Monday, September 10, 2007

Lust, Caution (Ang Lee, 2007)

There's no doubt while watching Ang Lee's Lust, Caution that you're in the hands of a supreme filmmaker. Clocking in at about 160 minutes long, this espionage thriller set in Shanghai during the Japanese occupation has scarcely a second of wasted time. Extremely talky, it's never less than spellbinding to look at. Furthermore, even though Lee downplays action, he infuses even the most outwardly mundane sequences, like that of the opening mahjong game, with the graceful, fluid camerawork of a Crouching Tiger fight scene.

Telling a politicized tale of sexual repression, Lust, Caution focuses on Wang Jiazhi, played by Wei Tang in a wholly accomplished performance that feels like as much of a breakthrough as Zhang Ziyi's CT,HD turn was a few years back. A young student turned revolutionary spy, she engages in an extended undercover stint in which she attempts to set the traitorous, but careful, Yee (Tony Leung) up for an assassination attempt. Leung remains elusive for most of the film's duration, and a large portion of his performance is delivered through a series of sex scenes that demonstrate just how sadistic a traitor he is playing. Several Hitchcock references are made during the movie, and the obvious touchstone is his Notorious, which definitively covered this ground.

Despite its epic runtime, Lust, Caution is a straightforward, laser focused narrative with an intimate scale. Most of the film is spent questioning to what degree a person can separate personal feelings from political ones. This theme emerges early on as the youth group joins the nationalist cause through a mix of genuine want to help their motherland and peer pressure. Lee keeps probing it throughout, mining considerable drama from the central question of where Wang Jiazhi's loyalties lie. It's worthy stuff, delivered with all of the class one would expect from one of our most consistent and exciting moviemakers.

Rating: 66/100

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