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How Ang Lee Earned His NC-17

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When the MPAA slapped Ang Lee’s Lust, Caution (which opens next week) with an NC-17 rating for “explicit sexuality,” the director and his writer-producer James Schamus said they wouldn’t “change a single frame.” We asked Lee to explain himself: Why did he sequester star Tony Leung and newcomer Tang Wei on a closed set, for twelve days, to shoot kinky, violent sex scenes in a bedroom constructed with the kind of padded, stunt-proof walls he used on Crouching Tiger? “Each time they have intercourse, it’s like a conversation—and sex is the ultimate body language,” says Lee. “Every nuance, each time they have sex, progresses into something different.” Based on an Eileen Chang short story, the film unspools during the Japanese occupation of Shanghai; a young Chinese radical (Wei) impersonates a society lady in order to seduce and assassinate a collaborator (Leung) who sniffs out the resistance for the Japanese. “I feel like I’m doing sister films,” says Lee. “Brokeback Mountain was about a kind of lost paradise, and this is more like hell.” Their first sex scene is shockingly rough and moves quickly into bondage—mirroring the power relations of the occupation. She’s terrified that she will be found out, and he’s afraid of being duped—and the fear is a turn-on. “Only through inflicting pain could he know what she did was real,” says Lee. “When somebody’s in pain and says ‘I love you,’ you don’t know if it’s true. When they scream, you know it’s real.” From there, the sex gets even more unpredictable. “If you had just put them in a missionary position, the scenes could be more comfortable, more sexy, but the contortion of their bodies visually represents what they inflict on each other.” Lee admits that his method began to resemble that of Leung’s cruel character: “The better an actor is, the harder it is to get him to do something new, that he’s not aware of. I told Tony, ‘A great actor like you, if I don’t torture you, I don’t deserve you.’ ”


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