Chinese actress Gong Li portrays a film and stage star with a hidden agenda in Saturday Fiction, a black and white historical spy drama set in the run-up to the attack on Pearl Harbor.
Gong plays acclaimed actress Jean Yu, who, in the first week of Dec 1941, returns to wartime Shanghai apparently to star in her former lover's play Saturday Fiction at the city's Lyceum Theatre.
Around her is a fight for intelligence between the Allies and the Axis powers during World War Two, and many soon begin to suspect the actress' motives, especially with her ex-husband in the hands of Japanese forces in the city.
The film, which premiered at the Venice Film Festival on Wednesday (Sep 4), sees Yu's links to the Allied forces revealed in the run up to the attack on the US naval base in Hawaii, and the actress soon finds herself enveloped in a web of mistrust.
"Making this film really was not easy," Gong, known for Memoirs Of A Geisha and Farewell My Concubine, told a news conference.
"I think this film is a very personal one for our director and has a lot of his characteristics but we actors were allowed a lot of liberty, the director gave us a lot of freedom to express ourselves."
In production notes, director Lou Ye describes how he would visit his parents at the Shanghai theatre, where they worked backstage, and watch actors take to the stage.
"The backdrop to this story was a time that was very chaotic and dangerous," he told reporters.
"It has this big backdrop and this important timing, one week away from an important event but what I was mostly interested in this context was each individual person, I wanted to focus on their troubles against such a troubling backdrop."
Saturday Fiction is one of 21 films competing for the Venice Film Festival's top Golden Lion Prize, whose winner will be announced on Saturday (Sep 7).