Distrib/release date: Focus Features/Sept. 28
About the script: Eileen Chang’s 49-page short story of the same name unfolds onscreen as 2½ heady and dense hours in the lives of the collaborators and insurgents in Japanese-occupied Shanghai and Hong Kong, with layer upon layer of intrigue, betrayal and politics — both governmental and sexual — woven into the story that portrays a period few Western auds ever see in the cinema.
Biggest challenge: “Besides messing with Eileen Chang? Messing with Eileen Chang is like messing with Jane Austen,” Schamus says. “This was the most difficult script for (director) Ang Lee to translate back into Chinese, (because of) the level of the psychology (and) the history in the screenplay. ‘You think he can’t smell the spy in me when I spread my legs?’ Nobody’s really heard that kind of dialogue in a period Chinese film. In a Chinese context, it’s very daring.”
Breakthrough idea: “The story breaks itself in half — the first half in Hong Kong, the second in Shanghai, creating a narrative break,” says Schamus, who explains that by “creating the character Tsao, who is murdered by the students,” a narrative transition to Shanghai is made. “She loses her virginity, and then it’s time for the boys to lose theirs.”
Choice lines: “Every time when he finally collapses on me, I think, maybe this is it, maybe this is the moment you’ll come and shoot him, right in the back of the head, and his blood and brains will cover me!”