Saturday, 27 July 2013

Lust, Caution (2007) - ★★★★½

Director: Ang Lee
Writers: Eileen Chang, James Shamus, Hui-Ling Wang
Stars: Wei Tang, Tony Leung Chiu Wai, Joan Chen, Leehom Wang

Lust, Caution is as close to a masterpiece as you could possibly get. I'm a big fan of Ang Lee, whose daring subject choices make him one of the most interesting directors today. There's a lot of unfounded and hateful reactions to Lust, Caution. What's worse is that some people call it 'Porn', which just goes to show how closed-minded and prudish some of these critics truly are. I found this film to be captivating, with its mixture of Eastern and Western styles that represent China in the 1940s. The performances were stunning, the cinematography breathtaking, the music haunting, and the story riveting. I'd go as far as to say that this is one of Ang Lee's finest films.

Set in WWII during the Japanese occupation, Wong Chia Chi (Wei Tang) is a beautiful and talented young woman who joins an college acting company to raise funds for the war. She soon makes friends with her fellow actors, all of which are lead by the handsome and patriotic Kuang Yu Min (Leehom Wang). He concocts a plan to assassinate the 'traitor' and powerful political figure, Mr. Yee (Tony Leung Chiu Wai). The group of young actors all join in to kill Mr. Yee, which leads Wong into a world of espionage, deceit, and powerful emotional mind games.

Wei Tang is a legend.
It's a particularly hard movie to watch with subtitles, because they talk so fast and with double meanings (ahh, the life of a spy). I literally re-watched the beginning just so I had the right idea about the characters. Right off the bat, I was stunned at how they recreated the old Chinese atmosphere, with at least a hundred extras walking around dressed in the fashion of the time, whilst the buildings all looked very authentic. The cinematography is absolutely gorgeous. My ears were in bliss from the beautiful score too. What an achievement, to make me feel like I'm actually in 1940s China. I can't believe how overlooked this movie is.

The lead actress, Wei Tang, is such a stunning beauty, and my God can she act! Her subtle expressions evoked such a strong emotion out of me. She gets my Best Actress Award for 2007, even over Marion Cotillard for La vie En Rose. Cotillard had the more difficult role, but there's something about Wei Tang's performance that had me mesmerised.

Her father leaves her to go to England and refuses to send her money to come with him. There's a scene where she's watching Intermezzo (1939), a film about a married man with kids, who leaves his family for a whirlwind romance overseas. It starred Leslie Howard and Ingrid Bergman. I wonder whether Wong was crying because of her father leaving her like that (he remarried in England), or because she found the doomed affair between Howard and Bergman sad. It's an interesting part of the film, I'm just glad I got the subtle reference.

A taste of Ang Lee's 1940s China, with Wei Tang scoping the premises.
Even though Tony Leung is an older actor, he's as charming and gorgeous as always. His little mannerisms just put a smile on my face! I really loved the scene when he says to Wong, "For me, a chance to talk relaxedly like this is hard to come by." Then he smiled in such a charming way. Ahh my heart fluttered. Well... that didn't last very long. Terrible things happened later in the movie, and let's just say that I despise the brutish side to this man! It was really quite shocking.

If I've learnt anything from this movie, it's that murdering someone with a knife is a lot more complicated and messy than one would think. The young group of actors/assassinators thought that killing a person would be quick and easy, but their rude awakening was a prolonged and excruciating death by stabbing.

One thing I did not expect to see was full frontal sex scenes. Woah. Wow. Holy Cow! I think the whole question of "Is it porn or is it art?" Does apply here. I call this art, because the story is overwhelmingly the main component that gets the screen-time, and the sex is just an additional component that adds to the story.

The movie is called 'Lust, Caution,' for a reason. The vivid and passionate sex scenes really show us how powerful Mr. Yee's attraction is to Wong. I would usually say that the scenes are way too full-on, but I found them to be appropriate for this film. In movies such as "In the Realm of the Senses (1976)," most of it was sex scenes with the occasional period of dialogue and drama. Whereas in Lust, Caution, it's pretty much all dialogue and drama with a couple of sex scenes. Therein lies the difference between an artsy film (Lust, Caution), and a trashy film (Realm of the Senses). 

In my opinion, this is one of the most beautiful movies ever made. The score by Alexandre Desplat is so haunting, and the stunning visuals took my breath away. The chemistry between the actors was perfection, and the story was always beautiful and intriguing in one way or another. The more I look back on Lust, Caution, the more I fall in love with the movie. Ang Lee has sealed himself as one of my favorite directors of all time.


  1. Very Cool Review Ben. It's been a while since I saw this, but you made me want to seek this out again. I remember seeing the NC-17 version expecting something really heavy duty in the whole nudity thing, but its after watching it. It's one of those elements that you barely notice.

    1. I had no idea that this movie had any 'rude elements' to it prior to watching it. When they happened, they just seemed so completely natural to the story that I had no problem with it whatsoever. In fact, I think it would have been detrimental to the film to take out the sex scenes. Thanks for the kind words :)