(With a film called Lust, Caution, and a story about cutting out the naughty parts, the headlines practically write themselves. I apologize.)
Lee's new film, which won the Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival and is currently showing at Toronto, got its NC-17 rating for the United States a few weeks ago -- a rating he and Focus Features didn't argue with. As Monika Bartyzel reported on Aug. 24, Focus CEO James Schamus said, "When we screened the final cut of this film, we knew we weren't going to change a frame. Every moment up on that screen works and is an integral part of the emotional arc of the characters."
Well, apparently in China, about 30 minutes' worth of moments aren't quite as integral to the characters' emotional arcs. That's how much Lee has cut from the film's 156-minute running time to appease Chinese censors. (There's no rating system in China, so every film has to be generally acceptable for all audiences.) Lee reportedly has done the editing himself to maintain artistic integrity, and he's satisfied with the new version.
Which brings up a question: If the film works just as well when it's 30 minutes shorter and containing less sex and violence, why not release that version in the U.S., too, and avoid the box office death that an NC-17 rating all but ensures? I'm speaking from a purely financial standpoint. Obviously, if cutting stuff out harms the film's message or impact, leave it in and keep the rating. I suspect the film really isn't as good in its shorter form, and that Lee is doing what he has to in order to secure the lucrative Chinese box office. Sometimes you have to make tough decisions like that when art and commerce intersect.