Lust, Caution: Ang Lee’s Film Gets NC-17 due to Sexuality

The MPAA has given Ang Lee’s “Lust, Caution” an NC-17 rating, and Focus Features has accepted it.

The erotic espionage thriller, co-written by Focus CEO James Schamus and Wang Hui Ling, will screen at the Toronto festival, then bow in New York September 28, as scheduled.

Although the MPAA has yet to detail the reasons for the rating to Focus, the film does depict extended lovemaking from a variety of provocative sexual positions. There’s no butter as in “Last Tango,” but there is implied oral sex and full female frontal nudity.

Starring Tony Leung and newcomer Tang Wei, and based on Eileen Chang’s short story about a shy Chinese drama student drawn into an assassination plot against a Japanese collaborator during WWII, the Mandarin-language picture is Focus’s top contender for the Oscar and the upcoming awards.

Focus screened the final cut for the MPAA Wednesday afternoon and accepted the rating the same day. “As with so many of his previous films, Oscar-winning director Ang Lee has crafted a masterpiece about and for grown-ups,” Schamus said.

It’s rare for a studio, and art-niche division, to release an NC-17, and doubly so for an awards contender like “Lust, Caution.” However, the rating likely did not come as a surprise to Focus.

In the film’s production notes, Schamus likened the lead femme character to Maria Schneider’s role in the sexually explicit pic “Last Tango in Paris,” which received an X rating for its 1973 release and was subsequently rated NC-17 for a homevideo reissue.

Although the MPAA has yet to detail the reasons for the rating to Focus, the film does depict extended lovemaking from a variety of provocative sexual positions. There’s no butter as in “Last Tango,” but there is implied oral sex and full female frontal nudity.

The MPAA created the NC-17 rating in 1990 in an attempt to remove the stigma surrounding the X rating.

Studios often fight the designation because certain newspapers restrict advertising of pics given an NC-17, among other reasons.

In many cases, studios cut films to avoid the rating. Films as varied as “Eyes Wide Shut,” “American Pie,” “Happiness” and “Saw” all were re-edited after the MPAA threatened an NC-17.

It’s unusual for films that draw the rating to receive awards attention as most of the few pics to carry an NC-17 are either gore- or raunchfests.

But 1990’s “Henry & June” and 2000’s “Requiem for a Dream” were two NC-17 pic that drew Oscar noms. Steamy Euro fare like “The Dreamers” has also been released under the NC-17 designation Stateside.

Among recent battles over NC-17: “Team America: World Police” originally received the designation for depictions of puppet sex, but Trey Parker, Matt Stone and Scott Rudin resubmitted it several times and eventually received an R. Wayne Kramer won an R on “The Cooler” after he trimmed 1 minutes from the Lionsgate pic.

However, Atom Egoyan trimmed an orgy scene from “Where the Truth Lies” in an attempt to get an R rating but the MPAA didn’t budge, much to ThinkFilm’s dismay.

of the NC-17 pictures since the rating began in 1990. “Showgirls” ranks at the top with $20.3 million, followed by “Henry & June” at $11.6 million.

Schamus is a longtime friend and collaborator of Lee, whose last picture “Brokeback Mountain” earned him the Best Director Oscar.

As a Mandarin-language entry, “Lust, Caution” already faces a potential barrier at the box-office, though Lee’s “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” earned including $128 million domestic and $209 million worldwide.