The trailer for Ang Lee's new film Lust Caution has been online for a while now. It has also been getting some heavy play at the ol' Landmark Theaters in town. It looks somber, beautiful and, yes, a little sexy. But NC-17 sexy? Apparently Lust Caution will be released with a NC-17 rating for what is reportedly a montage of aggressive sex. The Hollywood Reporter detailed that "There's no full-frontal male nudity, but male-on-female oral sex, non-S&M restraints and several nontraditional sexual positions are depicted, conveying the aggression and emotional conflict between the main characters."
The NC-17 rating essentially replaced the X rating in 1989. I was working in a movie theater in 1989 where we played two films at the center of the NC-17 controversy: The Cook, The Thief, His Wife and Her Lover and Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer. There were probably as many men who showed up expecting a typical X film as there were adventurous film fans. At this point most films will choose "unrated" over the NC-17 stigma. The MPAA explains that "NC-17 does not mean 'obscene' or 'pornographic' in the common or legal meaning of those words, and should not be construed as a negative judgment in any sense. The rating simply signals that the content is appropriate only for an adult audience." Whatever. There are many that still believe that NC-17 equals porn.
No one at Focus features is worried about the rating, and it will be interesting to see how it all plays out. Focus CEO and co-writer of Lust Caution James Schamus contends that nothing will be changed. As a matter of fact, the article in the New York Times last Sunday seemed to imply that he and Lee were expecting the NC-17 rating. However, many newspapers and television stations may refuse to take ads from a NC-17 rated film, and there may even be theaters unwilling to play the film. That being said, Ang Lee tackled gay cowboys without hesitation so I hardly think he cares about puritanical US institutions. Lust Caution is nonetheless fundamentally a much different film from Brokeback Mountain. It is a foreign language film (strike one) and it's lead actors don't have near the star power on this side of the Pacific (strike two). Will the NC-17 rating be strike three? Honestly, if anyone can pull it off it is Ang Lee.
Although I don't think the whole NC-17 thing is a marketing strategy, I have to admit that my interest is even more piqued. Beyond seeing Tony Leung and Tang Wei getting supersexy, I am equally curious about two other aspects of the film. First is how Tony Leung's notoriously poor Mandarin will be (hopefully not as bad as Chow Yun Fat's and Michelle Yeoh's.) Hou Hsiao-hsien's remedy in City of Sadness was to simply make Tony Leung's character mute. Zhang Yimou's solution in Hero was, in the end, to dub his voice (and to be fair, you barely notice.) Second curiosity is Wang Leehom's performance. It's unfortunate that he gets no billing in the trailer. I would bet my $8 movie ticket Leehom has more screen time than Chen, but someone shotlisted him because of lack of name recognition. I like Leehom who was born in the US and moved to Taiwan after graduating from college. He has since become on of the biggest pop stars in Asia. Lust Caution could be a big breakthrough for him, so I feel he is undeservedly being shortlisted, as far as the trailer goes.
We'll all have to wait and see. Lust Caution will premiere at the Venice and Toronto Film Festivals before opening in New York, followed by an October 5 release in select cities.