Lust, Caution (18)



Drama (2007)
158mins US/Chi/Taiwan/Hong Kong

Starring: Tony Leung, Tang Wei, Joan Chen
Director: Ang Lee
Writer(s): Wang Hui Ling, James Schamus
Listings: London | Rest of UK and Ireland

Love story set during the Japanese occupation of Shanghai during World War II. University student Wong Chia Chi unleashes her self-confidence and sensuality when she joins the drama society run by radical Kuang Yu Min. As part of the war effort, the actors plot to assassinate high profile Japanese collaborator Mr Yee using Wong as bait. She will pose as businessman's wife Mrs Mak and infiltrate the inner social circle of Mrs Yee, then seduce the traitorous husband. Unfortunately, Wong's desires threaten to derail the plan.

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LondonNet Film Review
Lust, Caution

In March 2006, celebrated Taiwanese filmmaker Ang Lee became embroiled in one of the most shocking and daring robberies that Hollywood has ever seen...

Lust, Caution. Photographer Credit: Chan Kam Chuen. Copyright:  2006 Universal Studios. ALL RIGHTS RESERVEDRiding proudly to the Academy Awards with his universally acclaimed love story Brokeback Mountain, Lee deservedly collected the statuette as Best Director only to see his picture sensationally denied the top prize in favour of homegrown drama Crash. The gasp of disbelief, which echoed throughout California that night, was almost as loud as the sound of jaws collectively dropping around the world. Whether fervent patriotism or homophobia on the part of Academy voters was to blame for the upset, Lee sensibly cantered away from the furore by returning to Asia to film this slow-burning adaptation of Eileen Chang's short story "Se, Jei", set against the backdrop of the Japanese occupation of Shanghai during World War II.

Lust, Caution is the director's first Mandarin language feature since the Oscar-winning Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, but the two films couldn't be more different. Whereas the 2000 martial arts epic boasted eye-popping, breathlessly paced action sequences, this new work - a meticulously study of female repression and sexuality - is achingly slow paced, punctuated with graphic and sweaty scenes that leave little to the imagination.

The film's morally flawed heroine is a shy and demure creature called Wong Chia Chi (Tang Wei). With the encouragement of her friend Lai (Chu Tsz-ying), Wong slowly builds her self-confidence by joining the university drama society run by radical Kuang Yu Min (Wang Leehom). She blossoms on stage, learning to hide behind various masks, even growing to like cigarettes because one of her co-stars tells her, "Artists have to smoke. It comes in handy on stage." Kuang vociferously denounces the Japanese and he recruits Wong and the other actors to his cause. "China will not fail!" they chant during one performance, encouraging the audience to echo the battle cry.

Lust, Caution. Photographer Credit: Chan Kam Chuen. Copyright:  2006 Universal Studios. ALL RIGHTS RESERVEDAs part of the covert war effort, the actors plot to assassinate high profile Japanese collaborator Mr Yee (Tony Leung) using Wong as bait. She will pose as elegant businessman's wife Mrs Mak and infiltrate the inner social circle of Mrs Yee (Joan Chen), an avid Mahjong player, then seduce the traitorous husband. "When you are faced with a real traitor, who betrays his own people, killing comes easily," Kuang remind his nervous co-conspirators. Wong's transformation is stunning and Mr Yee is poised to succumb to her charms, only for tragedy to strike.

Three years later, Wong crosses paths again with her old university friend Kuang. Now part of the organized resistance, he persuades Wong to reprise her role as the delectable Mrs Mak and ensnare Yee in her deadly web. "You must realize, once you're in, there's no turning back," Kuang warns her. Drawn back into the inner circle of Mrs Yee, Wong plays her part with panache but as she loses herself in the role, true desires threaten to derail the murderous scheme.

Lust, Caution will be too languid and ponderous for some tastes. Screenwriters Wang Hui Ling and James Schamus are in no hurry to bring the assassination plot to a speedy resolution, preferring to capture every furtive glance of longing in ravishing detail. If anything, there is too much lust in the meandering middle section - a couple of the full frontal couplings could be excised to quicken the film's pulse without sacrificing any of the intensity or emotion.

Lust, Caution. Photographer Credit: Chan Kam Chuen. Copyright:  2006 Universal Studios. ALL RIGHTS RESERVEDNewcomer Wei and the iconic Leung are both dazzling. Their dedication to the demanding roles is beyond question. Both actors place their trust entirely in director Lee as the characters are laid bare, in every sense, consumed by a desire that will eventually destroy them. In these scenes, Yee and Wong are at their most vulnerable and their most aggressive. Sex becomes a means of communication. Ironically, it is also a carefully orchestrated performance to camouflage poisonous true feelings, like when Wong relates a sexual fantasy to Kuang and co in which she is in flagrante with Yee and "I think maybe this is it, and you'll rush in and shoot him in the back of the head." Chen oozes style as the dutiful yet bored wife who would heartily agree with Wong's assertion that, "Men have constant distractions, so we ladies have shopping and Mahjong."

Director of photography Rodrigo Prieto, who also collaborated on Brokeback Mountain, captures the beauty and devastation of the period, impeccably recreated by production and costume designer Lai Pan. If you're willing to invest time in Lee's magnificent study of betrayal, you'll be handsomely rewarded.

- Jo Planter

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