Lust, Caution Ang Lee

Lust, Caution Ang Lee

Credit Brokeback Mountain director Ang Lee for never making the same film twice. His new movie, an erotic espionage thriller set during the Japanese occupation of China, was eagerly anticipated by the industry and public at the Toronto International Film Festival. By the time it screened in Toronto in September, Lust, Caution had captured the top prize at the Venice Film Festival. With those expectations, Lust, Caution has a lot to prove, perhaps too much.

Newcomer Tang Wei plays Mrs. Mak/Miss Wong, who in 1938 is acting in a theatre troupe at her Shanghai University. That troupe forms the core of a radical cell headed by idealistic student Kuang Yu Min, who catches Miss Wong’s eye. The radicals plan to assassinate top Japanese collaborator Mr. Yee (Tony Leung, best known from Wong Kar-Wai’s films). Instead, their plans derail and Miss Wong flees to Hong Kong. Flash-forward three years: Miss Wong returns to Shanghai where Kuang suddenly re-enters her life. He is now part of the organised resistance and enlists Miss Wong to become Mrs. Mak in order to seduce and kill Mr. Yee, now running the Secret Service for the Japanese.

There will be a lot of talk about the sex scenes between Chinese star Leung and Wei, which are explicit even by Western standards. However, the lust fails to reflect the torn loyalties found inside our heroine’s heart. Why would she fall for the cruel Mr. Yee? Is her attraction to Kuang even convincing? Mrs. Mack remains an incomplete character by the film’s end and her journey lacks meaning.

Another problem with this 158-minute film is that the 1938 back-story is completely unnecessary and drags down the story’s momentum. Ang Lee is unquestionably ambitious but his miscalculation comes from expanding the original short story into an overlong epic. (Alliance Atlantis)