Ang Lee’s new film Lust, Caution has been previewing around London having first screened at Venice. It’s long, it’s very beautiful to look at, it has amazing costumes and outstanding performances, not least from its two leads the masterful Tony Leung and newbie actress Tang Wei. So why wasn’t I more impressed and why did the whole thing leave me feeling pretty cold?
This is from Geoffrey Macnab’s piece in the Guardian:
The film tells the story of a young drama student, Wang Jiazhi (Tang Wei), drawn into a plot to assassinate the shadowy Mr Yee (Tony Leung), a collaborator with the Japanese in the Shanghai of the early 1940s. Mr Yee is a cold and brutal man. While his wife (Joan Chen) and her friends play Mah Jong and discuss their favourite restaurants, he oversees the torture and killing of resistance fighters. Wang is ordered to get close to Mr Yee in order to prise him out into the open. In the end, they begin a very violent, sado-masochistic affair. Their feelings for one another teeter between love and utter loathing. They instinctively distrust one another but can’t hide their mutual fascination. At times, it is as if they hope that through their extreme and acrobatic sex together they can finally work out each others’ motives and true personality. This is as much a tale of amour-fou as it is a thriller.
I suspect my problem lies here: what is described generally (not just by Macnab) as a relationship where they “can’t hide their mutual fascination” where their feelings “teeter between love and utter loathing” seems to me more like an abusive relationship instigated and conducted by the stronger partner over the weaker one. While I get Mr Yee’s initial lusting after her (hey, she’s young and gorgeous) I really don’t get what she’s meant to see in him. Is it his cruelty or simply that he’s Tony Leung and as an audience we’re not meant to see much further than that?
While many won’t see past the athleticism of the sex scenes The New York Times has an excellent review that sees past this to the flaws in the characters and the story. My view is that Lust, Caution while beautifully shot and acted is still pure hokey.