8 October 2007 | disco_barrio
Poignant depiction of turbulent wartime politics
I had been hyping myself up a great deal for Lust, Caution ever since I first heard of the project, so I'm glad to say that it did not disappoint. The film was a beautifully executed "espionage thriller," if you want to go with how it's being marketed to a broad audience. Steeped in the historically and culturally turbulent period of the second Sino-Japanese War, one must applaud Ang Lee for the dizzying array of minutiae he oversaw as director.
Because of the nature of the film's protagonist Wang Jiazhi (played by a newcomer named Tang Wei - not shabby for your first feature) as an agent working under a second identity to ensnare a dangerous collaborationist (Tony Leung), all the scenes where Wang masquerades as the bourgeois Ms. Mai are fraught with a psychological tension, doubling with the political agenda at stake as well as her womanhood. She portrays both roles with heartbreaking deftness; a great casting choice if there ever was one. While not as physically alluring as some of her competitors for the role - Chinese language actresses including Zhou Xun and Shu Qi - I don't think anyone else could have pulled it off like Tang. She convincingly transforms herself from a naive college girl to coy seductress...and back again.
The film struck quite a few personal nerves on my part too. While mainstream cinema should be, you know, self-sustaining or whatever you want to call it, there's really a lot to this movie that gets lost in subtitling to an extent, but also just in context and culture. Etiquette at the mah-jongg table; the omnipresent yet understated background of wartime occupation; political interests in the Chinese Civil War era; the weight of regional identity in dialects and interpersonal relationships. Tang Wei spoke Mandarin, Cantonese, and Shanghainese. My only thought is: What a hottie.
The sex scenes are...something else. As echoed by most critics, they serve the story perfectly in capturing the urgency that Tang and Leung have in their precarious affair. There's a lot of violence in them, and it is through these carnal and savage acts that Tony Leung's Mr. Yee character is established as a very dangerous man. I won't spoil too much but there were several times when it became too difficult to watch.
There were quite a few moments that made my heart flutter and eyes wobble. I'll just leave it at that.