Cautioned about lust

The somewhat cautionary tale of actress Tang Wei

Cautioned about lust

Too much pokey-pokey, or just not patriotic enough?

Oscar-winning director, Lee Ang’s 2007 movie Lust Caution was considered a masterpiece by many devotees of modern Chinese cinema. But in China it had to have seven minutes of sex scenes deleted before it could be aired on the nation’s screens. In fact, some even quipped that the newly edited movie should be renamed ‘Caution, No Lust’.

But the seven minutes of film reel weren’t the only casualty. Tang Wei, the lead actress in Lust Caution, briefly saw her career derailed. The demure-looking Tang – who was handpicked by Lee from over 10,000 actresses for the role Wong Jiachi in his espionage story – received great critical acclaim for her performance and was forecast to be the next Zhang Ziyi. “It’s a role that every actress dreams about, a once in a lifetime opportunity,” said Tang after the film’s release. Her performance even got her a nomination for BAFTA’s Rising Star Award.

However, her good fortune ended after the movie went on general release in China. The State Administration of Radio Film and Television ordered television stations in Beijing and Shanghai to stop reporting on Tang. Advertisements that featured the actress were pulled. It was a hard blow for Tang, who had just signed with Pond to be the spokesperson for its skincare products, a deal that would have been worth Rmb6 million ($880,100). It has been over a year since the release of Lust Caution and it had been a year barren of roles. Until now, that is. Last week she landed a role in a forthcoming Hong Kong movie, Full Moon Hennessy. This may suggest the starlet is bouncing back from her setback – which had even seen her decamp to film school in London.

What was the fuss? In Lust Caution, Tang portrays a spy assigned to seduce a Chinese intelligence official (played by Tony Leung), who is collaborating with the occupying Japanese forces during the Second World War in Shanghai. However, she falls in love (or lust) with her target and instead of setting her lover up for assassination, Tang’s character betrays her comrades by tipping off the mark, thereby saving his life.

The Chinese government has been very public about its disapproval of Lust, Caution. The film was deemed unpatriotic because it glorifies traitors and insults patriots, according to local media reports.

Interestingly enough, Tang seemed to be the only one blacklisted with her “unpatriotic” performance. Her co-star Tony Leung, an established Hong Kong actor who plays the Japanese collaborator, was unscathed by the whole controversy, as was Lee Ang. So why just Tang? Throughout Chinese history there has always been one rule for men and another for women, and perhaps this is just a further example.

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