Share via Email The games people play Tang Wei in Lust, Caution The slender woman in the hotel suite certainly looks the part of the rising young film star. She has the twittering entourage and designer labels; her hair is groomed, her face painted.
Except this is not her, she says, not really. In real life she's a tomboy; she's nothing like this, she usually wears jeans. And she gestures down at herself, as if marvelling at the thing that she's become. At 26, Tang Wei was plucked from a lineup of 10, unknowns to give the lead performance in Lust, Caution , a film that is itself about the art of performing.
Ang Lee's wartime thriller plays out in Japanese-occupied Shanghai and focuses on the trials of a virginal student who is ordered to seduce and then assassinate a Japanese collaborator. It is an opaque and predatory picture, one that balances heavyweight acting with a number of startlingly explicit sex scenes. Except that the director has argued that these elements are not mutually exclusive.
The sex scenes, he says, are "the ultimate performance". They are what his story is all about. Credit where it's due, Beijing-born Wei has not quite sprung out of nowhere. She studied theatre directing at college, is a former Miss Universe finalist and once starred in a TV movie called Policewoman Yanzee, roaring through town on an oversized motorcycle.
Even so, Lust, Caution marked a major step up. She was, in effect, asked to carry the picture, appearing on set for days of the day shoot and returning to her dressing room not merely exhausted but physically warped by the experience.
When I first read the script, I could not really imagine the character. But later it is all so different. She becomes more like me. Or I become more like her. The script called for her to stand outside, observing the murder through an open window. And after a while it is like what's happening outside is not real. What is true is what is going on inside, the killing of a man. Crucially, Lee chose to conceal the exact nature of the sex scenes from his stars, stringing them along until "they were on the bed and the camera was there They knew they had to go for it.
Wei shrugs and says it was nothing like as brutal as that. I just needed to overcome my shyness and stay focused. It details the means by which an inexperienced girl is moulded by powerful men, forced into compromising situations in the name of the greater good. At times it's tempting to view the film's production in a similar way, with Wei as the puppet and Lee as her svengali. Again, Wei says, this is too harsh. She trusted Lee from the moment they met. Right away I can feel that he really wants to know me.
Other directors look at you as a piece of flesh and refuse to meet your eyes. But Ang looked into my eyes. It was like he wanted to know my heart. Being sexy was not one of the elements I was attracted to; it was more her disposition.
I think we are very similar people. And I know that sounds strange - because she is a girl and I am a man. She abandons her role and reveals her true hand. In Lee's view, this decision is "a horrible mistake". Yet Wei sees it differently. She knows the character, and has learned to live inside her skin. Tellingly, her explanation veers between the first and third person.
And it is what I want to do. She can find herself only through performance. Sometimes I feel the same way. There are so many lies. And yet through the performance we can arrive at the truth. The suite, the clothes, the latest role she has to play.