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 fest, then bow in Gotham on Sept. 28, as skedded, and expand to additional markets on Oct. 5.
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 pic is one of the label’s big hopes for the upcoming kudos season. Tony Leung and newcomer Tang Wei star.
Focus screened the final cut for the MPAA late 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 is rare for a studio, or even a studio’s niche division, to release an NC-17, and doubly so on an awards hopeful like “Lust, Caution.”
However, the rating likely did not come as a surprise to Focus. In the pic’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 pic does depict extended — and vigorous — lovemaking from a variety of provocative sexual positions. There’s no stick of 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.
“Henry & June,” released the year the designation went into effect, is the only NC-17 film to receive an Oscar nom. The MPAA rated “Requiem for a Dream” NC-17 in 2000, but Artisan decided to release it unrated and scored an Oscar nom for Ellen Burstyn.
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 1½ 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.
EDI has tracked a mere 25 NC-17 pics at the box office since the designation 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 pic (“Brokeback Mountain”) earned him the director Oscar.
As a Mandarin-language entry, “Lust, Caution” already faced a potential barrier to overcome at the B.O., though Lee’s “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” earned including $128 million domestic and $209 million worldwide.