Kudos caught up in ‘foreign’ affairs

Lee's 'Lust' turned down as Oscar contender

You’ve got to feel for Ang Lee.

First his slow-burning thriller “Lust, Caution” was turned down by the Academy as Taiwan’s foreign-language Oscar contender. Then it was turned down last week by organizers of the Hong Kong Film Awards.

Being told that the film was not Taiwanese enough for the Oscars appeared to be a surprise to Lee and producer Bill Kong, who argues that the film’s crew and financial structure were largely similar to “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon,” on which Lee and Kong had teamed in 2000.

The Academy requires territories to certify that their locals “exercised artistic control” over their submission and ruled that “an insufficient number of Taiwanese participated in the production of the film.”

That led a number of Hong Kong newspapers to compare the two films side by side. One pub even asserts that “Lust” lost out on a slot because “Crouching Tiger” submitted its cast and crew list in Chinese, whereas “Lust” sent its materials in English, thus making it easy for the Academy to get picky.

Hong Kong Awards folk insisted that to qualify as a local pic the film needed a H.K. producer (yes), a H.K. director (no, Lee is Taiwanese, carrying a U.S. green card) and eight key crew to be Hong Kong natives (nope, but it might have qualified under the previous year’s rules where the figure was six).

But with cross-border flows of money, talent and craft very much the modern way of production for studios and indies alike, the case raises more questions about whether films should be categorized by nationality by AMPAS or any other academy.

“Lust,” had finance and international sales representation from the U.S. (Focus Films), it lensed in China and Malaysia, its cinematographer is Mexican and its composer French.

But the film certainly fits the basic description of being in a foreign language.

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