Ang Lee Film is Surprise Winner in Venice

Taiwanese director Ang Lee‘s sexually explicit spy thriller “Lust, Caution” was the surprise winner of the top award at the Venice film festival on Saturday, just two years after he won with “Brokeback Mountain.”

The movie is a World War Two thriller set in Shanghai featuring long and sometimes violent sex scenes Lee has hinted were real.

The verdict means Asian directors have won the Golden Lion on the Lido waterfront for the past three years.

The Silver Lion for best director went to U.S. filmmaker Brian De Palma, whose “Redacted” shocked audiences with its brutal reconstruction of the real-life rape and murder of a 14-year-old Iraqi girl by U.S. soldiers in 2006.

Taiwan-born Lee told the glitzy red-carpet prize ceremony that “Lust, Caution” took him to “some very difficult places.

“I have invited you to come along with me and in the end to stay down there with me. … You are the seven samurais, I needed your help,” he added, addressing the seven-member jury.

The film is Lee’s return to the theme of forbidden love after gay cowboy hit “Brokeback,” but this time the setting is the teeming streets of 1940s Shanghai.

The film centers on a group of revolutionary students bent on killing a powerful political figure who collaborates with occupying forces during the Sino-Japanese war.

First-time actress Tang Wei portrays the young woman who agrees to ensnare the sinister figure, played by one of Asia’s biggest screen stars, Tony Leung.

The sometimes violent sex scenes between them were a major talking point in Venice, and Lee hinted to reporters they were real.

POLITICAL CINEMA

The main competition lineup of 23 movies was strong on political cinema, with two U.S. entries tackling the war in Iraq alongside pictures about migrant workers in Britain, police brutality in Egypt and corporate corruption in New York.

De Palma said he was inspired by U.S. soldiers’ blogs, journals and homemade videos posted on the Internet from Iraq.

“This war is not going to be over quickly, and the more we can show what’s actually going on from the voices that come across the Internet, the better informed the American public will be,” he said. “Hopefully if they someday see the pictures, they may be out on the streets like we were in the 1960s.”

Tunisian-born director Abdellatif Kechiche’s immigration drama “La Graine et le Mulet” (“The Secret of the Grain”) was the pre-award favorite for the Golden Lion, but took away one of two runner-up jury prizes.

Todd Haynes, one of six U.S. productions in competition, scooped the other runner-up slot with “I’m Not There,” his conceptual biopic about singer-songwriter Bob Dylan.

In a bold piece of casting, Australian-born Cate Blanchett was one of six performers to play the singer at various stages of his life, and it paid off when she was named best actress in Venice.

Hollywood star Brad Pitt was the surprise winner of the best actor award for his portrayal of legendary outlaw Jesse James in “The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford.”

“I was really surprised and remain surprised. I really didn’t expect it,” Pitt told reporters at a news conference at the Toronto International Film Festival.

His co-star Casey Affleck, who played James’ killer, Ford, as a creepy social misfit, had been a front-runner for the prize along with Tommy Lee Jones for his lead role in Paul Haggis’ moving Iraq-related drama “In the Valley of Elah.”

Asked to explain controversial choices, in the best film and actor categories particularly, jury president Zhang Yimou said, “Even if we had all the force and power of heaven, we would not have been able to give a verdict that would please everybody.”

The first Venice Film Festival was held in 1932. Among the earliest prize winners were directors Rene Clair and Rouben Mamoulian and actors Frederic March and Helen Hayes.

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Ang Lee Film is Surprise Winner in Venice

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