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Taiwan drops ‘Lust, Caution’ as Oscar entry

HONG KONG -- Taiwan has dropped Ang Lee’s new spy thriller “Lust, Caution” as its best foreign film Oscar entry because some key crew members were not locals, in a blow to the island that views the director as a huge source of national pride.

Chen Chun-jer, acting director of the movie department of Taiwan’s Government Information Office, said the government respected the Oscar requirements. Chen said Oscar organizers rejected “Lust, Caution” as the island’s entry because it violated requirements that at least some of the movie’s personnel in cinematography, music, recording and costume design be locals.

“We and Ang Lee are disappointed. Lee has a good chance of winning an Oscar. This movie was also popular in Taiwan,” said Chen,

“Lust, Caution” has made NT$208 million (US$6.4 million; euro4.5 million) in Taiwan as of Sunday, a result normally achieved by Hollywood blockbusters, according to its American production company Focus Features.

Stanley Hung, secretary-general of Taiwan’s Motion Picture and Drama Association, the body that decides on the island’s best foreign film Oscar entry, said the group has appealed the rejection of “Lust, Caution” but hasn’t heard back.

Oscars spokeswoman Teni Melidonian said in an e-mail organizers refused to accept the movie because “an insufficient number of Taiwanese participated in the production of the film,” violating a rule that requires foreign countries to certify their locals “exercised artistic control” over their submission.

Despite being based in the U.S., Ang Lee is Taiwanese, as is the script writer of “Lust, Caution” Wang Hui-ling, but cinematographer Rodrigo Prieto is Mexican and composer Alexandre Desplat is French.

The movie is a U.S.-China-Taiwan co-production. Lee said earlier the film was budgeted at US$12 million (euro8.5 million) but he fronted another US$2 million (euro1.4 million). It wasn’t immediately clear how much Taiwanese money is in the film, which was shot in Shanghai, Hong Kong and Malaysia.

The withdrawal of “Lust, Caution” is a political blow to Taiwan, which views Lee and his Oscar wins as a symbol for national success as it asserts a separate identity from mainland China.

Lee won the best director Oscar for the gay romance “Brokeback Mountain” last year, and his kung fu hit “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” won best foreign film for Taiwan in 2001.

“Lust, Caution,” about the sexually charged relationship between an undercover activist and the Japanese-allied intelligence chief in World War II-era Shanghai, won the top Golden Lion prize at Venice.

Taiwan has replaced “Lust, Caution” with lesser-known director Chen Huai-en’s “Island Etude,” about a university student’s bicycle tour of Taiwan. Chen worked as a cinematographer for famed Taiwanese director Hou Hsiao-hsien but “Island Etude” is his feature movie directorial debut.

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