In Ang Lee’s Lust, Caution, a painfully high-toned erotic drama set in Japanese occupied Shanghai during World War II, Tony Leung, as a poshly repressed Chinese government minister, and Tang Wei, as a willowy student resistance fighter who seduces him as part of an assassination plot, spend a fair amount of time with their clothes off. Following his triumphant win at the 2006 Oscars for Brokeback Mountain, director Ang Lee quite literally could have done anything he wanted as a filmmaker. The Taiwanese director opted to make a sex-filled Chinese-language spy drama that runs more than two and a half hours and features a virtual unknown in the lead role. Odd indeed.
The film takes us to the years between 1938 and 1942. Wang is a traditional Chinese good girl who has become a war orphan and as a result of a crush on a dashing young activist, she joins a patriotic theater troupe. The group eventually graduates from putting on politically pageants to taking a more active role in resistance activities, including assassinations. Wang is set up to become the mistress of the highly placed collaborator Mr. Yee as part of a plot to kill him, but before the relationship can be consummated, Yee is recalled from Hong Kong to Shanghai. It’s three years before Wang can follow him and resume her charade. This time, things are in earnest.
Like too many films that try to put a human face on history without really engaging with it, Lust, Caution feels at once overpadded and underdeveloped: it’s all production design and not enough content. The NC-17 rating didn’t really bother me much, but it was more like cable soft-core pornography, rather than the hot video-store back room. The sex scenes between Leung and Wei have already sparked an international scandal and every detail you might have heard is true.
Cheating, rich, and powerful 40-year-old man had his ways with a young virgin… Hardcore action in 3 scenes and not much of a story at all. Thats what it felt like to me. However, Lust, Caution wants us to feel the erotic ping of buttoned-up people ripping open those buttons, but too often it’s the film’s drama that’s under wraps. I still have to applaude Ang Lee’s efforts regardless. I love the title Lust, Caution. One can lust over power, money, or even for a great cause, but these lusters must not forget that lusting is not enough. Love doesn’t descriminate, and it truly catches you by surprise sometimes…whether or not you’re ready for it, and it will seep under your skin and into your heart, and no matter how tough you are, you cannot deny it or escape it. This film has taught me just that.