Monday, October 15, 2007

Lust, Caution

Year: 2007
Director: Ang Lee
Cast: Tony Leung, Tang Wei, Wang Lee Hom, Joan Chen

This will officially be the first Chinese film I'm reviewing here. I only wish I could say more good things about it. But anyway, let's get to it.

Ang Lee's Lust, Caution has already generated a lot of buzz worldwide due to its explicit sex scenes, which has caused the film to be condemned by Western audiences. However, Chinese and Taiwan viewers seem to love it, as it tells a story set in Shanghai during World War II, about the Chinese rebellion against Japanese occupation.

The story focuses on a young girl named Wang Jiazhi, who lives with her friend in Shanghai. Her mum has passed on and her dad has run to Britain, giving her empty promises that he will send for her. One day, Wang meets Kuang Yumin, a young man who is idealistic about liberating China from the Japanese. He invites her and her friend, Lai Shujin, to join his play about patriotism, and they agree. After a successful performance in front of an enthusiastic audience, Kuang, the two girls and his fellow three male friends become more confident about the impact they can make on the people.

Soon, Kuang receives information on a high ranking Chinese political figure, Mr Yee, who is loyal to the Japanese. Kuang plans to assassinate Yee in his quest for patriotism, and convinces his five mates to follow his lead. They hatch a plan to get close to Yee by having Wang and one of the boys to pose as a married couple, and get close to Mr Yee's wife, who loves to play mahjong and have talks with her female friends on occasion. The plan works to a certain extent, and Wang even catches Mr Yee's eye, and tries to seduce him. However, unfortunate circumstances ruins their plan to kill Yee, and they abandon their intentions and go back to their lives.

Cut to three years later, when a chance encounter between Wang and Kuang reignites the assassination plot. With the help of an old man who has bigger plans on overthrowing the Japanese, Wang reassumes her role and infiltrates the Yee couple once more. This time she manages to directly get herself involved in an affair with Mr Yee, with violent and uneasy results. It turns out Mr Yee is a sadistic masochist who enjoys being in control of her. Wang suffers as she continues the masquerade, but soldiers on at the old man's persuasion. She gets closer and closer to Yee personally, and finally makes a decision that will affect both Yee and her comrades.

I'll tell you right now, I'm not a fan of Ang Lee's work. And after this film, I'm still not a fan. Sure, he can tell a story well, and he chooses the right people to play their roles every time. But he always takes too long to get the point across. You have no idea how much time he wasted on filming the women playing mahjong. Maybe I don't get it, but some conciseness can be effective. And a lot of time is spent posturing and lamenting, and worst of all it comes to a very unsatisfying climax that essentially makes no sense to me. I mean, I'm sure the book it's based on would be more gratifying, because the way Ang told this story makes me wonder why our protagonist did what she did.

As for the acting, Tang Wei is a knockout as Wang. She acts well in most of her scenes, and even speaks good English in a few scenes that require it. Had it been Zhang Ziyi, it would have been a disaster. Leung is effective as Mr Yee, though he comes across as a cold hearted man throughout the film, which makes it quite monotonous. But then again, I don't know if that's how the book described him. Wang Lee Hom does fine as Kuang, while Joan Chen doesn't do much as Mrs Yee, but still generates some screen presence.

The sex scenes between Leung and Tang Wei were cut out by the local censors, but I guess it wouldn't have made much of a difference to me. In the end, Lust, Caution is just unnecessarily too long, and is only slightly mitigated by the cast's performance. (3/5)

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