I said, ďOkay, itís only
one shot. Letís have the old Tony back.Ē
How did you get Tony and Tang Wei on board with this much nudity in the
film? Most Chinese actors and films are relatively prudish.
I saw it as a process.
How deep are we involved in the playing of those characters? How much are we
willing to do for the ultimate performance Ė which in some ways is what the
movieís about. So it sort of came naturallyÖ but still the first couple of
days were rough. It was more torturous in a way for me and Tony than [it
was] for her since this was her first movie. But then after a while we were
in a zone. Itís like hell [but it is also] the ultimate state of acting.
did you come to select Tang Wei for the role since this was her first film
role (she had been a Miss Universe candidate and film student)?
You know, I didnít see
anyone that was known who would fit the part. We got her over 10,000
actresses tried out but Tang Wei struck me as somebody who was right for the
part. I believed such a story could happen with her. She gave the best
reading and she has a disposition that reminds me of my parentsí generation.
Did the success of Brokeback Mountain
allow you more creative autonomy on Lust, Caution?
Iíve always enjoyed
creative freedom, even on The Hulk. But I have to say; to make the
movie this way is quite miraculous. It helped in a sense that this was a
regime Ė the Wang Jingwei government Ė that would never have been allowed to
be made into a movie, either by communist China or nationalist Taiwan. Itís
Chinaís patriotism thatís the big challenge, but this still had happened.
you think you would have been able to pass the movie through with the NC-17
rating without resistance from the studio if you hadnít had that success
Itís hard to say.
James [Schamus, producer of Lust, Caution and CEO of Focus Features]
is always supportive of me. His old studio, [the production company] Good
Machine, when [Jim and I] started, was kind of my backbone, since The Ice
Storm. I did two movies with this studio. So itís like a familyÖ itís
all very supportive. I think Iím very fortunate.
You had said that
when you read this story you thought ďI could never make this into a
movie.Ē But you felt haunted by it and kept going back to it. That also
Yes. The two were very
similar and both were from short stories.
Why do you think that happened? Was it in part a frustration that at first
read you didnít see how you could make it a movie?
Itís not making it
into a movie thatís a challenge to me. Of course itís difficult, but that
never intimidated me. If itís difficult then itís more interesting to me,
like The Ice Storm. That was like ďno way can you make that into a
movie,Ē which is why no one picked it up [but me.] But if I see something
there, Iíll find ways to make movies. What frightens me is the subject
matter. What are you really dealing with? With filmmakers, we can make
movies, we can develop stories and characters, thatís our craft. But what
youíre really dealing with is touching a part of society and yourself, that
itís a dare to do it, and you dare yourself to do it. Thatís the thrill.
would you say the your film has been or will be received in China or Taiwan?
I didnít care how
Americans like it or not when I decided [to make the film.] Because weÖ
female sexuality is never talked about in our [Chinese] culture or history.
We never know what women get from sex. Nothing. Zero. Even women themselvesÖ
And youíve got our best writer, Eileen Chang, writing about it with the
backdrop of something you donít want to touch Ė the occupation and war
against the Japanese. To me, as a Chinese, [this subject] is more frightful
for me than portraying gay cowboys.
How has the film
been received in China? How do people feel about the story now?
The greater audience
hasnít seen it, but from the press, so far, itís been tremendously positive.
It could open up a lot of healing.
It hurts a lot to
watch this movie. With our history, our upbringing, it really hurts. I think
theyíll get a lot.
Your career has spanned a lot of genres. Is there any a common strain that
particularly fascinates you about a project?
Human relationships. In this one, itís a man/woman relationship that is the
ultimate [statement about what it means to] occupy/being occupied. Itís hard
to say whoís doing what to whom, because of the nature of the relationship.
Thereís the obvious sexual [element], but it still involves love, and
against the backdrop of China being occupied. So itís a human relationship,
something in a constant change.
What did you think
of Paul Verhoeven's
Black Book? Your film is going to get compared to it.
I haven't seen the
movie, but that's what I've heard too. I'll have to see it sometime.
us Let us
know what you
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