James Schamus, Hui-Ling Wang (Story: Eileen Chang)
Tony Leung Chiu Wai, Wei Tang, Joan Chen, Lee-Hom Wang, Chung Hua Tou Chih-ying Chu, Ying-hsien Kao, Yue-Lin Ko, Johnson Yuen, Kar Lok Chin, Su Yan, Caifei He, Rubui Song, Anupam Kher, Liu Jie, Hui-Ling Wang
NC-17 (for some explicit sexuality)
As the Japanese further ingrain themselves in the lives of the Chinese people, a young actress embarks on a dangerous journey to help assassinate a traitor in Ang Lee’s Lust, Caution.
Set during the Japanese occupation of China during World War II, Wang Jiazhi (Wei Tang) a theater troupe, presenting pro-Chinese propaganda, has an opportunity to end the life of a prominent businessman whose dealings with the Japanese have earned him the ire of many freedom fighters. They concoct a detailed plan to infiltrate the lives of Mr. Yee (Tony Leung) and his wife (Joan Chen) and then kill him.
As expected, their inexperience far outstrips their resourcefulness and they are left holding the body of one of Mr. Yee’s bodyguards and forced to go into hiding. A few years later, Wang is back in Shanghai and is asked to resume her role to get close to Mr. Yee. This time, however, the task is requested by an official agent of the secret resistance, who have heard her name from Kuang Yu Min (Lee-Hom Wang), the man with whom she shared a few intimate glances during their days in the troupe.
Lust, Caution examines the dichotomy between love and lust, and bravery and caution. Tang’s work here is flawless. She moves delicately and expertly between compassionate lover and ruthless spy. Her true feelings for Leung’s Yee are kept bottled up. She’s as guarded about the truth as her character, allowing measured glimpses into her heart periodically throughout.
Leung’s depth as Mr. Yee presents a multi-faceted character who’s own caution keeps him at arm’s length from the beautiful seductress while Chen as his wife keeps her awareness of his affair close to her vest.
There are few living directors capable of creating such a complex and mesmerizing tale. Excluding the seriously flawed Hulk from the equation, the director of The Ice Storm, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and Brokeback Mountain knows his way around a story, allowing and enhancing the performances of his actors. Technically proficient and emotionally engaging, his films have always connected with audiences in spite even when the idea is an unusual or controversial one.
In Lust, Caution, he takes his titular advice and cautiously delves into the lives of two individuals who must protect themselves or end up vulnerable. It’s a story of how people in love can tiptoe around their desires fearing revelation at the wrong moment might spoil what they’ve so far achieved. Herein, he takes that concept to an extreme, where such openness can result in death, but it’s the representative metaphor that speaks adeptly of more common relationships. It is an acute examination of the distances we create in our personal romantic entanglements for fear we might lose ourselves in the moment and make a mistake.
The film moves slowly because it needs to. The pace is important to impress about the viewer the impact of the decisions made by Yee and Wang have on their lives. It’s not an easy situation for either and both most move carefully or risk everything. Lust, Caution is everything you expect from a director of the master class like Lee and adds yet another work of impressive tenderness to his already-impressive oeuvre.
December 14, 2007