WHO’S WHO? Or, where does role playing stop and real life begin?
“Yeah, it’s very hard,” says Ang Lee — with no apparent double entendre in mind — about shooting the sex scenes in his NC-17-rated Lust, Caution. “It might not be hard for some people. But for me and for Tony [Leung, who is in the scenes, does indeed seem hard], it was pretty hard.”
In fact, Leung, a 45-year-old veteran admired for his performances for such great Asian directors as Wong Kar-wai and John Woo, proved much shyer in shooting the graphic sequences than did the 27-year-old Wei Tang, who was making her movie debut. Leung plays Mr. Yee, a brutal Chinese collaborator during the Japanese occupation. Wei plays the woman recruited by the underground to seduce Yee and lure him into an ambush. Put clothes on them and set the film in 1962 and the situation would be similar to the role playing in Wong’s In the Mood for Love (2000), in which Leung starred. Did Leung or Lee draw on that film for this one?
“Not at all,” says Lee. “Actually, I tried everything to avoid it. The scene where she seduces him and draws him into the apartment — the way they walk, it reminded Tony of that movie. He was upset because he wanted it to be different. That was the second scene he shot, so when I saw that reaction, I knew I had work even harder to get away from that movie just to get him to function.”
Working with Wei was much easier. “It’s her first movie,” says Lee. “But she’s pretty natural when you put her in the zone. She’d do anything as long as she was in the part. She’s almost like a child actor. The difficult part was that I had to coach her in the different skills.”
Different skills? It turns out that Lee himself “designed” all the origami-like positions assumed by his actors.
“I was guilty of designing those shots,” he admits. “The only way I could pull them off was to make them dramatic and ornate. They were designed with a thematic purpose, and this made it easier for actors. So they are pure dramatic, cinematic pieces rather than my own sexual fantasies. Though I suppose there might be an element of that.”
The scenario of an older, famous actor engaging in graphic sex with a younger neophyte in a major movie can’t help but bring to mind Marlon Brando and Maria Schneider in Bernardo Bertolucci’s Last Tango in Paris (1972). “Sexually, I think Last Tango in Paris is nowhere near what we do,” Lee scoffs. “Even though I’m a great admirer of it.”
But the similarity also reminds one how Schneider later described her experience in the film as awful, and how in 1975 she spent some time in a mental hospital. Other actresses have also suffered career or personal problems after appearing in graphic scenes: Kerry Fox in Intimacy, Chloë Sevigny in The Brown Bunny. Does Lee worry that the same fate might befall Wei?