Ang Lee's follow up to Brokeback Mountain,
for which he won the Academy Award® for Best Director, continues his exploration of people with a passion for each other trapped in a world where their passion could be life-threatening, but in a very different context this time. Set in China during the Japanese occupation of early World War II, the underlying plot concerns the story of young Wong Chia Chi (Tang Wei
), an actress and member of a small group of student resistors planning to infiltrate the home of Mr. Yee (Tony Leung
), a high-ranking collaborationist government official, in order to kill him for his role in the torture and executions of Chinese resistance fighters. Chi ingratiates herself with Yee's wife, the sophisticated and cultured Mrs. Yee (Joan Chen) under the guise of being the wife of a wealthy but unseen tycoon. Flashbacks tell the tale of how Chi came to be involved with the resistors: her acting ability is her most valuable asset, and her assignment is to act the role of Mr. Yee's lover, right down to the sex. The story of their love and the painful intimacy it involves for both of them is told through their sexual relationship, which starts out violently, drifts into S&M, and shifts with their feelings, moving from pain and fear to some sort of desperate connection.
This is lust with a capital L; the film's sex scenes have become famous for their frankness and acrobatic portrayals (they took 12 days to film), but amazingly enough, it's never prurient. The nature of their sexual relationship, and not the sex itself, is the point. Chi falls in love with the man she's supposed to kill, but there is no stopping the mission and she knows it. The danger of it all collapsing for them both is ever present, and that's the Caution. The cinematography and direction in Lust, Caution is masterful, and every scene is beautiful. The film does drift into a languid pace, and at times one wonders why Lee would feel the need to draw it out at the expense of delaying the crucial climactic scenes. Still, it's a wonderful piece of storytelling that should only help solidify Ang Lee's place in cinematic history as a master of films that express the difficulty of being essentially human in an inhumane world. --Daniel Vancini
After Brokeback Mountain
and The 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.