As effortlessly as film director Ang Lee swings between American and Chinese cinema, he has just as easily been caught up in political tensions between his native Taiwan and mainland China.
Lee returned to the Venice Film Festival yesterday, two years after winning the top prize with Brokeback Mountain, with an erotic spy thriller set against the backdrop of Japanese-occupied Shanghai during the Second World War.
Lust, Caution was originally tagged as a Taiwanese film, but the designation was later changed to Taiwan, China — angering Taiwan, which said it makes it appear the island is part of mainland China.
Lee called the change “unfortunate,” but was at a loss to explain it.
“I don’t really have much to say except that it has been changed from one to the other. If you can find out what’s going on, please let me know,” Lee told a news conference.
“I just hope you enjoy the movie and let the movie speak for itself. You know where I come from.”
China and Taiwan split amid civil war in 1949, but Beijing still considers self-ruled Taiwan as its territory and has threatened to retake it by force.
Both China and Taiwan view Lee as their own and it is easy to see how China would find pleasing nationalistic sentiments expressed in Lust, Caution, which is vying for the top prize.
In the film, an idealistic young acting troupe in Hong Kong driven by patriotic fervour drafts a naive plot to assassinate a Chinese official collaborating with the Japanese during the Second World War.
The movie, based on a novella by the famed Chinese writer Eileen Chang, also features Joan Chen from The Last Emperor and Chinese-American pop star Leehom Wang.
Lee, who was born and raised in Taiwan before moving to the United States in 1978, said hopping between two worlds as a filmmaker has moulded his cinematic sense.
“Actually going to the States and making American movies and (then) going back helped me understand that the romanticized China that I grew up with being told about by my parents was somewhat different than what I see today,” Lee said.