...well worth seeing. I had the pleasure of seeing this film tonight at the Toronto International Film Festival and it was a delightful experience (not to mention I was about a foot away from Tony Leung and Ang Lee).
So as I have written in the title, the film itself may appear to be a bit flawed to most viewers. One of the consensus main complaints was that it was too long and drawn out (157 minutes is no joke, especially with a few ice teas in you from dinner). However, I believe the story was well paced and needed the full length of the movie to fully develop. There were not many scenes that could have been easily cut out. It was also not nearly as slow as some other films (i.e. In the Mood for Love) or as long as other films (i.e. Once Upon a Time in America). Overall, I felt the movie flowed quite naturally and was focused on the storyline, although I went into the movie expecting a loose meandering plot line (as some other reviews have suggested).
Another complaint was that the sex scenes were unnecessarily long, prolific, graphic, and even violent (there was a rape scene). Again, I disagree with these complaints because I felt like these were the scenes that really brought out the lust in the characters. This was especially true for Tony Leung's character, whom many viewers seemed to feel was underdeveloped and one dimensional. As my friend said, "Tony could have done this role in his sleep." True, but that was the whole point of his character. Ang Lee purposely left his character undeveloped for most parts of the movie except those few sex scenes, a particular scene in a Japanese whore house, and the closing scene. Those were the few scenes that made Leung's character vulnerable and human. Because there were so few windows that allowed the audience to glimpse into his character, that made the emotions all the more realistic and powerful. The violence in the rape scene should also be addressed. Again, this was one of those rare scenes that shows Leung's character as human (although it was a very brutal, violent side of him). Here, he appeared angry and frustrated, and not at Tang Wei's character but really more at himself and what he has turned into. He was portrayed as a traitor in the movie, and he never spoke about how he viewed himself except for the scene in the Japanese brothel, when Tang's character asked him if he took her there so she could be his whore. He responded that he took her there because he knew much more about whoring oneself than she did, obviously referring to his political role as a traitor. Thus, through minimal dialogue and character development, Ang Lee was able to depict Leung's character with great insight and accuracy, all the while reminding us that he was still human on some level.
Now although Leung's character development was sacrificed for the benefit of the film, Tang's character development was actually enhanced. Make no mistake, she was the central character of the movie, and it was very interesting to follow her metamorphosis from a young, naive university student to a spy for the resistance force in bed with the enemy. Once again, Lee revisits his theme of lust and how powerful it can be during her character development and especially the sex scenes. There was a scene after she finished having sex with Leung and goes to report to her superior officers. She then describes to them how she must endure and pretend to love Leung wholeheartedly as a part of her role, and how she endures the prolonged sessions of sex only to hope for them to crash in the door and shoot Leung in the back of the head to have his brains and blood splattered all over her body. All in all, it was a very notable and powerful acting job on Ms. Tang's behalf and definitely refreshing to see a younger actress take on a serious role like this and really tackling it.
There were also some lighthearted moments sprinkled throughout the film, which had an excellent score to accompany it. The cinematography, costumes, scenery, etc. were all first rate. The real meat of the film, however, was within Ang Lee's direction, Tang's acting, and of course, the intense sex scenes that powerfully depicted lust, no holds barred, with anger, frustration, hate, and all the other negative emotions associated with it. Interestingly enough, the only moment in the movie where both Leung and Tang's characters felt a mutual love was not in bed, but in the Japanese brothel when Tang performed a song for Leung.
All in all this was a delicate and exquisite movie that was carefully planned and filmed, with attention to every detail. It offers a profound and in depth examination of lust. I recommend that everyone should experience the movie once, regardless of the 2.5 hours length and explicit sex scenes - it was well worth the time.
And a very bad last 1/3 by Michelangelo Antonioni. I saw this movie last night at the Elgin Theatre at the Toronto International Film Festival and people walked out after seeing the Wong Kar Wai and Steven Soderbergh segments. I find it hard to rate this movie as a whole so I'll rate each segment of the movie separately. First, there was Wong Kar Wai's short film, titled "The Hand", starring Gong Li and Chang Chen. I thoroughly enjoyed this part of the movie, because to me, this definitely portrays what true love is about. It is a very sad story, told with great camera work and the colors were amazing, thanks to Christopher Doyle, the cinematographer. The lighting, soundtrack, and mood were also very enjoyable and complimented each other wonderfully. I rated this part of the movie a 9/10. Then came Soderbergh's short film "Equilibrium". This was more of a comedy, which was very much welcomed since the first part of the film was so sad. Again, the cinematography here was great too, although the story's plot wasn't as easy to follow as Wong's story. The symbolisms were a bit too much, in my personal opinion, but it was still a great short film. I gave this part a 7/10. Then came Antonioni's short movie, which I don't even remember the name of. The plot was almost nonexistent and to me, it was more of an excuse for porn than anything else. Like my friend said, it was as if Antonioni came to America and asked someone what their impression of foreign film was, and made it into this film. I particularly disliked the excessive amount of nudity in this segment of the film, since to me, it posed no greater meaning or purpose. The dialogue also had some of the cheesiest one liners I've seen since Van Helsing. I rated this part a 4/10. Overall, I'd say this movie was a 7/10 mainly because Wong Kar Wai and Steven Soderbergh pulled the average up.