09 October 2012

Film review: Lust, Caution (2007) by Ang Lee, ****


After Brokeback Mountain andThe Hulk, multitalented director Ang Lee returns to Asia with this Mandarin-language erotic drama. Lust, Caution pairs celebrated actor Tony Leung (2046) with gifted newcomer Tang Wei. In 1938, China is occupied by the Japanese, but it's not only the country's neighbours who are hated by the loyal Chinese. The nation's resistance also centres on those who willingly collaborate with Japan. Wong Chia Chi (Tang Wei) is part of an acting group, but their sights are set beyond the stage: they want to use their abilities to attack Mr. Yee (Leung), a known traitor. Wong poses as a businessman's wife, and she begins to lure Mr. Yee in, but they're separated before she has her chance. Three years later, they meet again in Shanghai, and a heated affair begins. As Wong grows closer to Mr. Yee, there is doubt that she can aid in her lover's downfall.

At times, Lust, Caution evokes memories of Wong Kar-Wai's In the Mood for Love. Both are heat-filled period films that feature Leung, but while the earlier picture focused on a love that was never consummated, Lust, Caution allows its lovers to realise their passion as often as one could imagine. Despite this, it never allows the sex to get in the way of the plot or the images. Director of photography Rodrigo Prieto has worked with directors as diverse and impressive as Oliver Stone, Julie Taymor, Spike Lee, and Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, and he continues this fine tradition with his second pairing with Lee after Brokeback Mountain. Here Prieto has a head start thanks to beautiful costumes and beautiful people, but this is another film that is simply gorgeous to look at.


This is not just an erotic film as most reviewers seem to think. It is also a most interesting historical movie about the Japanese occupation of Shanghai before and during WW II.

Yes, the emotions and lust take center stage most of the time, but I was attracted to the historical setting. Collaborationists in Japan occupied China faced agonizing struggles between survival and conscience. Their realization that all is lost after the American intervention in the war following Pearl Harbour is painful, but they have nowhere to go. Also the idealistic but amateurish youth in the heroic resistance movement are given the credit they deserve.

As for the lust and love part, I agree with most reviewers: it is a great movie, digging deep into human weaknesses. Both protagonists neglect their political duties to pursue their lust. Caution, in the end, is not enough...

You can watch a trailer of the film here.

You can read more reviews of film on China here in this blog.

In the US you can buy it here:

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