Lust, Caution

9 ratings (9 Epinions reviews)
Epinions Product Rating: Very Good
5 stars
2
4 stars
3
3 stars
2
2 stars
2
1 star
Share This!
  Ask friends for feedback

An agonized meditation on using people, marketed as an espionage thriller

Jun 17, 2008 (Updated Jun 17, 2008)
Review by  
Rated a Very Helpful Review
  • User Rating: Excellent

  • Action Factor:
  • Suspense:

Pros:sets, costumes, cinematography, intensity

Cons:slow pace

The Bottom Line: You've hear that love hurts? Using people, even the willing, can be even more painful.


Plot Details: This opinion reveals minor details about the movie's plot.

I really don't know what Ang Lee meant when he wrote that "no other writer has used the Chinese language as cruelly" as Eileen Chang (Zhang Ailing in pinyin, 1920-1995) did. The controversial long film he made of Chang's short story "Se, jie" that has been translated into English as "Lust, Caution"* portrays some rather graphic and pretty rough sex between the 50-something Mr. Yee (Tony Leung), the head of the intelligence service of the Shanghai puppet government of Wang Chingwei, and Wang Chiachih (Wei Tang in a sensational screen debut), an actress whose role is to lure him into a trap so that he can be eliminated by Chinese nationalist patriots.

He is using her as a concubine -- though Chiachih is the guest or Mrs. Yee (Joan Chen), an inveterate mahjong player -- and concubines are entitled to flashy rings (and other jewelry). She aims to inflame his lust so that he can be killed, though she lacks strong political or patriotic convictions. She also has no experience of sexual love.

Because her role is that of a married woman (the wife of a Hong Kong businessman, a category very plausibly apolitical) she is deflowered in a totally unromantic and instrumental way (by a fellow actor turned patriot or terrorist, a distinction depending on the side). Mr. Yee wants her, and she has strong feelings, oscillating between love and hate, for him.

The film adds an unrequited and mutual love between Chiachih and Kuan Yumin (pop star Lee-Hom Wang), who was her director in a patriotic melodrama before the Japanese conquered Hong Kong and is also the director of the amateur assassins.

In Chang's story, the group is reassembled at the behest of Mr. Wu (Tou Chunghua, who starred in Hou Hsiaohsien "The Boys from Fengkuei"), a Kuomintang (Nationalist Chinese) agent in Shanghai who learns that Chiachih has befriended Mrs. Yee and might be able to get the very cautious Mr. Yee into a place where he can be killed. In the film adaptation, the group kills a "running dog" of the Japanese (very, very ineptly and therefore gruesomely) and are bailed out in Hong Kong.

The film adds a scene of Mr. Wu, Kuan Yumin, and Chiachih telling both of them details of what she is doing and feeling with Mr. Wu that neither of the patriotic men wants to hear. For me, this scene is the hinge of the film and makes the reversal(s) ahead more comprehensible than it is in Chang's very terse story.

I was asked if the graphic sex was necessary. Given that the first word of the title is "lust," I think so, though what Chiachih says to those who have sent her on her mission of seduction is likely to make viewers as uncomfortable as it does her interlocutors within the scene. And Chang (who worked on the story for nearly three decades) did not specify that the sexual connection was (or verged on being) sadomasochistic.

I think that Tang, Tou, and Wang are extremely good, as is Ko Yue-Lin as Liang Junsheng, the member of the group with some sexual experience who must deflower Chiachih for the sake of China (diffidently and passionlessly--condoned by Kuan Yumin, despite his feelings for her).

Joan Chen does not have much to do, but does that well. Tony Leung (Leung Chui-Wai) has played many heavily conflicted lovers (for Wong Karwai and others). Playing a selfish villain goes against his iconic image. He is able to bring some of his trademark self-loathing, and some diffidence -- at least in scenes with his wife and her circle of mahjong addicts. Mr. Yee knows that the Japanese are going to lose and will be unable to protect him in the long run. He does not know the extent to which his affair with Chiachih is risking his life (and career), but he is intrigued at stimulating strong feelings -- even if it expressed hate rather than love.

Leung does not go over to the dark side to the extent that Henry Fonda, for instance, did in "Once Upon a Time in America." Mr. Yee signs death warrants and shows not the slightest remorse for anything, but at least for me, he never completely breaks out of the web of sympathy accumulated in a quarter of a century of film roles. I mean, he is despicable and has the grace to despise himself to some degree, but he is also the victim and being used. (In terms of Kantian ethics, her use of him is more instrumental than his use of her is.)

I guess that Mr. Yee cannot be a complete monster for the plot to work, so maybe the ethical grayness of assassinating an executioner if exactly what Leung needed to do. There is even one point at which he is moved (by Chiachih's acting in a geisha house). I don't understand why he tortured himself to lose weight to look emaciated, since there is no basis for that in Chang's story. (I don't know if starving himself was his idea or Lee's)

I'm not convinced the film needs to run the R-rated version's 148 minutes (the original NC-17 theatrical release was nine minutes longer still--cuts insisted on by our MPAA protectors, although the sex is what makes sense of what happens, that is, the story). Lee generally takes his (and viewers'!) time. Perhaps the pace was intended to illustrate the "caution" in the title?

The neo-Romantic (sometimes neo-Wagnerian) music by Alexandre Desplat (The Queen, Girl with a Pearl Earring) has made the soundtrack album a big seller. The art direction by Joel Chong and others is outstanding, and done full justice by Mexican cinematographer Rodrigo Prieto, who shot "Brokeback Mountain" for Lee (also Amores Perros, Frida, 21 Grams, Babel, and Alexander)

Lee's team is very international. I already knew that Tony Leung speaks flawless English and expected that Ko Yue-Lin did (he graduated from Williams). In the "making of" featurette, Wei Tang acquits herself well, if less confidently in English. I'd have liked to hear more from Ang Lee and James Schamus -- as in their commentary track for "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon." What the cast members, Schamus and Prieto say, and what is shown of shooting the film are interesting

*Since there does not seem to be anything I would characterize as "lust" in the story (the film is quite another matter!), I asked two native speakers of Chinese about the translation of Chang's title. They felt that "lust" was a reasonable translation, though "seduction" would be as good, but that the disjuncture is not in Chinese. "Forbidden lust" and "Forbidden seduction" were their suggestions as translations of the title. (These also would fit "Brokeback Mountain" and its socially unsanctioned love...) The liaison that is central to the story (and that bears more than a casual relationship to Chang's marriage with a prominent collaborator) is a perilous one for both of them. Hers was, as it were, "licensed" as a patriotic duty, his was exceedingly unwise. Caution was Mr. Yee's general m.o., but love and/or lust often involves jettisoning caution and rational calculation. Both were "playing with fire" to take a common English-language metaphor. That Chiachih is "tiger bait" is central to how Chang saw her story. The Chinese conception that the ghost of someone killed by a tiger works for the tiger, helping to lure more prey into his path ("Wei bu dzuo chung") is explicit near the end of Chang's story and the focus of what Ang Lee wrote as an afterword to the published English-language version of the story, but is not explicit in his film.


© 2008, Stephen O. Murray


Recommend this product? Yes


Viewing Format: DVD
Suitability For Children: Not suitable for Children of any age


Share this product review with your friends   
Share This!


Related Deals You Might Like...

Lust, Caution eBook

Lust, Caution eBook

Buy Lust, Caution by Eileen Chang and Read this Book on Kobo's Free Apps. Discover Kobo's Vast Collection of Ebooks Today - Over 3 Million Titles, In...
Kobo eBooks

$8.99

FREE Shipping
Lust, Caution (dvd, 2008, Mandarin; R Rated)

Lust, Caution (dvd, 2008, Mandarin; R Rated)

After BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN and THE HULK, multitalented director Ang Lee returns to Asia with this Mandarin-language erotic drama. LUST, CAUTION pairs ce...
eBay

$5.25

FREE Shipping
Lust Caution - Dvd Region 1 Brand Free Shipping

Lust Caution - Dvd Region 1 Brand Free Shipping

After BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN and THE HULK, multitalented director Ang Lee returns to Asia with this Mandarin-language erotic drama. LUST, CAUTION pairs ce...
eBay

$15.46

FREE Shipping
Lust, Caution (dvd, 2008, Mandarin; R Rated)

Lust, Caution (dvd, 2008, Mandarin; R Rated)

After BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN and THE HULK, multitalented director Ang Lee returns to Asia with this Mandarin-language erotic drama. LUST, CAUTION pairs ce...
eBay

$8.00

FREE Shipping
Lust, Caution (r Rated Version) (mandarin, Subtitled In English) Dvd

Lust, Caution (r Rated Version) (mandarin, Subtitled In English) Dvd

After BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN and THE HULK, multitalented director Ang Lee returns to Asia with this Mandarin-language erotic drama. LUST, CAUTION pairs ce...
eBay

$15.98

FREE Shipping
Lust, Caution [nc-17 Version] Dvd Region 1

Lust, Caution [nc-17 Version] Dvd Region 1

After BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN and THE HULK, multitalented director Ang Lee returns to Asia with this Mandarin-language erotic drama. LUST, CAUTION pairs ce...
eBay

$7.50

+$2.99 shipping
Lust, Caution Cd Movie By Director Ang Lee Sealed R Rated 2008

Lust, Caution Cd Movie By Director Ang Lee Sealed R Rated 2008

After BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN and THE HULK, multitalented director Ang Lee returns to Asia with this Mandarin-language erotic drama. LUST, CAUTION pairs ce...
eBay

$9.99

FREE Shipping
From Eileen Chang To Ang Lee: Lust/caution By Peng Hsiao-yen Hardcover Book

From Eileen Chang To Ang Lee: Lust/caution By Peng Hsiao-yen Hardcover Book

Store Search search Title, ISBN and Author From Eileen Chang to Ang Lee: Lust/Caution by Peng Hsiao-yen Estimated delivery 3-12 business days Format H...
eBay

$174.40

FREE Shipping
Ang Lee's Lust,caution (2007) Tony Leung Joan Chen Tang Wei Wang Leehom Sealedvd

Ang Lee's Lust,caution (2007) Tony Leung Joan Chen Tang Wei Wang Leehom Sealedvd

After BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN and THE HULK, multitalented director Ang Lee returns to Asia with this Mandarin-language erotic drama. LUST, CAUTION pairs ce...
eBay

$6.95

FREE Shipping