Ang Lee, master of the unconventional, has crafted yet another powerful piece to add to his eclectic resume. The Taiwanese director has brought us 70s family melodrama (The Ice Storm), mesmerizing suspense, fused with whimsical romance (Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon) and unusual, bold, beautiful love (Brokeback Mountain). His new feat is the magnificent Lust, Caution. Set in a Japanese-occupied Shanghai during Would War II, Lee brings a daring short story to the screen in a startling adaptation.
College student Wong Chia-Chi (Tang Wei, in her acting debut) is an aspiring actress with an uncanny ability. After getting raves at her first play, she is recruited by fellow schoolmates/actors to divulge in their biggest production yet. The group has foiled a plan to assassinate Mr. Yee (Tony Leung). Yee is a Japanese collaborator who tortures captives for information. It is soon developed that by getting close to Yee, Wong Chia-Chi will have to seduce him.
I’m almost afraid to keep going, in fear of giving too much of the 158 minute movie away. It’s that good. The quiet, slow-paced film is set to entice you. Its tedious movements and vivid look (thanks much in part to the breathtaking cinematography by Rodrigo Prieto) instantly attracts the eye. Things never go as planned. And as the story progresses, Wong Chia-Chi is forced to stay in character, no matter what the situation may bring.
Let’s talk about sex. Most everyone knows that the prudish MPAA has branded Lust, Caution with a dreaded NC-17 rating. Don’t let it stop you. If you can handle a little public hair and pelvic thrusts, then allow yourself to be compelled by a work of art. The frank sex scenes in the film show the pain that Yee carries with him. He takes out the anger and aggression from his job, through his carnal desires. I don’t usually feel that sex scenes are needed in a film, but believe me, here they serve a great, metaphorical purpose.
The actors, notably Leung and Wei, deserve all the accolades they can get. Wei gives as startling a debut as I have ever seen in a film. A devastating scene in which she describes the physical and emotional pain that she is going through is one of the most gut-wrenching moments from any film this year. Her courageous performance is the best any actress has shown us in 2007. It echoes Rinko Kikuchi’s stunning performance in last year’s Babel. Nothing short of brilliant.
Ang Lee is one of the most respected filmmakers in the business. He makes the films he wants to make, the way he wants to make them. He didn’t cut the film to get an R rating, he stuck with his art and the payoff is huge. He even called the film “a little too Asian” for American audiences, proving that he isn’t necessarily concerned with what the majority wants. He presents unconventional stories in captivating ways, tricking you with his keen sense of how to convey real passion on the screen. A