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on 3 May 2008
Lust, Caution (directed by Brokeback Mountain's Ang Lee) is set in Japanese-occupied China during the second world war. The sets are beautifully realised and the costumes are stunning.

The story deals with a young revolutionary who must seduce a Japanese collaborator (played by the always excellent Tony Leung Chiu Wai) in order to get close enough for the revolutionaries to assasinate him.

Some critics have called the film slow but I prefer to think of it as smouldering, the story does take a while to get going but I was never bored, the performances and atmosphere has me mesmorised.

This film is beautifully made, deeply moving and wonderfully acted. Yes there are 3 quite graphic sex scenes but I do feel they add to the story and help realise the attraction between the 2 man characters.

This is a wonderful film that fans of both Western and Eastern cinema should try.
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on 13 July 2009
The controversy around the film is ridiculous - as is hype around its so called S&M aspects. The simplest way past these is by focusing on the specifics - this is not claiming to be a film about men and women in general.
The film is a intelligent and clear-eyed exploration of ayoung woman's sexual development and search for identity in the unfortunate, brutal circumstances of hostile occupation by a foreign power (metaphor in itself but I'll leave that bone for some enterprising film student to pick).
In this film a emotionally isolated young woman has her need to belong and be noticed exploited - first unwittingly by her mates, then, it is implied, more knowingly, by the underground movement - as she is drawn into games of pretend and make-believe that go all the way to the sexual arena.
In her lack of experience (both life&sexual) she is first no match for the target chosen for her: a paranoid, damaged man who's sexuality is heavily marked by his (justified) fear of death. It would be a miracle if his particular needs would not have a potent impact on her fledgeling sexuality in their complex sexual encounters.
And as if physical intimacy was not enough, a certain intimacy is also created by the fact that her comrades are so uneasy around sex and sexuality that her experiences with him have made her an alien to them.

It is her victory that in this environment she finally starts to carve an identity for herself and make her own choices, how ever misjudged in terms of consequence. I found it fully understandable that she would find it thouching when he, in the end, attempts to give her what he thinks she wants, and how perversely sorry she must have felt for him when he finally forgets to fear her. It goes to show the difficulty of sustaining detachment in sexual relations - where there is lust, caution: your heart is not far away, and it may trample your logic.

A truly adult film - forget the puns.
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Ang Lee would get my vote as the world`s greatest contemporary director, especially after the hat-trick of Crouching Tiger, Brokeback Mountain and Lust, Caution. He was also responsible for superb earlier films such as The Ice Storm and Ride With The Devil, both of them criminally underrated and under-seen.
I won`t go over too much of the plot of this opened-out adaptation of Eileen Chang`s elliptic short story (written in the early 1950s) as you can read Amazon`s outline or indeed the reviews here - one of which contains so many spoilers that the person responsible should be ashamed of themselves. It is set in `40s occupied China and, at the start, revolves around a group of young Resistance activists, one of whom, Jiazhi, shows such a talent for acting in their agit-prop plays that she is deputed to seduce a nasty piece of work who is not only collaborating with the Japanese forces but rounding up and executing any resistance members.
The drama is played out against this backdrop, with a `Greek chorus` of mah jong playing wives, who appear regularly during proceedings, fiddling, as it were, while Rome burns.
Tony Leung and newcomer Tang Wei play the ill-matched leads, lovers of a sort, playing out an emotionally and politically dangerous game. Leung, as famous as it`s possible to get in Asia, is restrained, neat as a pin, and deadly. A great performance.
Tang Wei (supposedly chosen from 10,000 auditionees) is a revelation. If Juliette Binoche and Marion Cotillard can win Oscars, then surely she should at least have been nominated. The film attracted not a single nomination, one more reason, were reasons needed any more, to ignore that annual farrago. Her acting, in a difficult role, is consistently compelling, indicating worlds with a glance or a half-smile. The way she both ages and assumes the alter ego of the woman of the world who must lead Mr Lee to his nemesis is not only down to detailed direction; you can act for the camera or you can`t. Tang Wei not only can, but is incandescent, riveting.
So is US-born Asian pop star Wang Leehom, whose soulful leader of the young Resistance group is a model of repressed desire and misplaced loyalties. The late scene in which the heroine says to him "You should have done that three years ago" is heartbreaking and epitomises a central theme of the film. Another wonderful performance. Mention also for the famed Joan Chen`s graceful acting in the part of long-suffering Mrs Lee.
The film looks incredible, the script`s intelligent, the story a tragic, uneasy blend of love, sex, idealism, dogma, complacency and much else besides.
The scenes where the central couple play out their Lust (it needs capital letters) are startling in their credibility, intimacy, and mix of a kind of desperate tenderness and time-stopping breathlessness. Harvey Keitel, when asked about his `nude scenes` in The Piano said that he didn`t think of them in those terms, they were simply what was needed at that moment in the story. The same might be said for the `sex scenes` here: they are only sex scenes if you pluck them out of their context and fixate on them. They are certainly arresting and, in their way - at least at first - shocking, but they are meant to be.
I recommend this great film to anyone who appreciates intelligent, stimulating, cinematically exuberant film-making.
A masterpiece.
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on 13 March 2008
I enjoy watching Tony Leung in 2046, The Infernal Affairs Trilogy (Infernal Affairs 1 / Infernal Affairs 2 / Infernal Affairs 3) (Special Collector's Edition Box Set) and In the Mood for Love - Criterion Collectionso it was right for me to watch "Lust and Caution." This movie wasn't so hot in the theaters and targeted to a selective few. This movie starts with the Japanese occupying Shanghai during the second world war and resistance group member Wong Chia Chi (Tang Wei) is on a mission to assassinate Mr. Yee (Tony Leung), the head of China's Secret Service who's also a collaborator with the Japanese.

She's been groomed by a student theater group specializing in plays about propaganda and patriotism. Impressed by her acting skills she's recruited as a spy. She adopts the fake persona of a young wife with a lot of time on her hands, because her rich husband is away on business, and befriends Yee's gossipy mahjong playing wife (Joan Chen). She also infiltrates his bed, with the plan to seduce him and then hand him over to her patriot friends. He slipped through the net once before and now, three years later, she has him where she wants him. But lust gets in the way of her mission and she becomes unsure whether she wants to be his mistress or his murderer. There's no nookie until 90 minutes into the film, but it's well worth waiting for. Slapped with an NC-17 rating in the US, Lee refused to cut it but shaved off seven minutes for the Chinese censors.

In Hollywood standards I thought the sex segments were graphic and realistic, bringing to mind the "Did they? Didn't they?" of the frantic couplings of Julie Christie and Donald Sutherland in "Don't Look Now." The smoldering lovers reach many graphic sexual climaxes, but fail to achieve equivalent emotional peaks. The intensity of their relationship calls into question Wong Chia Chi's motives considering she's played as a half reluctant participant, coerced into carrying out Yee's abduction by the amateur resistance group.

Lee's late glamorous `30s Shanghai with its immaculate sets and women in perfect period costume gives Shanghai a romantic exoticism that belies the poverty and fear of the majority of its inhabitants. Beautifully shot, rich in color and full of intrigue Lee is less interested in the historical consequences of Japan's invasion of China and concentrates on the passionate - bordering on sadistic - relationship between his leads, see it for yourself it's a pretty good film.
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on 21 July 2008
Comparisons to the equally beautiful 'In The Mood for Love' are well targeted here and not just because of the Tony Leung connection. Lust, Caution exhibits the same muted (almost mutilated) sexual tensions against a back drop of middle-class, Western-obsessed indifference which suffocates in a vacuum of talking without communicating. Indeed, the title is like a road sign for those wishing to escape the numbness of existence: Danger follows if unheeded...

The performances are sublime as is the photography and editing (the Mah-Jong sequences deserve a special award) but it is the direction which triumphs. Ang Lee is the unchallenged master of cinema which finds beauty in an ugly world (The Ice Storm sprung to mind on several occassions) and here he surpasses all previous efforts. Tense, horrific, tragic and always, ALWAYS beautiful. If you care about cinema - watch this.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 20 December 2008
The story is exciting and heart-breaking by turns and by the end I felt drained but full of admiration as the film is a magnificent achievement for the director Ang Lee and the lead actors. It's on an epic scale with a tremendous amount of organization of street scenes depicting 1940s China. Having sub-titles didn't detract at all from the power of the film as the acting was so good it transcended language. There are quite a few torrid and explicit love-making scenes that enrich the understanding of the the characters. The few very violent episodes are all the more shocking and effective as they contrast with the rest of the film's more languid pace.
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A great film concerning love berayal, lust and loss.

The script highlights the paranoia of power, the feeling of overt control coupled with the fear someone is going to take it all away. The assassin is sent to destroy the man from within by killing him but succumbs to his powerplay. The film twists and turns into its final cataclysmic finale where the man has the twist of the knife turned into him metaphorically as he becomes shredded by loss.

This film captures so many psychological essences, you would have to be severely emotionally shut down not to connect, just as the protagonist is emotionally dead.

The camera work is long slow and captures the mood and essence. It is a perfect film working on so many levels. It is a haunting film lingering for days after the event. Either you connect with it or you don't.

It does have the smack and bite of reality. How do I know? I've worked within power structures and seen minor variations of these event happen, as has anyone else I have spoke to. Thankfully I am well away from this world now but it is a stark reminder of the deadened emotional world of power.
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on 5 November 2011
Though its love-making scenes are over done it is a master piece.

A film which psychologically looking into love, lust and caution with a historic background.

Anyone who interested in its story background can find information about the history of Chinese assassins in late 19th to early 20th century. Also see hundred days reform and second Sino-Japanese War.

The assassins were mostly undergraduates and academics who in deep hate of corrupted government officials and weak leaders who signed unequal treaties with colonial foreign powers in order to gain personal power and advantage.

Tang Wei is outstanding, in my opinion.
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on 27 January 2011
Lust, Caution
(director Ang Lee, 2007) certif 18; Shanghaiese, Cantonese, fragments English and Japanese; English subtitles.
It is impossible to know where to begin in describing this outstanding and exquisite movie. But it is not suited to anyone with a squeamish disposition. I rank it as one of the best films I have ever seen.
Set in pre-war Hong Kong and later in starving Japanese-occupied and brutalised Shanghai, the film recreates the infamous foreign districts of Shanghai and the unique mixture of Western and Chinese seen in many of the classic films of the 1920s Shanghai cinema, but this time with the difference of added modern colours and psychological techniques. It is a sort of thriller and a sort of erotica but in substance it is a wild and beautiful tale of compassion and the terrible toll it takes. There is not a single tragedy shown but many and each painted in a few deft strokes in the style of the controlled brushwork of a Chinese landscape painting. It is a world of intense paranoia, a crowded invasive nosy world where everyone suspects and is suspicious, a society divided against itself with a self-aware acceptance of the traumatising impact of extreme cruelty.
The director is extraordinarily faithful to the constraints of Chinese cinema and society, which may make aspects of it initially puzzling to a Western eye. The motto to remember is expressed by the, as it were, villain and intended assassination target very early on - "But if you pay attention nothing is trivial". Thus, courtship is conducted by the exchange of eye-signals, the removal of an earring is the acceptance of sexual intercourse, beauty is ill-omened and can never be owned (as in the case of the Ring in the final sequences). And watchfulness taken to the extreme is why the "villain" cannot achieve orgasm until he meets a mistress prepared openly to hate him and to torture him with his (perfectly justifiable) fear of the dark. Ultimately she gives him life but at the cost of horribly killing six of her friends including the one incompetent who loves her in some immature and thoughtless way; the villain's gift to her is a death without torture. In this there is a curious bleak balance but to know the story does not in any way spoil the tension. And that is because the film is at every moment perfect and perfectly tense.
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on 30 June 2008
This film began and it wasn't quite what I was expecting- some people might say it's slow-paced, but to me it's just a languid, effortless type of story-telling that I really enjoy and which awards the viewer the time to become embedded in the period and enmeshed in the lives of its characters.

Having said that, for a large portion of the movie I was wondering when the lust, or indeed the caution in `Lust, Caution' might be utilized by any of the main characters, the majority of whom fling themselves into perilous situations with an alarming lack of concern for their own well-being. The sex scenes take place in the third act of the film and while certainly lustful, in my opinion are neither titillating nor sensual, but come as close to acts of aggression without depicting overt sexual violence as it's possible to get. They're disturbing scenes, but well handled by an experienced director.

The only other criticism I could make of this film relates to the subtitles. To me the dialect did not always sound authentic. The number of American colloquialisms in particular seemed out of place to me. I don't claim to know how film translations work- perhaps the exact words in Chinese are translated into English as they are spoken, but as this would allow for the possibility of the meaning behind specific Chinese phrases to be lost in translation, I assume it's more likely that in translating it's the Western terms that come closest to the meaning behind the Chinese phrases that are used, so that a Western audience can grasp more accurately the emotions and intentions of the characters from their dialogue. So that being the case, I would have preferred less of a heavy-handed approach being taken with the dialogue. Personally, a few more cryptic Chinese phrases would not have gone amiss.

Tony Leung gives a very convincing and sinister performance, one that's almost polar-opposite from his role in `Hero' (from which I was familiar with him) but one that's nonetheless charismatic, but it's Wei Tang who steals all the limelight- she doesn't look more than twelve years old (she's actually 28), but every gesture, every glance is incredibly well timed and simply hypnotic. If not for her this film would not be half as engaging. Joan Chen is also excellent in a lesser role.

I wasn't completely convinced by the ending- one simple gesture (albeit one fraught with cross-cultural meaning) between heroine and villain turning the tide of the story didn't quite ring true for me, but the film had to have some type of ending and Ang Lee's predilection for killing off his cast members as the curtains close not withstanding, the end product was very effective and rounded off an impressive whole.

`Lust, Caution' is a mesmerizing two and a half hours that you won't regret investing your time in.
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