Lust, Caution (Chinese: 色，戒; pinyin: Sè, Jiè; Jyutping: Sik1Gaai3) is a 2007 espionage erotic period drama film directed by Ang Lee, based on the 1979 novella by Eileen Chang. The story is mostly set in Hong Kong in 1938 and in Shanghai in 1942, when it was occupied by the Imperial Japanese Army and ruled by the puppet government led by Wang Jingwei. It depicts a group of Chinese university students from The University of Hong Kong who plot to assassinate a high-ranking special agent and recruiter working for the puppet government, by using one of their group, an attractive young woman, to lure him into a honey trap. The film is generally accepted to be based on the historical event of Chinese spy Zheng Pingru's failed attempt to assassinate the Japanese collaborator Ding Mocun.
Theatrical release poster
|色，戒 (Sè, Jiè)|
|Directed by||Ang Lee|
|Based on||Lust, Caution|
by Eileen Chang
|Music by||Alexandre Desplat|
|Edited by||Tim Squyres|
|Distributed by||Focus Features|
|Country||United States |
|Box office||$67.1 million|
With this film, Lee won the Golden Lion Award at the Venice Film Festival for the second time, the first being with Brokeback Mountain. The film adaptation and the story are loosely based on events that took place during the Japanese occupation of Shanghai. The film's explicit sex scenes resulted in the film being rated NC-17 in the United States.
The title of the work, Lust, Caution, has a double meaning in Chinese. The character for "lust" (色, sè) can be read as "colour", while "caution" (戒, jiè) can be read as "ring", therefore the title can also read as "colourful ring", an object that plays a pivotal role in the story. The two alternate readings of the title are interwoven into a cautionary tale of lust and love through the symbolic use of the ring.
Hong Kong 1938
During the Second Sino-Japanese War, a shy, inexperienced university student, Wong Chia Chi, travels from Shanghai to Hong Kong and attends her first year at Lingnan University. A male student, Kuang Yu Min, invites her to join his patriotic drama club, and soon she becomes a lead actress, inspiring both her audience and her colleagues. Inspired by the troupe's patriotic plays, Kuang persuades the group to make a more concrete contribution to the war against Japan. He devises a plan to assassinate Mr. Yee, a special agent and recruiter of the puppet government of Wang Jingwei set up by the Japanese occupation in China. The beautiful Chia Chi is chosen to take on the undercover role of "Mrs. Mai", the elegant wife of a trading company owner. She manages to insert herself into the social circle of Mrs. Yee.
Chia Chi catches the eye of Mr. Yee and tries to lure him to a location where he can be assassinated. Chia Chi is still a virgin, and she reluctantly consents to having sex with another student involved in the plot, in order to practice her role as a married woman if she were to sleep with Yee. Kuang, who has feelings for Chia Chi, is upset by this, but agrees to the arrangement. Attracted to Chia Chi, Yee nearly falls for the trap but withdraws at the last minute. Soon after, Mr. and Mrs. Yee suddenly move back to Shanghai, leaving the students with no further chance to complete their assassination plan. While they are preparing to disband, an armed subordinate of Yee turns up unannounced and tells them that he is aware of their plans. After a violent struggle, the university students kill the subordinate and then go into hiding.
Three years later in Japanese-occupied Shanghai, Chia Chi again encounters Kuang, who is now an undercover agent of the Kuomintang (KMT) secret service the Juntong, which is seeking to overthrow the Japanese occupation forces and their puppet government. He enlists her into a renewed assassination plan to kill Yee. By this time, Yee has become the head of the secret police department under the puppet government and is responsible for capturing and executing Chinese resistance agents who are working for the KMT. Chia Chi is trained to use weapons and other spy tools. She eventually becomes Yee's mistress, and during their first encounter, Yee has very rough sex with her. Over the next few weeks, however, their sexual relationship becomes very passionate and deeply emotional, which causes conflicting feelings in Chia Chi, who is still involved in the assassination plot.
When Chia Chi reports to her KMT superior officer, she exhorts him to carry out the assassination soon so that she will not have to continue her sexual liaisons with Yee, but she is told that the assassination needs to be delayed for strategic reasons. Chia Chi describes the inhuman emotional conflict she is in, sexually and emotionally bound to a man whom she is plotting to assassinate. When Yee sends Chia Chi to a jewelry store with a sealed envelope, she discovers that he has arranged for a large and extremely rare six-carat pink diamond for her, to be mounted in a ring. This provides the Chinese resistance with a chance to get at Yee when he is not accompanied by his bodyguards.
Soon after, Chia Chi invites Yee to accompany her to collect the diamond ring. While entering the jewelry shop, she notices that her friends are not outside (suggesting her friends may have already been caught). When she puts on the ring and sees Yee's obvious love for her, she is overcome by emotion and quietly urges him to leave. Understanding her meaning, Yee immediately flees the shop and escapes the assassination attempt. By the end of the day, most of the resistance group are captured. Yee's deputy was aware of the resistance cell, but did not inform Yee because he hoped to use the opportunity to catch their leader. Emotionally in turmoil, Yee signs their death warrants and the resistance group members, including Chia Chi, are led out to a quarry and executed. As all the members of the resistance group are forced to their knees while the executioners take out their pistols, a sad Kuang, who always loved Chia Chi, gazes at her. Meanwhile, Yee sits on Chia Chi's empty bed in the family guest room while his wife asks him what is going on, since his secretary and two men had taken Chia Chi's belongings and some papers from his office. Yee tells her to keep quiet and to continue playing downstairs, to avoid letting anyone know that something is amiss. If anyone asks, he says, Chia Chi has returned to Hong Kong.
- Tang Wei as Wong Chia Chi/"Mrs. Mai"
- Tony Leung Chiu-Wai as Mr. Yee
- Joan Chen as Mrs. Yee
- Wang Leehom as Kuang Yumin
- Tou Chung-hua as Old Wu
- Chin Kar-lok as Assistant Officer Tsao
- Chu Chih-ying as Lai Xiujin
- Kao Ying-hsuan as Huang Lei
- Lawrence Ko as Liang Junsheng
- Johnson Yuen as Auyang Lingwen/"Mr. Mai"
- Fan Kuang-yao as Secretary Chang
- Anupam Kher as Hali Salahuddin
- Shyam Pathak as Jewelry Shopkeeper
- Akiko Takeshita as Japanese Tavern Boss Lady
- Hayato Fujiki as Japanese Colonel Sato
The film premiered at the Venice Film Festival, where it won the Golden Lion, the second such award for Ang Lee. It was released in U.S. theaters on September 28, 2007, where it was rated NC-17 by the Motion Picture Association of America due to some explicit sex scenes. Lee stated that he would make no changes to attempt to get an R rating. After the movie's premiere, director Ang Lee was displeased that Chinese news media (including those from Taiwan) had greatly emphasized the sex scenes in the movie. The version released in the People's Republic of China was cut by about seven minutes (by the director himself) to make it suitable for younger audiences, since China has no rating system. The version released in Malaysia was approved by the Film Censorship Board of Malaysia without alterations and was rated 18SX—those under 18 are barred from the cinema. His earlier film Brokeback Mountain is banned in Malaysia and banned in China due to homosexuality. It was released on DVD in 2008 with an R-rating since rental outlets and stores do not carry NC-17 titles.
Won: 2007 Golden Lion International Venice Film Festival Award
The film swept the 2007 Golden Horse Awards, winning seven including Best Actor, Best Feature Film and Best Director.
- Won: Best Film
- Won: Best Director (Ang Lee)
- Won: Best Actor (Tony Leung Chiu-Wai)
- Won: Best New Performer (Tang Wei)
- Won: Best Adapted Screenplay (Hui-Ling Wang and James Schamus)
- Won: Best Makeup & Costume Design (Pan Lai)
- Won: Best Original Film Score (Alexandre Desplat)
- Outstanding Taiwanese Filmmaker of the Year (Ang Lee)
- Nominated: Best Actress (Tang Wei)
- Nominated: Best Art Direction (Lau Sai-Wan, Pan Lai)
- Nominated: Best Cinematography (Rodrigo Prieto)
- Nominated: Best Editing (Tim Squyres)
- Won: Best Asian Film (Ang Lee)
- Won: Best Foreign Film
- Nominated: Best Foreign Film
- Nominated: Best Costume Design (Pan Lai)
- Nominated: Best Foreign Film (Ang Lee, James Schamus, William Kong)
- Nominated: Rising Star Award (Tang Wei)
- Won: Best Actor (Tony Leung Chiu-Wai)
- Nominated: Best Film
- Nominated: Best Actress (Tang Wei)
- Nominated: Best Composer (Alexandre Desplat)
- Nominated: Best Director (Ang Lee)
- Nominated: Best Screenwriter (Wang Hui-Ling and James Schamus)
The film was nominated for the Best Film in a Foreign Language BAFTA in 2008.
Ang Lee was awarded Freedom of Expression award at the ShoWest convention for his decision to release the film in the United States uncut, rather than editing the film to avoid the MPAA's NC-17 rating.
In its uncut form, Lust, Caution features three episodes of graphic sex, with full-frontal nudity. The ten minutes of sex scenes were considered by Lee to be critical to the story and reportedly took 100 hours to shoot.
In a number of countries, notably the People's Republic of China and India, many of the sex scenes had to be cut before the film could be released. In Singapore, while the film's producers initially decided to release a cut version there which was given an NC-16 rating, a public outcry stating that the producers of the film were underestimating censorship standards in the country (the film was released uncut in Hong Kong and Taiwan) prompted them to eventually release the uncut version with the higher R21 rating in Singapore. The film is rated R18 and was released uncut in New Zealand.
The following scenes were cut from the mainland China version:
- Wong Chia Chi walking past dead refugees in the street
- Stabbing scene cut to only one knife stab
- Two of the sex scenes featuring the student, and three featuring Mr. Yee
- A nude shot of Wong Chia Chi at window
- Wong Chia Chi in bed after first sex scene with Mr. Yee
- Dialogue modified in diamond ring scene so that Wong Chia Chi did not betray the resistance by warning Mr. Yee.
The film's end credits ends with a 18 U.S.C § 2257 notice.
Tang Wei was ostracized from China's movie industry and did not work for three years because the State Administration of Radio Film and Television (SARFT) disapproved of Tang's performance of sexual acts in Lust, Caution. All print ads and feature content using Tang were removed, and her endorsements were discontinued. She was set to star in Tian Zhuangzhuang's budget period film The Warrior and the Wolf (2009), but was replaced by Maggie Q. In February 2009, during her absence from the movie industry, she was reported to have briefly attended drama classes at the University of Reading in the United Kingdom.
Country of production
The film was co-produced by the American companies Focus Features and River Road Productions, and Chinese companies Shanghai Film Group Corporation and Haishang Films and the Taiwanese Hai Sheng Film Production Company. The director is Ang Lee, who is a naturalized U.S. citizen, and the actors/actresses are from mainland China, Hong Kong, and Taiwan as well as the United States. It was shot in Shanghai, the neighboring province of Zhejiang, Hong Kong (at Hong Kong University), and some locations in Penang and Ipoh in Malaysia used as 1930s/1940s Hong Kong.
Originally, the film's country was identified as "China-USA" by the organizers of the Venice Film Festival. However, a few days later, the Venice Film Festival changed the film to "USA-China-Taiwan, China" on its official schedule. When the film premiered at the event, Taiwan's Mainland Affairs Council protested the Venice event's use of "Taiwan, China" to identify films from the island and blamed China for the move.
After the film's premiere, Taiwan submitted the film as its Best Foreign Film Oscar entry. However, the Oscars asked Taiwan to withdraw the film because some key crew members were not locals. Oscars spokeswoman Teni Melidonian said in an e-mail organizers refused to accept the film because "an insufficient number of Taiwanese participated in the production of the film," violating a rule that requires foreign countries to certify their locals "exercised artistic control" over their submission.
On September 13, 2007, an elderly lady, Zheng Tianru, staged a press conference in Los Angeles, claiming that the movie was about real-life events that happened in World War II, and wrongfully portrayed her older sister, Zheng Pingru, as a promiscuous secret agent who seduced and eventually fell in love with the assassination target Ding Mocun (she alleges that the characters were renamed to Wong Chia Chi and Mr. Yee in the movie). Taiwan's investigation bureau confirmed that Zheng Pingru failed to kill Ding Mocun because her gun jammed, rather than developing a romantic relationship with the assassin's target. Director Ang Lee maintains that Eileen Chang wrote the original short story as fiction.
On the review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes, the film has an approval rating of 72% based on 147 reviews, with a weighted average of 6.63/10. The site's consensus reads: "Ang Lee's Lust, Caution is a tense, sensual and beautifully-shot espionage film". On Metacritic, the film had an average score of 61 out of 100, based on 35 reviews.
The Chinese press gave generally positive reviews. In analyzing how successful Lee's film was as an adaptation of Eileen Chang's short story, literary critic Leo Ou-fan Lee wrote in Muse Magazine that he 'found [his] loyalties divided between Eileen Chang and Ang Lee. But after three viewings of the film, I have finally opted for Lee because deep down I believe in film magic which can sometimes displace textual fidelity.' In an earlier issue of Muse however, film critic Perry Lam had criticized Lee's direction: 'in his eagerness to make the movie appealing to a mass audience, Lee seems guilty of sentimentalism.' Sentimental or not, there is certainly a palpable trace of Lee's sympathy for Chang's personal love life, "It was hard for me to live in Eileen Chang's world...There are days I hated her for it. It's so sad, so tragic. But you realize there's a shortage of love in her life: romantic love, family love." He added, "This is the story of what killed love for her."
In Hong Kong, where it played in its entirety, Lust, Caution grossed US$6,249,342 (approximately $48 million HKD) despite being saddled with a restrictive "Category III" rating. It was the territory's biggest-grossing Chinese language film of the year, and third biggest overall (behind only Spider-Man 3 and Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix).
The film was also a huge success in China, despite playing only in a heavily edited version. It grossed US$17,109,185, making it the country's sixth highest-grossing film of 2007 and third highest-grossing domestic production.
In North America, the NC-17 rating which Lust, Caution received is traditionally perceived as a box office "kiss-of-death". In its opening weekend in one U.S. theatre, it grossed $63,918. Expanding to seventeen venues the next week, its per-screen average was $21,341, before cooling down to $4,639 at 125 screens. Never playing at more than 143 theatres in its entire U.S. run, it eventually grossed $4,604,982. As of August 15, 2008, it was the fifth highest-grossing NC-17 production in North America. Focus Features was very satisfied with the United States release of this film.
This film has generated more than $24 million from its DVD sales and rentals in the United States, an impressive result for a film that only grossed $4.6 million in limited theatrical release in the United States.
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- The notice reads: "18 U.S.C § 2257 records custodian – Joyce Hsieh, custodian of records, Mr. Yee Productions LLC, C/O Schreck Rose Dapello Adams & Hurwitz LLP, 1790 Broadway, New York, NY 10019. Date of publication: September 28, 2007.
The performers in this motion picture who are depicted engaging in sexually explicit conduct, and the characters that they portray therein, were all over 18 years of age at the time of photography. The content is inappropriate for minors and appropriate care should be taken to ensure that it is not viewed by anyone under 18 years of age. The records required by 18 U.S.C § 2257 and associated regulations with respect to the motion picture on which this notice appears are kept by the custodian of the records at the office of the manufacturer above."
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- Proceeding with Caution
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- Lust, Caution Reviews – spcnet.tv
- Ang Lee on making Lust, Caution
After This Our Exile
| Golden Horse Awards for Best Film
Riding Alone for Thousands of Miles
| Hong Kong Film Awards for Best Asian Film