Jorge Costa 20/01/2008
An appropriate title for a rather schizophrenic film, Ang Lee's 'Lust, Caution' finally hits cinemas four months after winning the Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival and like bad sex, it's all foreplay and little pay-off.
Gay cowboys, arty-comic book films and antigravity acrobatic wu-shu have all been selling points of previous Ang Lee films. This one has sex. Graphic sex. In fact, strip away the story and you'll end up with quite a tasteful, arty porn film which brings Tony Leung's ball sacks and Wei Tang's hairy armpits to a cinema near you!
Lee films these scenes with an impressive technical veracity, his darting camera making you feel every slap and whip crack, and showing every grimy detail with a brave and unflinching eye. However, the biggest reason why these scenes work is the electricity between Leung and Tang; if there is one thing that you can trust Lee with it's the emotional investment that he allows the audience to place in his main characters. As the collaborator (“Traitor!”) in Japanese occupied Shanghai, Leung fills Mr Yee with a magnetic menace that cracks slowly over the course of the film to reveal the tiniest worm of humanity. Sent in as a spy to trap Leung, relative newcomer Tang is spectacular as Wong whose double life enriches the film with metaphors on an occupied country's identity as the activities she takes part in make her question her own. One astounding scene has her describing in implicit detail just how Yee corrupts her soul and the hate she feels for the man; it goes beyond the 'Oscar-scene' and I can't wait to see her in another film.
What, then, frustrates about the film is Lee's inability to provide the same treatment to the story itself. It's not that it's bad, but that it is so standard. Wong and her cell of ex-drama students have to assassinate Yee for crimes that are never really made apparent. Lee never allows the intensity of those sex scenes to slip into the rest of the movie and part of the problem is that we know so very little about Wong's fellow assassins. And this is despite waiting nearly an hour for Lee to get it up while he introduces us to them and showing their setbacks and minor spats that never culminate in any kind of character building resolutions. It is understandable that you would want the focus to be on Yee and Wong, but this takes away any tension, sexual or otherwise, concerning the secondary characters as we become aware of their predicament in the later stages of the film.
It's almost like watching two separate films, with the 'lust' firmly placed in the sweaty confines of one film, and the 'cautious' grinding the second to a halt. If this film arouses anything in my being, it is to watch the much more homogenous and sensual 'In The Mood For Love'.