Sunday, November 8, 2009

Lust, Caution

Se, Jie; Thriller-drama, China/ Taiwan/ USA, 2007; D: Ang Lee, S: Tang Wei, Tony Leung Chiu-Wai, Leehom Wang, Joan Chen

Hong Kong during the Second Sino-Chinese War. A group of patriotic theater performers decides to assassinate Mr. Yee, the high ranking official of the collaboration government that works for the Japanese. The young and inexperienced actress Wong Chia is selected as a spy, infiltrates Yee's social circle and seduces him. But he suddenly leaves for Shanghai whereas the group has to kill one of his agents who discovered them...4 years later, Chia is again approached to seduce Mr. Yee in Shanghai. She succeeds, they start an affair, but just when he is about to fall in the trap, she saves his life by telling him to run for his life. He then captures the resistance members, her included, and executes them.

"Lust, Caution" would go in a perfect double-bill with "The Black Book", "Mata Hari" and other spy films where the female agent slowly seduces a high ranking official. Nominated for a Golden Globe and a BAFTA as best foreign language film, "Lust" is overlong, but unravels just the right way until the climax, mostly thanks to the understated, but effective direction by Ang Lee that makes even the empty-artificial melodrama scenes seem gripping, and the splendid performance by actress Tang Wei who steals the show. The story isn't anything new, the way it was crafted isn't anything new, but it works non-the less: the two stand out moments that distinguish the story from the grey territory are somewhere in the first third of the film, when Wong Chia is suppose to seduce Mr. Yee, but her female associate asks her cautiously if she has "any experience with men". Chia doesn't, and thus one of the male resistance members goes to bed with her to "prepare" her for the event. The other moment is brutal, a dark and uncompromisingly agonizing long sequence where the young and clumsy resistance members stab an enemy agent who discovered them over a dozen time with a knife, but he just stands up and still has the power to walk, much to their shock. The three intercourse sequences involving Chia and Yee are also bizarre and completely anti-romantic. Much of the praise has to go to the ending that poses some contemplative messages about life and choice.


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