Lust, Caution (2007)
Ang Lee is only the second director in history to win the Golden Lion, the Venice Film Festival’s highest award. The film is based on the 1979 novella of the same title written by Eileen Chang and is loosely based on actual historical events.
A beautiful and eloquent film in which every attention to detail has been orchestrated, Lust, Caution could quite possibly be Lee’s opus. In the US, an NC-17 rating restricted its wider release as many theaters refuse to carry films with this rating. However, the director maintains that the sex scenes are integral to the integrity of the film. The film spurred an old debate in China towards adopting a rating system (currently one doesn’t exist). The explicit scenes were cut out of the version shown to Chinese audiences. The film was a big hit there nonetheless.
There is an interesting story behind the punctuation of the title. Originally, Eileen Chang wanted to separate the two characters with a period. The natural reading of which, in Chinese, would imply a reversal of the terms (Caution. Lust, read from left to right) and signify abstinence or celibacy. Attempting to remain close to Chang’s intention, Lee separates the characters with a bar as if they were two different pages of a book, thus a warning or prohibition is implied. The title appears with a comma in most advertisements.
The backdrop for the story is the Japanese occupation of China during WWII. Wong Chia Chi (Tang Wei) becomes part of a college theater troupe on the side of the resistance. She is ultimately selected by the troupe to seduce Mr. Yee (Tony Leung), a high-ranking Chinese official working for the Japanese, and set him up to be assassinated.
Here an impossible love arises between the main characters based on the commonality of experience, leaving behind characteristic love story conventions and la di da endings. Both characters become trapped in their respective situations due to choices they have each willfully made. There is no recourse for either and only a tragic end can ensue.
Many critics feel that Tang Wei’s depiction is degrading and/or objectifying, however she is no mere victim. Her character is bold, complex and dynamic. She makes a powerful statement by her actions that not merely an unflinching rationality or even brut strength can define the powerful or sovereign, but grace, spirit, and selfless sacrifice to truth can compromise classic power structures.
- Story A
- Acting A
- Visuals A
- Originality/Innovation A-
- Enjoyability A
- Overall A