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'Lust, Caution' stirs debate on sex and politics
A month after its release in the Chinese mainland, Ang Lee's award-winning film "Lust, Caution" has been a permanent subject of debate for its explicit sexual content - or lack of it - and for its political undertones.
Containing bold sex scenes, the Venice Film Festival's Golden Lion winner for Best Picture had to be cut by seven sexually explicit minutes.
Unfazed, Chinese filmgoers have ensured the film has been a big hit on the mainland, with box office sales surpassing more than 100 million yuan (US$13.3 million) in just over two weeks.
Some were left unsatisfied by the deleted sex scenes, choosing to download the film from the Internet and, in some cases, traveling from southern Guangdong province to Hong Kong specifically to watch the steamy sections.
In online forums, the movie ignited a new round of debate about the adoption of a film rating system in China. One critic said, "The true meaning of the film's screening in the Chinese mainland lies in renewing the debate of the rating system."
In 2001, Wang Xingdong, movie director, and a member of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference, was one of the first to call for a film rating system, but over the subsequent six years, the idea has only remained on the lips of some senior officials of the State Administration of Radio, Film and Television (SARFT).
After watching the censored version of "Lust, Caution", Dong Yanbin, a doctoral student in Beijing, filed a lawsuit against SARFT as well as UME, the cinema showing the film, for infringing upon his "consumer rights", according to local media reports.
UME had violated the audience's "fair trade rights," while SARFT had infringed upon "society's public interest" by failing to implement a rating system that would allow adults to see the film, Dong said.
While most of the world is debating the explicit sex scenes, some critics have focused on the politically charged nature of the film.
Set in 1940s' Shanghai during the Japanese invasion, "Lust, Caution", based on a short story by Chinese novelist Eileen Chang, depicts a sexually charged relationship between an undercover female student activist and a Japanese-allied intelligence chief.
"The most striking part of the film is not sex, but politics," Yau Lop Poon, editor-in-chief of the Hong Kong-based Yazhou Zhoukan (Asian Weekly), wrote in the newspaper.
The film demonstrated "Chinese grief", depicting to a world audience a tragic period in history in which hundreds of millions of Chinese lived under the Japanese invasion, Yau wrote.
However, some critics and cultural experts lambasted the film in live debates organized by Beijing-based academic website "Utopia" for its negative political connotations, said Fan Jinggang, the website's manager.
"It is a political movie full of political metaphors ... it is an insult to virtuous Chinese women," said movie director Zhou Guojin in comments published on the website.
Zhu Dongli, a research fellow with an academy affiliated to China's Cultural Ministry, was quoted on the website as saying, "the film is an insult to the Chinese nation ... it is hard to imagine the Israelis making a similar film".
In an open letter posted online, seven Beijing-based university students labeled the film an "obscene poison", accusing it of "degrading Chinese women martyears into prostitutes and worshipping pro-Japanese traitors".