Lust, Caution

Paul Yim Paul Yim: (paulyim-deleteme[at]-deleteme-direman [dot] com) 2008-04-15 11:45:38

Lust, Caution - Rank B


When you watch an Ang Lee movie you would typically have one of two reactions: "Oh, Ang..." as you grip your forehead in futility against the onrushing migraine; or "Wow, Ang..." as you leave the theater, jaw agape in reverent awe. Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon was definitely a "Wow, Ang..." movie, as the scintillating action sequences served as mere backdrop to the heart-wrenching human drama unfolding before your bedazzled eyes. The Hulk, on the other hand, was unquestionably in the "Oh, Ang..." camp. Because Brian Singer proved that super-hero movies can be fresh and emotionally satisfying, there was no excuse for the campy, been there, done that, got the T-shirt, now I'm goin' to Disneyland excuse for a movie that was The Hulk. If the lack of character development didn't turn you away then surely the god-awful CGI made you taste your lunch again. Lust, Caution is neither.

The first few minutes of the movie start off very well, as your eye is treated to a lush canvas of colors that purvey a sense of decadence in the people inhabiting the city streets. As you follow the beautiful protagonist, Wang Chia Chi (played by new comer Wei Tang), walking into a cafe, there's a feeling that you're in for a treat of suspense and intrigue in WWII era Shanghai. Just saying, "WWII era Shanghai" evokes all kinds of visions of romance and the bitter-sweet temptation of the exotic. You start to think, "Wow, Ang..."

As the story unfolds, however, you quickly realize that you've stopped caring about your lead actor and her supporting cast. There's reason to hope, though, as the cinematographer - Rodrigo Prieto (Amorres Perros, Frida) - uses light and shadow to paint a gorgeous portrait of the period. Even at 480 progressive scan lines it's obvious the blacks are deep and the grays sharp as can be. Despite the stunning beauty of the visuals the movie seems hampered by some kind of inexplicable self-censoring by either the editor or Ang. Those of you who've seen the picture will remind me that this movie got an NC-17 rating. I'm not talking about the sex. I'll get to that in a minute. What I'm talking about is the failure to follow through with the emotional tug of a sequence. Done right, the tug becomes a pull; the pull becomes a heave and before you know it the actors have you by the proverbial balls as the heave becomes a rending of your emotional soul. The movie doesn't come through on this end despite the profusion of opportunities.

Despite these problems the story, in the end, is intriguing: a naive school girl is asked to pose as the mistress of a Japanese sympathizer so that the local resistance movement can get close to him and assassinate him. The cast, lead by veterans Tony Leung and Joan Chen, prove resourceful and entertaining. Tony Leung, in particular, impressed me with his brooding portrayal of the Japanese sympathizer, Mr. Yee. The intimate scenes between Leung and Tang were impressive but overly long. I can't help but wonder what the movie could have been had Ang and the editor spliced more sequences together for the emotional pay-off scenes instead of dwelling on the sex. Sex is exciting and provocative, I agree, but must we all swoon at the mere mention of an NC-17 rating? People, come on!

This movie gets a B.

The first link is for the R rated version; the second is for the NC-17 version.

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