Lust, Caution Reviews
The story is set primarily in Hong Kong in 1938 and Shanghai in 1942 amidst the Japanese occupation of China, and the puppet government established there and concerns a young woman involved with a resistance group who plot to kill those "traitors" collaborating with the ruling Japanese government. As part of their plan to kill a certain target, the young woman goes undercover as his mistress, but soon finds herself in a dangerous position as her growing connection to him can't help but conflict with her efforts to help assassinate him.
Looking at just the broad points, this is not a new sort of story, and this sort of thing has been seen quite a lot before, especially with the whole war time angle. What makes this one unique is the specifics, namely the Japanese occupation of China, which is a topic not often explored in film (so far as I know). That's unfortunate too, because this is a rather fascinating subject. I'm glad that Lee decided to try to bring more attention to it.
Now, for the rest of this review, I need to make it clear that the version I saw was not the original (preferred) NC-17 cut, but the censored R-rated version. For this reason, I was kinda let down, and imagine that I'd be giving the regular version a higher grade. From what I can tell, all that's changed is the numerous and graphic sex scenes have been toned down a hair.
That's kinda dumb too, as these are things that are actually rather crucial to the story and characters, specifically the emotional impact of Mak Tai Tai and her relationship to the man she's supposed to help assassinate. The film was also wrongly billed as an erotic thriller. Yeah, it's a suspense/espionage thriller, but I wouldn't really call it erotic. It's steamy, sure, but the tone and context keep things from really being all that titillating.
Yes, the censored cut gets the point across, but it feels forcefully compromised.
Okay, enough with the ranting. All in all, this is quite a film. It's quite lengthy, but surprisingly light on dull moments. It's really absorbing and interesting, and you really get involved with how the events will play out. The love that Mak Tai Tai falls in with Mr. Yee isn't the sweetest, but there's no denying the two have a deep emotional connection, despite his roughness and trust issues.
The period details are quite nice, and the film has gorgeous cinematography. The writing is quite nice, the performances are terrific, and this is a wonderfully done variation on a theme. The ending is a bit odd and somewhat of an unsatisfying letdown, but the buildup remains quite good. All in all, a fine piece of work, even though the censorship issues leave some unfortunate scars.
'Lust, Caution' is, rather obviously, a take on Hitchcock's 'Notorious' (something Lee has gone on to say as much in interviews). But anyone coming to this film expecting a romantic thriller, will be sorely disappointed.
The heroine of 'Lust, Caution' is most assuredly on her own here. There is no Cary Grant to save her from the villain (or herself) - Ang Lee fondly reminds us of this with a glimpsed poster for 'Suspicion' and also when our heroine sees 'Penny Serenade' at the cinema, we have Grant bearing down. It's a touching moment and also a subtle reminder that this tale will probably not have a happy ending! I imagine a clip from 'Notorious' would have been a bit too obvious but in another scene we do see her crying over Ingrid Bergman in 'Intermezzo' (Grant's co-star in Notorious and the original spy/whore).
But anyone who knows 'Notorious' will know the differences - not just in plot but in pacing and narrative. 'Lust, Caution' is as much an espionage thriller as Brokeback Mountain is a Western.
Characterisation is poles apart also. In 'Notorious', Ingrid Bergman's Alicia is a drunk and treated as a tramp (Personally I'd like to think she was just a hedonist who liked a good time or two - which to the more prudish and judgmental among us equals a tramp anyway). Cary Grant comes along and persuades her to become a spy, to seduce the Nazi, Alexander Sebastian (Claude Rains) in to bed so they can find out what he and his fellow Nazis are up to in Rio. Of course, Alicia is initially reluctant for many reasons. But Dev knows she's been round the block a few times - she knows the difference between work and play, and she goes along with the plan very much with her eyes wide open. And essentially what follows is a love story pretending to be a spy thriller - at the heart of 'Notorious' is a story of redemption through love. The spy element is the 'mcguffin'.
But it is still a thriller.
'Lust, Caution' on the other hand, with its deliberately slow pacing and intense eroticism, is something else entirely. One thing it is not, is a thriller. At least not in its conventional sense.
Although the 'heroine' of 'Lust, Caution' is not a virgin when she meets Mr Lee, she is very much an innocent. The clumsy, and tragically comic, fumbling 'sex lessons' she endures with one of her fellow resistance troupe is certainly NO real learning experience for life or for what she has to do. Unlike Alicia, she is an innocent to men and sexuality - she wouldn't find it so easy to distinguish between 'work and play'. Like Alicia she is 'Mata Hari' - she "makes love for the papers". A spy. Unlike Alicia, she is practically a child. But she is also an actress.
So what are we seeing? A actress giving a convincing performance for fear of risking her life? A naive innocent? A love story?
Here, we are not given the luxury of knowing what she is really thinking. That's were the tension comes from. That's its genius.
I don't think we ever truly know what the heroine is actually feeling - is she acting, is she falling in love with Mr Yee? Or is it maybe a mixture of both? Possibly. Over the course of a little under three hours I don't think we ever truly know. In the same way, we know practically nothing about Mr Yee - his actions, what he is feeling. We only know what is TOLD us, what is spoken about by the troupe of resistance fighters, what they believe - that he is a collaborator and torturer.
But we NEVER see it! (Only once, I think, does Mr Yee talk about it). Is this dishonest of the makers of Lust, Caution? Or do we really NEED to see it?
Maybe it's not important. After all, Wong Chia Chi never sees it so why should we? This is her tale.
The first real clues to Mr Yee's true nature become blisteringly apparent in the first time they have 'sex' - a scene of such brutal ferocity that it gave me a knot in my stomach - he beats her with his belt and rapes her. For the audience, it's very easy to see the corrupting monster he is from this scene. Maybe this is how he has treated his (female) captives? It's not hard to imagine. But for the naive innocent Wong Chia Chi, I think it's entirely possible to imagine her seeing this brutal act as making love - how would she know any different? She's no Mata Hari or Alicia Huberman. She doesn't know men.
I don't know. Even after a second viewing, I'm still undecided if I really like Lust Caution. I certainly find it hard to engage with the main characters.
Ultimately, the ambiguity of the heroine's motivations and the inscrutable characterisation of Mr Yee, not only alienates much of the audience but also leaves the film open to accusations of immorality - is this really a love story? And if so, do we empathise with a woman who is very likely in love with a monster? I'm inclined to hope not!
Wong Chia Chi is an actress but, even more than that, an innocent. I would say that, by the end of the story, she has become a little infatuated with (inscrutable) Mr Yee and her naivete means she makes a terrible decision that proves to be everyone's downfall. Whether he is in love with her is an irrelevance almost. It's too late.
If she - or we, the audience for that matter - were shown Mr Yee's crimes, this would be a very different story. Motivations would be black and white. Whether this would have made it a better film or easier to understand is a moot point. I do feel though, it would have been an easier film to forget.
I know just about nothing about the context here, which is the Japanese occupation in China, but the message came across clearly. The plot, in itself, is quite complicated and I feel it's useless to write it down here, mainly because I would hardly say that's L,C's principal attractive. Most importantly, at the core of the film, is a torrid, mainuplative, violent affair between Tang Wei's character and Tony Leung's. She has to get close enough to kill him, and the way to get there is too often through encounters in hotels where they don't speak to each other, they just... do it, Their communication takes place on a different level than conversation, and during those brief rendez-vous it is possible to see how they might be falling for each other. But what could be more tragic, inconvenient, and impossible than that?
Ang Lee's film has the strength of a space rocket. The emotional tension between characters and situations is such that an audience can become deeply involved in it, forget the outside world so to speak. Lee makes some not very likeable characters into people with souls and horrible conflicts. In that sense, it would be easy to catalog Lust, Caution as a tragedy, rather than a drama: sadness, sacrifice, atonement, emptiness constitute the drive behind the action, and little more. Beneath the political and moral implications, there's a huge problem worthy of Greek theater: two people desperately in love with each other, who also happen to have an unexpected, dangerous control over the other's life, and strings that attach them to causes and interests ready to pull the arm at any time. The girl has to be around the man knowing that she can't be as emotionally close as she wants to, knowing that any false step would make him kill her, and yet completely aware of the fact that she wouldn't have it any other way.
Ang Lee?s follow-up to Brokeback Mountain disappeared from cinemas with barely a trace. A pity, because it was quietly terrific: a spy thriller charting the dangerous (and extremely graphic) sado-masochistic relationship between a resistance agent and a powerful collaborator. Lee shoots their doomed erotic obsession with the cool detachment of a lepidopterist pinning a butterfly.
Best bit: An almost unwatchable botched stabbing. And the sexy bits, natch.
Nate's Grade: D
21 - Glitzy, breezy, and 100 percent predictable, [i]21[/i] is a simple con movie that goes through the motions with hyper realism. The most interesting part of the film, by far, is learning the systems that help these coeds fleece Vegas for thousands of dollars. In fact, the true story is far more interesting than this typical tale about a good kid who gets a big ego, pushes his true friends away, is humbled, and then learns a lesson while getting the girl too. What's a MIT engineer want to go to Harvard med school for? And for that matter, you're telling me there are no scholarships out there to brainy MIT students? Whatever the case, [i]21[/i] will pass the time nicely without damaging your brain. The card games are ramped up with zooming camerawork and flashy special effects by director Robert Luketic ([i]Legally Blonde[/i]), but it's all window dressing to an interesting story that was white washed into a bland but undeniably commercial movie. It's a fine time but, like Vegas, will leave you empty in the end. Still, you could do worse than overly stylized con movies about math whiz card sharks.
Nate's Grade: C+
Be Kind, Rewind - [i]Be Kind, Rewind[/i] is a celebration of the love of movies and moviemaking, but it wants to shoot for a deeper message and stumbles. When the movie concentrates on remaking famous movies like [i]Ghostbusters[/i], [i]Robocop[/i], and [i]Rush Hour 2[/i], the movie has a ramshackle charm and great comedic spirit. When the film strays to tell a tale about community pride is when the movie gets dull and leaden. The concept of cheap, quick, homemade versions of Hollywood movies (the YouTube-ification if you will) is fun and Jack Black and Mos Def are definitely having fun in the process. But the movie has too many other elements that just don't work together. The history of a local jazz legend feels awkward and bogs down the movie's enjoyment. Director Michel Gondry can only do so much with his quirky visual sensibilities before you start to get bored. [i]Be Kind, Rewind[/i] is occasionally entertaining and works best when it's ripping off other movies than trying to stand on its own merits.
Nate's Grade: C+
Grace is Gone - This Iraq War drama means well but it comes across as manipulative and morally questionable. John Cusack stars as a former military man who just found out his wife, on active duty in Iraq, has been killed. The bulk of the film's conflict deals with how Cusack will tell his two daughters that mommy is not coming home again. Instead of being upfront with his children, he takes them out of school and whisks them away on a family trip to an amusement park. His reasoning is that he wants to squeeze in a few more happy memories before the kids hear the news. To me, this is irresponsible and psychologically damaging; those kids will resent their father holding onto such important information while he encouraged his kids to shop in ignorance. The film is about 80 minutes of watching a guillotine hang over someone's head, just waiting for the moment to hit. It can get rather uncomfortable. Somewhere in this misguided drama is a poignant look at the domestic cost of the Iraq War from the family's perspective, a perspective yet to be fully articulated by the movies. Instead, [i]Grace is Gone [/i]is a well-acted but contrived drama that favors delaying the pains of reality to the point of incredulity.
Nate's Grade: C+
Lust, Caution - Ang Lee's period romance is no [i]Brokeback Mountain[/i], though there is a heavy supply of thrusting and grunting. [i]Lust, Caution[/i] is an NC-17 rated peak into life in China under Japanese occupation in the 1930s. Most of the film follows a school drama club that decides to become freedom fighters. They scheme to murder Chinese officials working with the Japanese government, and one gal (Wei Tang) is tapped to seduce and then kill a high-ranking official. For such a controversial movie, the sex scenes don't even begin until 90 minutes into the flick (though our undercover heroine is deflowered by her drama club peer for the good of her mission). The movie is exquisitely shot, handsome in its details, and the lead performance by Tang is exceptional, simmering with conflicting emotions and some real sensual heat. The sex scenes doe have an erotic potency to them and they are more explicit than the kinder gentler fare found in typical Hollywood movies that consist of only seeing the slow-motion ecstasy result from a man on top. The offbeat love story gestates too late in the film's run, leaving little time to delve deeper. Too much of the movie concerns back-story following the drama club's road to becoming revolutionaries, and while it's interesting it's also rather needless on second thought. There's a nine-minute difference between the R-rated version and the theatrical NC-17 cut; what's in those nine minutes I do not know since I saw the edited version, but I've been told it's a lot of thrusting. In lusty terms, the movie is heavy on foreplay and too short on a satisfying climax.
Nate's Grade: B-[/color][/font]
The movie has a lot of detail and beautiful cinematography but the story left me pretty cold. After 'Brokeback Mountain' you could even say that this was a miss by Mr. Lee.
Hoped so much more of it but the movie left me unsatisfied. Don't get me wrong though, 'Lust, Caution' is not a bad movie, just not my type.
I just wanted to use that line. The movie itself is great and doesn't particularly deserve it. Stirring performances, remarkable sound and imagery, and a fascinating slow-burn spy narrative reminiscent of Hitchcock make Lust, Caution well worth watching.
the original is a simplistic story of the futility of a female martyrdom. she exploits herself as bait to lure the traitor man (tony leung) but she has to dispose of her virginity first to a whoremaster to be convincing as a courtesan. this flick abounds with postwar exotic chinese sceneries in 40s, elucidated in poetic camera shot, interwined with flashbacks of the lead woman's past remorseful memories of puberty innocence. despite the cinegraphic savoring, the slavish submissiveness of chinese woman is too nauseatic to digest, especially the lead woman seems like a infant in her early teens dressed in mature woman's cheongsam, fresh and vulnerable, meanwhile bewilderingly masochistic. always hesitated to pull off her holly duty, and she retreats the assassination in the last moment so her whole team which includes herself is being prosecuted by the traitor she sleeps with.
as for the apparently delicious love scenes of tony leung going full monty, it's sorta demystifying as a matured man's shameless pedophilic abuse on a burgeoning lad with all those sadistic poises aided by abusing leash. and the last scene is injected with some faux sentimentality by depicting him eased at the bed they just make love as some tranquil dirge supressed by his suvival instinct as a traitor.
ann lee's best talent to complicate a brief story with simple plots into his own imaginative beautification of sentiments, such as brokeback mountain which was just a simple homosexual story which is about the repressed cowboy state in the original, but ann lee garnishes it with the lyrical palette of epic love. similiar with "lust, caution", he embellishes a brief news story of a college lad beguiled to serve her nation then ruined by her inappropriate mercy. the original traitor was an obesely obnoxious middle-aged man who feels complacent to trifle with a fresh woman's affection. wouldn't it be sinfully hypocritical to beautify a chauvinistic egoist with some wanton notion of forbidden love? is it attempting to affirm that woman is fickle fool of sentiment that cannot pull off national task??
(ps) from the viewpoint of historical angle, it is a hateful flick which betrays its nation by uglifying the anti-japan patriotists as wimps who utilizes female's lusciousness to defeat the traitor. and it beautifies the traitor's gentlemanship by depicting him as suave womanizer who tramps the pride of "anti-japan patriotists" by raping its elite woman who is easy to be bought off with an expensive diamond ring. it omits the part of janpanese slaughters over chinese men but describes the traitor's apprehension to be murdered instead. politically ideologically, it averses to the actual historical truth and demeans chinese culture by vowing its affinity to japan in spite of the bloody fact of nanking massacre! simply hateful!!!
it cheapens its nation and its woman with twisted historical facts to brainwash the audience by philandering them with tony leung's testicles.