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  Lust, Caution

Starring: Tang Wei, Tony Leung, Wang Lee Hom, Joan Chen, Chih-ying Chu

Directed by: Ang Lee

Produced by: James Schamus, Bill Kong, Ang Lee

Written by: James Schamus & Hui Ling-Wang (sceenplay), Eileen Chang (story)

Distributor: Focus Features


     Briefly reflecting on the career of Ang Lee, I realize what a master the filmmaker has become at depicting the social dynamics created by different forms of forbidden love. Over the years, Lee has fearlessly shown viewers the forbidden love that the daughters of a traditional Chinese man felt for American culture in Eat Drink Man Woman, the forbidden love kindled between two gay sheep-herders coexisting in a traditional Midwestern society in Brokeback Mountain, and – heck – even the forbidden love displayed by a giant green monster for normal life in The Hulk. The writer/director has perfected the theme as both a science and an art, capturing it as realistically in his films as he does poignantly and poetically. Lust, Caution is Lee’s latest work tackling this subject-matter, and it is every bit as fresh and wonderful as his past films.

     As indicated by its title and its NC-17 MPAA rating, Lee’s story here is more ornately and provocatively sexual than any other he has ever told before. What makes Lust, Caution different from the standard-issue sex-infested picture is that the visual presence of fornication here is essential to the story, imbuing in the narrative-arc an urgent sense of passion and, at times, consequence. Lee utilizes the very real sex-scenes to deepen the audience’s understanding of the feelings of the characters, hence building on the aforementioned theme of forbidden love. The near-three-hour duration builds tensely for over ninety minutes before exploring the dynamic created by intercourse, providing the act a sense of deep-rooted climax (no pun intended).

     The players of the ravaging love affair at the elaborate core of Lust, Caution are the conspiring Wang Jiazhi (Wei Tang) and the devious Mr. Yee (Tony Leung). The film takes place in China during the early stages of World War II, between the years of 1938 and 1942. Wang is a young university student who becomes a member of a politically-active theatre troupe. In its plays, the troupe condones nationalist, anti-Japanese views. Led by the charismatic Kuang Yu Min (Lee-Hom Wang), whose considerable charm was what originally persuaded Wang to join the troupe, the members happen upon what they view as a Golden Opportunity for their cause.  Kaung creates a plan by which they will be able to assassinate opposition-collaborator Mr. Yee. This plan requires Wang to seduce Mr. Yee, which leads to a passionate love affair between the two that complicates the assassination plot considerably. 

     A great deal of Lust, Caution relies on the richness of the material’s context; Lee and his crew create an atmosphere that complexly interweaves history, political commentary, and romance. In many ways, Lust, Caution tackles the depth of two separate films: it functions beautifully as both a social wartime tale and a nuanced portrayal of the forbidden love that Lee so deeply understands as a writer/director. This is all greatly aided by the fantastic performances of leads Tang and Leung, who rely greatly on the unsaid to accentuate the importance of the circumstances that they find their characters in during the film. Despite its considerable length and detail, Lust, Caution never feels tiresome because of the meditative style in which its admittedly sprawling contents are presented. Lee has, quite simply, crafted another exquisite entry to add to his already-accomplished resume – one that is certainly one of the best films of the year.

-Danny Baldwin, Bucket Reviews

Review Published on: 10.7.2007

Screened on: 10.4.2007 at the Landmark Hillcrest Cinemas in San Diego, CA.


Lust, Caution is rated NC-17 and runs 157 minutes.

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