The director is back with extra sex, minus the cowboys.
Thu Oct 4 2007
Illustration: Rob Kelly
In Ang Lee's new film, Lust, Caution—an erotic espionage thriller that was the unexpected winner at the Venice Film Festival this year—a young female spy and a shady government official methodically work their way through the Kama Sutra. (Perv alert: The sex is confined to the third act.) Not surprisingly, the MPAA slapped the film with the dreaded NC-17 rating. Lee trimmed off a few of the more egregious minutes in an effort to appease mainland Chinese censors, but for the U.S. market, the 52-year-old director of Brokeback Mountain is thankfully holding (ahem) firm. The uncut—not to mention gripping, sprawling—version of the movie opened in Manhattan on September 28. We talked to Lee about the joy (and pain) of sex.
Let's get this out of the way. Does this film show real sex?
What should I tell you?
A sex scene is the ultimate drama. When it feels real, it's real.
You cut a little for mainland China....
I would say it was maybe six or seven minutes I cut. The graphic sex, the stabbing...
Okay. Why not cut it for the U.S., then? The NC-17 is the kiss of death.
I gave them a version that is good enough for kids. But this, the NC-17 version, is the movie I wanted to make. It's the law, and I'm happy to obey it.
Did the MPAA suggest any cuts you could make to land an R rating?
What, like, how many thrusts? That sort of thing? No. We have seen R-rated movies. We know how far we can go. I was not surprised. I have thought, Why don't we put out two or three different versions here?, but every distributor says, "That's not how we work." I don't know why that is.
Are you worried that sex and the NC-17 will become the story of this film? Before Brokeback Mountain opened, it had been written off as "that gay cowboy movie."
Yes. Sex is a pivotal element in the movie. But there are many layers. People should get over it. [Pause] It's not really an erotic film. Usually, when you are enjoying the erotic elements of a movie, you are relaxed. It's very intense here. I don't think anyone enjoys it. [Laughing] I almost feel like apologizing to the audience!
What's the most erotic movie ever made?
In the Realm of the Senses—a Japanese film. It was released in '76, maybe. It's real sex. And at the end, a woman castrates a man. [Laughing] It's frightening. And it gets to you.
Understandably. At NYU in the early '80s, you worked on Spike Lee's student film. Did you have a sense then that he'd be a big deal?
No. Nobody knew I was anything special. Schoolmates help each other out. But he was the first one who made it. And when I was home for six years after school, hopeless, he inspired me. He was a writer. Writers get to direct. I saw that you have to create your own material.
What do you miss about New York in the '80s?
I feel ashamed to say this, but I miss the old Times Square. It was sleazy. But I miss that. I hate what happened. I absolutely hate this, this...Times Square Land.
Level with me. Were you shocked when Crash beat Brokeback at the Oscars?
We were so used to winning. The worst thing is, I'd just got my Oscar for directing. They didn't let me get off the stage. I stood next to the curtain. The camera was six inches away from my face, to show my reaction. And then I hear, "Crash!"
Did you like Crash?
Yes, I did. It's a good movie, but that's beside the point. Paul Haggis is a great guy. I'm happy for him. At the same time you feel bad for your team. But that's life.
Lust, Caution is in theaters now.