“Lust” follows a young Chinese woman in Japanese-occupied Shanghai during World War II who becomes the center of a plot to seduce and kill a married enemy collaborator. The trailer for the subtitled Chinese-language film shows lead actors Tony Leung and Tang Wei in various states of writhing passion.
The story goes on to speculate as to just what content merited the rating. It also goes on to repeat some long-standing myths about the NC-17: that certain content “violated the ratings board’s unwritten rules (like the number of allowable pelvic thrusts, for example) to make an appeal possible” and “(s)ome newspapers and TV outlets won’t carry ads for NC-17 films”.
It is important to point out that the content described (or any content for that matter) does not “violate” anything. Movie ratings are not punishment meted out to offenders of some mysterious standard of morality. Rather, they are descriptions attached to films to give information to parents so that they can make judgements themselves as to what is appropriate for their children. The NC-17 goes a bit further and restricts the film to adults.
As far as newspapers and television outlets refusing to carry ads for NC-17 films, “some” is accurate as far as it goes. It would be more accurate to say “almost no” newspapers and TV outlets refuse to carry ads for NC-17 films – and they are in markets where such films would be unlikely to have much appeal.
NATO has called repeatedly for filmmakers to take the NC-17 seriously. At ShoWest in March, NATO president John Fithian stated
Speaking of the NC-17 rating, we call again for efforts to revitalize that important category through the release of significant movies under the NC-17 rating. Contrary to often-repeated myths, most theatre companies will play NC-17 movies that are appropriate for their markets, and most newspapers will run advertisements for the pictures. NC-17 movies on average make $3.9 million, while unrated films on average make $1.8 million. Serious filmmakers need to take NC-17 seriously. Everyone in the industry should resist any temptation to treat NC-17 as a negative judgment, rather than an integral part of the rating system that contemplates entertainment for both children and adults.
Focus CEO (and co-screenwriter of Lust, Caution) James Schamus could not have put it better when he said Focus accepted the rating
“without protest. When we screened the final cut of this film, we knew we weren’t going to change a frame,” he said. “Every moment up on that screen works and is an integral part of the emotional arc of the characters. The MPAA has screened the film now and made its decision, and we’re comfortable with that.”
Schamus didn’t disclose how long the company was aware that “Lust” might receive an NC-17 but noted that Lee has final cut. “Ang is the filmmaker, and he brought this adaptation to life,” Schamus said. “He knows exactly what he wants to realize and achieve in filming any given sequences, and he made the final decisions on how to stage, frame, shoot and edit them, much in the same way he did with ‘Crouching Tiger’ or ‘Brokeback.’ ”
In an article in Variety, he noted “As with so many of his previous films, Oscar-winning director Ang Lee has crafted a masterpiece about and for grown-ups”.
“About and for grown-ups”: it belongs right next to “No One 17 and Under Admitted”.
The film opens September 28 in New York, followed October 5 in selected cities.