Genre: Romantic Drama and Thriller Running Time: 2 hrs. 37 min.
Release Date: October 26th, 2007 MPAA Rating: NC-17
Director: Ang Lee Actors: Tony Leung, Wei Tang, Joan Chen, Leehom Wang, Tsung-Hua Tuo, Chih-ying Chu, Anupam Kher
ng Lee’s “Lust, Caution” is a visionary and voyeuristic voyage through the intriguing perspective of Chinese resistance fighters during Japanese-occupied Shanghai. Particularly potent is its portrayal of a dangerous world of love and duplicity, in which such emotions impose a destructive effect on everyone involved. It’s epic in both its cinematic espionage and its running time, skillfully weaving a complex tale of resonating themes, powerful personas, and astonishing realism.
During the early stages of WWII in war-torn China, a group of rebellious drama students, led by Kuang (Wang Lee-Hom) and fueled by personal attrition of the times, ambitiously (and rather foolishly) concocts a plan to infiltrate the traitorous Mr. Yee’s (Tony Leung) household to assassinate him. Young Wong Shia Shi (Tang Wei) poses as a businessman’s wife to quickly befriend Mrs. Yee, allowing her to catch the attention of their target. But days of preparation and plotting soon turn to months as a tragic event destroys their efforts, causing the group to separate for several years. As Wong listlessly bides her time in Shanghai, Kuang reenters her life with a proposition to finish the deadly mission they had started so long ago. This time, their amateurish approach has been replaced by Resistance support, demanding that Wong give herself fully to the cause, which rapidly erases any trace of the innocence she once maintained.
Newcomer Tang Wei turns in an exceptional performance, baring her soul and, due to the NC-17 rating, quite a bit more. Her captivating presence will draw audiences into her dire plight, manufactured to be precisely nerve-wracking as her involvement with Mr. Yee reaches distressing heights, which force her to spontaneously adapt or be exposed. Her striking transformation into Yee’s lover provides a fascinating character study, though some viewers may be disappointed to see how far she’s willing to go and to where those actions lead her; it’s a tale of unpleasant truths and abandoned ideals, not light, Hollywood adventure. And Tony Leung successfully carries the seemingly heartless Yee into engaging territories of unexpected destructiveness and leaden feeling, though he’s never able to draw the intrigue away from Wong’s arc.
With the director’s expected boldness, “Lust, Caution” shows little restraint in its portrayal of sex, violence, and the horrors of war. Earning an intimidating MPAA rating, the hostile yet passionate relationship between Yee and Wong is displayed about as graphically as it can get, occasionally solely to emphasize the unwavering degree to which an individual can commit to a virtually unimaginable cause. And a single scene of graphic bloodshed adequately depicts the mental, emotional, and physical dedication required to end a life.
In the end, it would be unfair to call “Lust, Caution” simply an erotic thriller. It’s more so an intimate, delving examination of passion, obsession, and sacrifice in one of the darkest arenas of human aggression. Drastic metamorphoses, a seemingly unrequited love, and a devastating betrayal build to a conclusion as bleak as it is unquestionably destined; a depressing emptiness permeates the finale, thanks to a treacherous journey and the crushing realization that none of these participants can win in either love or war, but it’s a resolution worth acknowledging and contemplating.
– Joel Massie