Tough Love

by Ian T. McFarland on February 8, 2011

in Movie Reviews , Theme Week

  • Title: Lust, Caution
  • IMDB: link

lust-caution-posterNot totally unlike his last work, Ang Lee‘s Lust, Caution is a love story lead down the wrong path thanks to forlorn circumstances.  And although Lee’s movie about gay cowboy’s may have worked more thoroughly, there’s still a lot to this Mandarin-language film worth checking out.

Taking place in a World War II China when the Japanese were posing a threat, Lust, Caution focuses on a group of theater students who decide to stop putting on patriotic plays and start killing those Chinese sons a bitches who turned coat to the east, using a young woman (Wei Tang) to infiltrate one such traitor household.  They find out their task is much easier said than done after their target, Mr. Yee (Tony Leung), disappears across the country suddenly and without notice.  All the hard work and planning of six young nationalists goes down the drain.

But three years later, the Land of the Rising Sun is under control of China and another opportunity arises for to take down Mr. Yee.  Tang’s character, Wang, is asked to step back into her assumed identity and, as a mistress, eventually trap Yee into a corner that he can be taken out in.  What the movie becomes at this point, and the angle that defines the film, is the complicated relationship between the two.  One is an undefined girl who’s only motivation was a boy who never showed her his affection, the other is a military general with a violent sexuality that is just as threatening as he can be reserved and well-meaning.  It becomes obvious after a while that they share some feelings for each other, but it’s not until the very end that they discover exactly how they think of each other.

At a massive 157 minutes, Lust, Caution isn’t light watching; but it works smoothly enough to justify its running time.  Though you can feel the time running; it doesn’t feel wasted, and ultimately you don’t mind spending over two-and-a-half hours in Ang Lee’s engagingly realized 40s China.  The visuals never knock you out in a single one-two punch shot; but the combination of the West and the East constantly forms a strong hold on the eyes.  The acting is also to be commended, especially the despondent performances of the two aforementioned leads.

You may have heard of some of the fuss caused by the film’s, well, let’s just call them highly explicit sex scenes.  You’re going to see a lot in these shots; but it’s never exploitative or sensationalized – you could go as far as to call them the opposite of anything sexy.  These scenes feel justified in the long run in that they exemplify the rocky and underdeveloped relationship of Wang and Mr. Yee.  The scenes are artistically vindicated, though anyone who might consider themselves squeamish should know that the film is rated NC-17 almost entirely for these five minutes of the film.

As much as I can compliment Ang Lee for this film, I have to admit that, in the end, I’m not sure that it came out as meaningful as it seemed like it should have.  By the film’s last shot, I hadn’t cared enough for any of the characters or been exhilarated by any of the scenes to be truly thrown into the film.  It could have just been the circumstances of the day, or it could have just been me – but the bottom line is the film just didn’t work for me like it should have.  As it was, it was like a perfect film without a soul.

I get the idea that I’m in the minority on that front though.  When it’s not slightly under-whelming me, Lust, Caution is strong film that verges on being a great one.  In a box office where The Game Plan is number one for two straight weeks, that’s more than enough for me.

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