Screening of Ang Lee’s Lust, Caution with Q &A – November 6, 2007
Screening of Ang Lee’s Lust, Caution with Q &A
Sponsored by BAFTA and NYWIFT
AMC Loews Kips Bay 15, New York, NY
November 6, 2007
(AL) Ang Lee - Academy Award-winning director of “Brokeback Mountain” and “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon,” among many others
(JS) James Schamus - Lee’s writer and producing partner in over 10 films
(TW) – Tang Wei, lead actress, Lust, Caution
It was a rare treat, after watching the provocative and beautifully subtle new film Lust, Caution, to hear the film discussed by its creators. The film is a depiction of the Chinese government officials who were allied with the Japanese occupiers during WWII, and members of the resistance movement against them. WARNING! There are some movie spoilers in these notes.
Q: AL and JS, how did you decide that Lust, Caution, would be your next collaboration?
(AL) We often work from short stories. JS brought me the short story that Brokeback Mountain was based on. I resisted working on it for three years, but after doing The Hulk I was exhausted, and wanted to make a movie no one would see (laughs). Brokeback brought me back to health and energy, so I was able to do another film. This time, I brought the short story to JS. It was written by our most beloved writer in China. It puts female sexuality against the backdrop of a very frightening chapter in Chinese history, and I wanted to make the movie.
Q: How did you find Tang Wei?
(AL) There were no really big movie stars in Asia who were the right age, so I had to go from scratch. We found her out of over 10,000 actresses. My assistant director saw at least 1,000 herself. I chose Tang Wei because I felt like she could carry the story from the moment she walked in. We understand each other. I almost feel as though she is the female version of myself.
(JS) This was Tang Wei’s first film, and it turns out that it has become the most important film in the Chinese language ever. It is a cultural phenomenon, like the “Titanic” of China.
Q: TW, as this was your first film, how did you know you could trust AL?
(TW) I was sick and very uncomfortable the first time I saw him. He poured me a cup of tea, and made me feel comfortable. He looked into my eyes and could tell what kind of person I am. I did a lot of homework for this part. I had three shelves of materials to study about the era and learn how to play mah johng.
Q: What was the response in China to the movie while you were making it?
(AL) This regime was never allowed to be portrayed in Chinese cinema because they are regarded as traitors and a disgrace. I didn’t expect to be allowed to make the movie but I got all kinds of support from Shangai studios. I made the sex scenes discreetly in Hong Kong. There is no rating system in China, so I had to create a special version just for them, which is 12 minutes shorter than the one you can see in America. The love for this movie in China is incredible. I was worried about what people would say, but they are very appreciative of a story that is weighing humanity against blind patriotism.
Q: What 12 minutes were cut for the Chinese version?
(AL) Basically, all 5 of the sex scenes and part of the stabbing scene. With the sex scenes, the movie is rated NC-17 in the U.S., NC-18 in Europe, and NC-21 in Singapore. Taking out those scenes doesn’t affect the story, but the movie weighs differently. People in China wonder what’s missing from their version, to the extent that people are flying from mainland China to Hong Kong just to see the full version.
(JS) AL was convinced that it would not play well in China because it would be considered too radical, but it has done extremely well.
Q: TW, what has feedback been from your friends and family?
(TW) They are so proud. When the movie was first released in China, there were lots of reviews and everyone was discussing it. People were waiting for an art film like this. It changed people’s points of view, and that is important for me.
Q: How long were you filming and what was the budget?
(AL) We shot for 5 months, 6 days a week, 14 hour days. Tang Wei worked 114 of 118 shooting days. The budget was just under $5 million.
Q: JS, what were the challenges of writing a screenplay about China, in Chinese, as an American?
(JS) After all these years working with AL, I still only know enough Chinese to order a beer. Fortunately, my co-writer is able to help me with a lot of the cultural stuff. One of the scariest moments of my life was showing an early screening of this movie to Chinese historical scholars, because writing this was very different from writing a contemporary Chinese story. When I was working on Eat Drink Man Woman, it was a lot easier because Ang could just look over the script and say, “Nobody would ever say this.” That didn’t work when we had to be historically accurate.
Q: AL, How is it different working with Asian actors and American actors?
(AL) I almost have a split personality. I’m a different person when I speak English and when I speak Chinese. In English, I am nicer, quieter, and more suggestive. I am meaner in Chinese. Chinese actors give themselves to you. They are submissive to the movie. They expect you to be demanding, or they think you are not paying attention.