Lust, Caution has been out for awhile. However, it deserves another review because it isn’t nearly as bad as the reviews make it seem. It’s actually pretty good. And it’s still playing here and there (it wasn’t widely released in the first place) so this weekend might be the last chance for some people to see it.
The film sounds like a suspense-thriller- a dangerous assassination plot, a backdrop of Chinese resistance to Japanese occupation in Shanghai during World War II- but with screenwriters James Schamus and Wang Hui Ling and director Ang Lee, the film is more meditatively paced, and constructed around Wong Chia Chi’s (Tan Wei) relationship to Mr. Yee (Tony Leung), rather than the plot to kill the high-ranking official of the Kuomintang.
The reviews and the NC-17 rating have you bracing for the pornographic scenes, which do occur, but not until well into the film, and which aren’t that graphic. Or maybe I’m just inured by the other horrors I saw in film class way back in college. It’s all about expectations and reference points. There’s a sexless version that can only be seen in China, and the film could be just as good without the porn breaks. That’s what they felt like sometimes. Just pornographic interludes. I think there is some symbolic story development through the sex, as well as the mah jong games that the women play throughout the film, but a viewer can understand the film well enough without it.
Overall, it’s a solid film. It’s predominantly dark and suspenseful, with a few other textures of love and even humor. The attempted assassins are a group of theater kids and their bungling participation in the serious world of murder has its moments. It makes one want to learn Mandarin and mah jong, and read Eileen Chang’s story for comparison. Native Chinese speakers tell me that the dialects in Lust, Caution are much better done than those in Crouching Tiger. And Tang Wei, with baby cheeks and full lips, is really cute.