More Lust, More Caution: Ang Lee II

At this point I began to suspect that maybe these dropped calls were not entirely accidental. Maybe he was getting defensive or even angry. Judging from his response when I finally called back, the comparison to “In the Mood for Love” seemed to touch a nerve. However, when I got into more sensitive areas, like whether the hard core sex in the film might drive first time actress Wei Tang into the loony bin, as was the case with Maria Schneider in “Last Tango in Paris,” there were no more disruptions (the static was still pretty bad and, let’s face it, the guy’s English isn’t as fluent as his filmmaking). So here’s the remainder of the interview, which proceeded without further interruption, supplemented though with editorial insertions.

PK: We were talking about “In the Mood for Love” and repressed sexuality. Did that movie play into your mind at all when you were casting?

AL: No, not at all. Actually, I tried everything to avoid it.

PK: You did?

AL: Yeah. The one scene where she seduces him into the apartment — the way they walk, it reminds him [Leung] of that movie. He was very upset because he wanted it to be different. I knew the movie was going to be different, so I wasn’t really paying much attention to being in those shoes. But 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.

PK: Did you try to get away from other movies that are similar? You know, like “Last Tango in Paris” or “In the Realm of the Senses.”

AL: Those are great movies. But sexually, I think “Last Tango in Paris” is nowhere near what we do, even though I’m a great admirer of “Last Tango in Paris.” “In the Realm of the Senses” -- there are some similarities. Sexually, there are some similarities: [in both]they exhaust  each other. But the movie is very different. 

PK: They’re set in the same period.

AL: Yes, they are of the same period. Other than the sexual part, though, I don’t see a lot of the similarities.

PK: You mentioned “Notorious” and “Dishonored” as inspirations in another interview.

AL: Yeah, not so much me, but for Eileen Chang [when she wrote]this story, which is kind of written like a movie. She uses intercutting and such technique. “Notorious” -- I think the plot is very similar, except the end. At the end of German movie there is honor. I think “Casablanca” might have something to do with this and might have played in Shanghai at that time [when the story takes place]. They have a similar kind of mood. For me, I check out quite a bit of old film noir for references. I really like the romantic mood they put in towards the end — one of sophistication that I very much admire, the unpredictability which has sort of been lost over the years. But there are no movies that I directly wanted to influence this movie.

PK: You have a couple of snippets from “Intermezzo” and “Penny Serenade,” but they seem to be totally different movies from the one you’re making..

AL: Right, at one point I tried to use “Suspicion,” which was the biggest hit in Shanghai that year. At one point I put a poster in, but finally I decided not to use it, because it was too on the nose for female anxiety. Usually, the way I’ll pick a reference is through the music because a movie should try to avoid too much on the nose. But somehow reference is how movies function that we try to see. For her,  Ingrid Bergman is definitely an actress to aspire to. After all, she’s an actress always trying to pick up attitudes and ways of behavior.   

PK: Are you in the movie? There’s an early scene where I though I might have seen you.

AL: No, no. Not at all.

PK: I thought it might have been a Hitchcock moment.

AL: No, I really just wanted to identify with the girl. So I kind of just shot the stage [in a way recalling] how I felt when I first stood on stage.

PK: You’ve discussed that this film is more about acting and the theater than it is about love and sex and war.

AL: Yes, and in some ways, movies as well. [a bad connection here: audible are fragments sounding like “It’s kind of an existential question” and “The reality is sort of the opposite of truth” and “who’s the real thing?”] Pretending can be more truthful. So that’s kind of the exercise.

PK: It’s similar to “Brokeback Mountain” in that they’re playing a role that’s supposed to be their real lives but they’re true selves are completely different.

AL: Yeah, what you wish for and what you pretend in your fantasies. There’s more truth to it.

PK: The Oscar, I guess, makes a lot of things possible for you. I was surprised, however, that after the success of “Brokeback,” there weren’t more films made with gay themes. Were you surprised by that?

AL: Yeah, I was. I don’t have an explanation. Maybe they’re waiting for a good script. I don’t really check with the studios. Can you tell why?

PK: [some off-the-cuff long-winded bullshit] Let’s not get too off topic, though. In some of the other films, like Last Tango, where young actresses are included in a very graphic sexual relationship, they’ve had problems afterwards. I know Maria Schneider ended up in a mental institution a few years later. I spoke to Kerry Fox [for “Intimacy”] and she had problems. Do you fear the same fate will befall the young actress in your movie?    

AL: Oh gosh, I hope not. I try everything to protect the actors—and not just the sexual scenes, but a whole career thing. Before she was nothing and now she’s getting so much attention. I try every step of the way to protect her and educate her—make sure she’s going on the right path. I helped her find her next project. I do the best I can. I have not sent any young actor in my career to a mental institution. Even though she has many sex scenes, I do my best to make sure she’s comfortable and walking in the right path. Take care of her as much as I can. So far, there has been praise for her performance. She believes in each role like a child. That’s the beauty.



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