Nov 9, 2014

Review: Se, jie [Lust, Caution] (2007)

Ang Lee has proven himself to be a great film director, but not without some bumps in the road. Take Hulk for example which just seems to be an attempt at fitting a square peg in a round hole. Taking Woodstock is another weaker movie in his, but let's not be all negative about Lee's filmography.

Without Hulk we maybe would not have gotten Life of Pi. My favourite film of his though is Eat Drink Man Woman from twenty years ago. It's probably one of the most delicious movies I have ever seen. That's because food is a huge part of it and if you haven't seen it, you're going to be starving afterwards from all that food porn. With Tony Leung Chiu Wai in the fold, Lust, Caution definitely has a pretty big chance of being one of Lee's better titles.


Genre: drama, romance, thriller
Directed by: Ang Lee
Produced by: William Kong, Ang Lee, Zhong-lun Ren, etc.
Written by: James Schamus, Hui-Ling Wang
Music by: Alexandre Desplat
Running time: 157 minutes
Production company: Haishang Films, Focus Features, River Road Entertainment, etc.
Distributed by: Buena Vista International, EDKO Film, Focus Features, etc.
Country: United States, China, Taiwan
Language: Mandarin
Budget: $15,000,000
Box office: $67,091,915 (Worldwide)

IMDb entry
Rotten Tomatoes entry

Starring: Tony Chiu Wai Leung, Wei Tang, Joan Chen, Leehom Wang, Chung-Hua Tou, Chih-ying Chu, Yin-Hsuan Kao, Lawrence Ko, Johnson Yuen, Kar Lok Chin, Yan Su, Saifei He, Ruhui Song, Anupam Kher, Jie Liu, Hui-Ling Wang



In 1938, Wong Chia Chi (Wei Tang) is a university student living in Hong Kong during the Second Sino-Japanese War. She gets recruited to be part of a resistance against the Japanese with a particular target in mind. That would be Mr. Yee (Tony Chiu Wai Leung) who is a high level secret agent and a recruiter for the puppet government set up by the Japanese. Wong Chia Chi becomes Mak Tai Tai who's husband is the owner of an import/export company and infiltrates Mrs. Yee's (Joan Chen) circle of friends with the end goal of seducing Mr. Yee.


So what can be said very easily is just how pretty a film Lust, Caution is. That's no surprise though and I wouldn't have expected any less. There are some beautiful shots of late 30's/early 40's Hong Kong and Shanghai and the whole mise-en-scène is worthy of mention. The time period is very well shown and the mood is suitably downcast.

When it comes to the performances, you can't say enough about Tony Chiu Wai Leun. For a guy who's only 5'7, you'd think he were 6'3 with how he carries himself. His role demands him to be impassive but at the same time express emotion too. He does exactly that with just the perfect amount of balance. He barely looks like he's acting.

Wei Tang is the big surprise here since this is her very first film role. Her character goes through some changes from being a shy university student to playing a very dangerous espionage game. The relationship she forms with Mr. Yee is pretty complex, but it's all very well done on her part. There's no melodrama or anything like that, it all feels real.

The demands placed on Tony Chiu Wai Leun and Wei Tang are even more demanding because of some very intense sex scenes that they perform together. These scenes were enough to give Lust, Caution an NC-17 by the MPAA. The scenes show more than what you'd usually see in a typical Hollywood movie but there's nothing that's offensive here. They're raw and very steamy but they add another layer of depth to the film. They're definitely not there just for show.

The problem with Lust, Caution is that it meanders way too much. I suppose that the goal here is to slowly build up tension, but we're talking way too much time dedicated to setting the stage. The movie runs for over two hours and a half and the real intrigue only really starts at about the hour and a half mark. That's a whole movie there. There are a couple of tense scenes before then, but not enough to keep me from becoming disinterested for a large part of the film in the early going.

Despite the maddeningly slow pace, there is a lot to like about Lust, Caution. I'm a fan of the relationships between characters, the mise-en-scène as well as the wonderful performances from Tony Chiu Wai Leung and Wei Tang. When things are tense they are indeed very tense. There's just not enough of it. Some trimming in the editing room probably would've been the best thing for Lust, Caution



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