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Women drive ‘Lust’ at U.S. box office

$3 million take on high end for foreign films

An NC-17 rating hasn’t deflated femmes’ desire for “Lust, Caution.”

Women are driving Stateside B.O. for Ang Lee‘s erotic espionage drama, counter to lingering stereotypes associated with the old X rating. Studios have mostly steered clear of the NC-17 due to concerns about the stigma — and the advertising restrictions that come with the rating — but Focus decided to accept it without protest.

“It’s wild, isn’t it?” muses Focus CEO James Schamus, who co-wrote the Mandarin-language “Lust, Caution” with his longtime collaborator. “Like I told Ang, he made the first NC-17 movie for women.”

Schamus says he’s gratified — but not altogether surprised — by the aud’s femme leanings, pointing to their past support of Lee’s “Brokeback Mountain” and “Sense & Sensibility.”

In the past, Schamus notes, marketers have tended to play up the steamy nature of NC-17 pics, “but we have embraced exactly the opposite,” he says. “We have not tried to entice people into theaters based on hot, hot, hot.”

The studio eschewed TV ads for the pic and gave it a moderate push in a crowded fall marketplace. It’s also getting some traction among baby boomers and, with around $3 million to date in the U.S., is on track to hit the high end of B.O. typical for foreign-language pics Stateside.

It’s another matter entirely in Asia, where the film has generated more than $13 million and its sexual content has proven far less controversial than Lee, a Taiwan native, expected. Its disqualifications in various kudos (see related story) have caused a far bigger outcry in Asia than the repeated coupling by the lead characters.

Even overseas, the ladies love “Lust.”

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