Reviews

Lust, Caution

5

Appearance, deception and betrayal – these are the themes that run through Ang Lee’s startlingly versatile output. And never more so (or more lethally) than through Lust, Caution, one of last year’s most impressive and unjustly neglected movies. Adapted from a story by Chinese-American author Eileen Chang, Lee’s film is set during the Japanese occupation of China before and during WWII. Chinese student Wang Chia-Chih (Tang Wei) falls in with a radical theatre group mounting anti-Japanese propaganda. Before long, though, the actors’ ambitions have expanded from drama to assassination. Wang, young and beautiful, will serve as bait to entrap Mr Yee (Tony Leung), a senior member of the collaborationist Chinese government. But as she gets closer to Yee, Wang soon finds herself torn by the conflicting claims of – precisely – lust and caution...

Lust, Caution’s sex scenes, graphic and often brutal, stirred up a ruckus in the States, earning it the dreaded NC-17 rating. Lee refused to tone them down – and rightly so. Without them, it’d be impossible to understand Wang’s final, fatal decision. But try and resist the temptation to fast-forward to them. The film’s power builds steadily through its 152-minute length, subtly winding up the tension and packing in a staggering wealth of period detail. Taken at its own pace, it delivers a shattering emotional experience that’ll stay with you for days.

 

As Wang, newcomer Wei makes a screen debut of astonishing assurance (“I was very involved in training her,” explains Lee in the disc’s sole extra, a brief but informative Making Of). Meanwhile, Tony Leung reveals unsuspected depths of self-tormented cruelty. Outstanding.

Film Details