More than just a spy thriller: a portrait of a maelstrom
"Lust, Caution" is a picture of the power of tremendous forces on that which is ultimately unable to bear the strain: a picture of a tidal wave crushing victims, or of a hurricane ripping through buildings.
There have been many reviews of how this movie suffers in intrigue, and lacks in the typical Hollywood excitement and fireworks. *This is not simply a spy flick!* These reviewers might also observe a natural disaster and comment on how the buildings were all poorly constructed and the victims too weak to provide sufficient excitement and entertainment.
Tang Wei, Ang Lee & co have put together a brilliant depiction of a dark and haunting time when the common person was buffeted and often destroyed by the struggle between titanic powers, emotions, and ideas.
Tang Wei as Wang Jiazhi stands out especially as a perfect victim for the emotional and psychological blows that she suffers from the beginning to her last moments on camera. Floundering in the maelstrom of the time, Wang Jiazhi fights valiantly to grasp at something, anything to justify her existence. The sacrifices she makes and trials she endures become a dark and painful comedy of errors that will be even more poignant for those who can understand her predicament and the times Wang Jiazhi lives in. Each time, Wang convinces herself to plunge headlong into her endeavors:
1. She sacrifices safety for the chance at love, achieving only a passing admiration and infatuation. 2. She discards innocence (with the worst possible candidate) for a patriotic cause, gaining only a bloody consolation for a lost prize. 3. She sells her inheritance for a chance to study, only to be forced to learn something she despises. 4. She suffers the unspeakable for a chance to complete a mission, only to be drawn in by the enemy. 5. Coming full circle, she compromises the mission for the hope of love and safety, throwing away life and the respect of friends in one fell moment.
The failures of Wang Jiazhi pursuits are shocking to point of comedy at times, just as one might gasp and laugh coldly in near disbelief at extreme tragedy and carnage. However, Wang Jiazhi's story is one that would only be all too common in that day and age.
While the NC-17++ scenes do contribute to the raw and poignant artistry of the the movie, the storyline and acting is enrapturing in and of itself. The sophisticated and empathic audience is sure to find this film a winner that will haunt their thoughts long after more foolish viewers have lost interest.
There are many ways to ask this question, and many more ways to answer it. Although point of view would affect the answer in most circumstances, Hero does not present a circumstance in which the title of "hero" can be sullied by allegations of propaganda.
The problem is ideology: one's own, not the movie's. Without an open minded concept of the world, that is, an equally high minded ideology, one could misread the Zhang Yi Mou's intentions in Hero.
Hero does not glorify war, nor necessarily a country. The film focuses on individuals and how an individual can be a hero. If one is a hero for courage or strength, we have courage and strength in the film. If for undying love, we have love. If for benevolence or leadership, selflessness or sacrifice, loyalty, service, or whatever quality that one holds dear in standard morality, Hero manifests it with stunning poignancy.
I understand "hero" as greatness of mind and heart. A hero by this definition can encompass the needs of the world in his mind, and hold the pains humanity in his heart. The setting of Hero was a time warring countries and peoples -- as tumultuous and destructive as any in history. The movie dramatically depicts one with a rare greatness of mind and heart who can set aside his own burden, grievances, love or years or his life for the world
If you liked Zhang Yi Mou's previous movies, or the martial acrobatics in Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon, you won't be disappointed here. I thoroughly enjoyed Hero even though it innovatively deviated from the Chinese martial arts series I'm used to. While I don't usually like artistic pieces, I enjoyed Hero nonetheless. This is a beautiful movie not only for the sheer artistry of its scenes, but also for grandeur of its scope. I'm not saying the Communist government will or won't benefit from this movie. Then again, just because every world government would benefit from it's heroes, hardly makes every hero story propaganda.