Director – Ang Lee
Writer – Eileen Chang (story), James Schamus (screenplay)
Starring – Tony Leung, Wei Tang, Joan Chen
It is amazing what director Ang Lee is able to get away with in some of his films. Both in what takes place on-screen and in their subject matter. He tackled a very raw and almost taboo subject of homosexuality very gracefully but still at times graphically with Brokeback Mountain. In his latest film Lust, Caution he has conjured up some of the most sexually graphic scenes in recent cinema history that seem to add little to what is otherwise a thoroughly engaging and extremely well made film.
Set in occupied Shanghai during Word War II, newcomer Wei Tang plays a young woman who gets swept up in a dangerous game of emotion and intrigue with a powerful politician (Leung).
The decision to cast a newcomer as the leading lady in Lust, Caution was a stroke of genius in my books. First-timer Wei Tang is nothing short of mesmerizing as the young woman gaining the trust of the dangerous Mr Yee played brilliantly, as always, by Tony Leung. Unless you did your research before watching this film you would swear blind that Tang has a plethora of acting experience when in fact this is her first acting role. Her performance is not only high up on the list of best newcomer performances of 2007 but just in the general performance category, she really is that good. I have absolutely no doubt we will see more of Miss Tang in the very near future and I welcome her with open arms.
Tony Leung may have been obvious choice for the role he plays here and in a respect it was almost inevitable. But I say if you’re good at something then stick to it and Leung certainly is good at playing this kind of role. There is something special that only he can bring to the table and he just seems to be able to bring it in every performance he gives. Anyone who has had any experience of watching Leung, particularly in Wong Kar Wai’s ‘2046’, you will know that he isn’t afraid to bare all for a role. He certainly is “In the Mood for Love” in this film, a few times a little too much.
What will be, and already has been, on everybody’s lips is the graphic sex scenes in the film. Given the nature of the film they should work as part of it but as it turns out the opposite effect has occurred. The graphic nature of those particular scenes adds little to the film overall and instead they stick out like a sore thumb. Other than the fact that the film wouldn’t be as much of a hot topic as it is I can’t see the film being any worse, most definitely better, off than if those scenes had been dialled down or perhaps even removed altogether. Some may argue, and I think the director included, would say that the graphic nature is necessary but personally I don’t see it that way.
Apart from those mentioned scenes I have little other complaint with Lust, Caution. The most regarding thing about it is the cinematography and just how beautiful the film is to look at. It’s something we’ve come to expect from an Ang Lee film, shown in Brokeback Mountain and Crouching, Tiger Hidden Dragon among others, and this film is no different. It is one of those rare cases where most, if not all, of the film is stunning to look at and you could virtually pause it at any moment and you would get a stunning frame of cinema to feast your eyes on.
The film attempts to have an equal measure of things on the surface to enjoy and to have emotion and power underneath for anyone wanting and willing to dig a little deeper. I have heard from various other people that the latter is lacking from the film but I for one didn’t find that at all. I thought the film gave a very balanced sense of almost everything in the film, making you both admire it from afar and engage with it emotionally. For a film to have both of those effects on me is rare and so far that I applaud it.
Perhaps what it most admirable about Lust, Caution is the way in which it takes you on such a personal journey in such an involving fashion. Almost all of the 160 minutes of the films runtime had me concentrating on every little detail, except of course from the graphic sex scenes pulling me out of my engagement somewhat. There was a lingering chance that the long-ish runtime may hinder any enjoyment the viewer may get from this love story but Lee handles it just the right way for that not to happen.
This may just be the most sexually explicit film of the past while and I am certain it will remain that way for a good few months. But don’t let the thought of an uncomfortable few scenes put you off an experience such as this. It’s well worth the almost three hour runtime as it takes you on an extremely intimate, personal and ultimately rewarding journey of deceit, political intrigue and dangerous relationships.