Lust, Caution

Lust, Caution


Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

Lust – the word that speaks of inflamed passions, repressed longing and seriously naughty sex stands ill at ease with this rather languid exploration of freedom fighting during the Japanese occupation of Shanghai in the early 1940s. In fact, Long, Caution, would be a better title for this two-and-a-half hour slog.

The action begins part way through story, during the first (of far too many) mah-jong games that pepper this period drama. The game is being held at the house of the head honcho in the Chinese secret police, Mr Yee (Tony Leung). Thanks to a penchant for torture and a steely heart, he has worked his way up within the collaborationist government. But what’s this, despite his wife (Joan Chen) being in the room, could there be a frisson between him and one of the younger players Mrs Mak (Tang Wei)?

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There could and there is. As we come – eventually and labouriously – to discover, Mrs Mak is, in fact, Wong Chia Chi a former theatre student who ingratiated herself into the Yee household with a view to offing him. Despite an amateur plot going ghastly awry, she finds herself, some years later, enlisted to enter the lion’s den once more to finish the job.

Director Ang Lee is no stranger to long movies, having comfortably broken the two-hour barrier with his critically mauled Hulk (“Hulk crush puny runtimes”) and, rather more successfully with Brokeback Mountain. Also, as with Brokeback, Lee has courted controversy courtesy of the sexual element of the film, which earned it a NC-17 rating in the US and has seen it branded 18 on this side of the Pond. The sex is certainly acrobatic but utterly ludicrous at the same time. The idea of lovers segueing from one position to the next without so much as an “Oy you, watch where you’re putting your elbow” is absurd and has all the choreography of Strictly Come Shagging rather than being the exploration of lust the title suggests.

The characterisation is also poor – particularly for such a bloated film. While Leung does his best to give Lee a sinister edge, nothing can save Wei from a thankless task as the virginal idealist who turns into a killer but then, oops a daisy, begins to fall for the man she is supposed to hate. The fact that their first sexual encounter is disturbingly brutal, makes this all the more farfetched.

There is no denying that the film looks beautiful – but, as your mum will tell you, it’s what lies beneath that counts. Lee should have taken a leaf out of Eileen Chang’s story on which it is based and kept the action short.

Reviewed on: 03 Jan 2008
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Espionage, betrayal and athletic sex in 1940s Shanghai.
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Director: Ang Lee

Writer: James Schamus, Hui-Ling Wang, based on the short story by Eileen Chang

Starring: Tony Leung, Wei Tang, Joan Chen, Lee-Hom Wang, Chung Hua Tou, Chih-ying Chu, Ying-hsien Kao, Yue-Lin Ko, Johnson Yuen, Kar Lok Chin, Su Yan

Year: 2007

Runtime: 157 minutes

BBFC: 18 - Age Restricted

Country: US, China, Taiwan, Hong Kong


London 2007

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