Ang Lee's latest opus, Lust, Caution, which has just won the
director a second Golden Lion, has been the talk of the town
because of its 30-minute-long erotic scenes, including
full-frontals of the two main characters. Yet the stories of the
two women behind the scene, a young female spy who died of a failed
assassination in 1930's Shanghai and the author of the original
story whose own love story resonates in the film - are equally
Young actress Tang Wei plays Wang Jiazhi in
Ang Lee's Lust, Caution.
Earlier in September, an 80-year-old woman named Zheng Jingzhi
hosted a press conference in Los Angeles to reveal the truth about
her sister Zheng Pingru, who is widely acknowledged as the
inspiration behind Lust, Caution. During the news conference, she
did not hide her discontent for the film.
"Since you (Ang Lee) want to shoot a historic story, you have to
learn a bit more about history," Zheng says.
Zheng says the film's erotic scene is an insult to her sister,
who died after failing to help assassinate a top Japanese
collaborator named Ding Mocun in 1939. She claims that her sister
as well as her brother, a pilot who died in a battle with the
Japanese, are martyrs. Zheng says the film's suggestion that she
could love the traitor is impossible.
"I can say that all my family members are patriots," Zheng was
quoted as saying.
According to a report in the Beijing-based Life Weekly magazine,
after Zheng was arrested, the puppet government once told her
father they could save her, as long as her father worked for them.
But Zheng's father refused, and until her death, Zheng did not
admit she was a covert spy, claiming she did it only out of
personal hatred for the man.
Ang Lee so far has not responded to the criticism, but in
Venice, he told the media that Eileen Chang, author of the novel,
actually writes about her own encounter.
A portrait of Eileen Chang
on a book cover of her collection. File photos
Lust, Caution revolves around Wong Chia Chi, a
patriotic student who volunteers to bait Mr Yee, a high-up Chinese
who runs the secret service on behalf of the occupying Japanese
force, to help her fellow students conduct an assassination.
It was a 28-page short story by Chang, one of the most popular
writers in Shanghai during the 1930s. Chang first wrote it in 1950
but did not publish it until 33 years later and after multiple
The story is an important piece among Chang's works, because the
plot reminds many of Chang's own love story in Shanghai with Hu
Lancheng, also a high-level Japanese collaborator working for the
In the preface of her last short story collection in which Lust,
Caution is included, Chang cited two lines of an ancient poem to
express her attitude towards love: The feeling could only be
recalled later, but when it happened, there was no reason (Ciqing
Kedai Chengzhuiyi, zhishi dangshi yi wangran).
Chang and Hu's story caused a big stir among Shanghai's
intellectuals. Many people could not understand why she chose a
traitor, the most hated group aside from the occupying Japanese.
Chang's response was two well-known lines later revealed in Hu's
memoir: "Because he understands me, so I am merciful."
Zheng was the daughter of a high-level official of the
Nationalist Party, then the ruling party of China. In 1944, she
seduced, and then tried to assassinate Ding Mocun, a top Japanese
collaborator but failed and died at age 23. Zheng was a famous lady
in Shanghai then -- a beautiful, vigorous and well-educated girl.
She was also known for her courage and patriotism, as shown in a
failed attempt to attract and kidnap the son of the Japanese prime
According to Yu Bin, an expert on Eileen Chang and a professor
at Nanjing University, Hu, also as a high-up official in the puppet
government, must have told the espionage story to Chang; also,
Chang's friend Su Qing, another popular female writer in Shanghai
then, ran a magazine supported by a few important officials in the
Some other scholars think that Chang wrote the thriller after
she heard a story from her friend Song Qi, whose classmates used to
talk about a similar plan. In any event, the story had a strong
impact on Chang.
"The little story strikes me strongly. I revised it again and
again without noticing 30 years had passed. Love is not about
whether you deserve it or not," Chang wrote in the prelude of her
The foremost difference between the real event and Chang's story
is whether the woman falls in love with her quarry. Zheng tried to
kill Ding by leading him to a leather clothes store to buy a new
overcoat for her. At the last moment, the cautious Ding escaped to
his car and fled. Zheng was later secretly killed by the
underground service Ding worked for. In Chang's story, Mr Yee also
survived, but it was Wong who let him go, when she found herself in
love with him and believed Yee had the same feelings for her.
On why Chang changed the ending of the story, scholars have
varied opinions. But most believe that Chang is actually talking
about her own affair with Hu, who was a hated traitor and a
Casanova who had affairs with many women.
In her days as Hu's lover, Chang had to endure the misunderstanding
of other writers about both her personal life and her writing. When
most were working on stories about how to fight against the
Japanese and save the motherland then, she kept writing lugubrious
love stories about men and women in the chaotic Shanghai and Hong
Her love for Hu went on, too. When he was exiled from Shanghai,
Chang financially aided him. Her connection with Hu was also an
important reason why she left China for the United States in 1952.
"I think Lust, Caution is Chang's best work, in which she poured a
lot of personal feelings," said Ang Lee talking about why he chose
the story. "From a woman's perspective to see a big historic event,
nobody else has ever done that."
(China Daily September 27, 2007)