Despite an NC-17 rating, there’s too much of the first and not enough of the second.
A little more lust and a little less caution might have turned Ang Lee’s follow-up to Brokeback Mountain into the classic melodrama it aspires to be. Director Lee adapts Eileen Chang's short story about political and sexual intrigue in Japanese-occupied China in the ’40s, but rather than turn up the heat, he extends the film into narcoleptic languor. By the time it springs to life in the last quarter, Lust, Caution has just about spent itself.
The story concerns Wang (Tang Wei), a young woman who flees her village for Hong Kong where she joins a patriotic theatre group. As they grow restless protesting the occupation, they plot the assassination of a Chinese collaborator, Mr. Yee (Tony Leung), to affect change through resistance. The plan involves Wang going undercover as Yee's mistress to lure him into the open so they can kill him. But when they begin their intensely fierce sexual affair, it transforms them both from the people they once were.
The sex scenes in Lust, Caution are bold and unsettling because they reveal the inner lives of the two characters. Yee is a sadist who becomes brutal to avoid feeling any guilt about having to torture someone he cares for. When he embarks on the relationship with Wang, she ultimately melts away his cruelty into deep regret. Wang seduces Yee as a ploy, but she doesn't anticipate that the violent rounds of sex will change her as a person.
Leung's performance shifts masterfully from cold malevolence to wistful longing, while Tang subtly reveals the depths of a person left emotionally naked. If the prelude had some drive, the later atmosphere and charge might have given the picture some deeper consequence. As it is, Lust, Caution is only part, movie. —
Cast: Tony Leung, Tang Wei, Joan Chen and Wang Leehorn
Director: Ang Lee
Screenwriters: Wang Hui Ling and James Schamus
Producers: Bill Kong, Ang Lee and James Schamus
Genre: Drama; Mandarin-language, subtitled
Rating: NC-17 for some explicit sexuality
Running time: 157 min.
Release date: September 28, 2007 NY