James Schamus, CEO of Focus Features, has expressed his dismay at the decision last week of the Academy Of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences (AMPAS) in Los Angeles to reject Ang Lee's Lust, Caution as Taiwan's official submission for the Foreign Language Oscar.
'I am sure there is some ancient and venerable logic behind whatever their thinking is, but clearly this is a world-class director making a film in a foreign language, expressing the quintessence and height of a culture,' Schamus commented. 'This film is probably already going to go down as the biggest and most important film in Taiwanese film history...what the Academy is saying is that a world-class director like Ang Lee can't choose his crew to express what he wants to express.'
AMPAS rejected Lust, Caution as Taiwan's Oscar candidate on the grounds that lacked creative elements from Taiwan. The Academy pointed out that the lack of Taiwanese funding for the project didnt' affect the decision: 'financing is in no way a consideration when the foreign language award committee determines a film's eligibility,' the Academy notes.
However, Schamus (in London this weekend for the London Film Festival gala screening of Lust, Caution) believes the logic is perverse and has called the decision 'unjust and capricious.'
He suggested that there has already been 'despair and outrage' over the decision in Taiwan. 'It's in the press. It's everywhere. It's a big deal for the country.'
'Whatever formula they (the Academy) are using, they certainly forgot one of the main ones which is: here is a Taiwanese film by a Taiwanese director. I don't think anyone goes around and tells American directors they're not eligible Academy Awards because they hired American DPs and French composers.'
When the film received its world premiere in Venice earlier this autumn, there was huge disquiet in Taiwan over the decision to remove Taiwan as country of origin in certain festival publications. Now, the controversy over its Oscar candidacy has created fresh uncertainty.
Nonetheless, Lust, Caution is continuing to perform very robustly across Asia in advance of its release early next month in China. Schamus said that the film is currently tracking to become 'perhaps the most important piece of mass film culture in the history of Chinese-language cinema.' As a sign of its impact, he pointed to new 'Lust, Caution' tours, offering mainland Chinese audiences the chance to fly to Hong Kong to see the film.
The film has been a number one hit in Taiwan and Hong Kong despite Ang Lee's fears that it would be too transgressive and radical to reach a mass audience. 'He (Lee) has been absolutely floored,' Schamus commented of its success.