I couldn’t help but notice the audience for this film was made up of an interesting number of boys in their late teens / early twenties. They could have been there because of Ang Lee, fascinated to see what the director has in store for us next since his career has veered from period drama (Sense & Sensibility) to pretentious martial arts (Crouching Tiger) to men in love (Brokeback Mountain) to a big green bloke who you should keep away from when he’s a bit miffed (Hulk). They could have been there because they were absolutely fascinated with Chinese history during the end of the second world war, and were keen on watching a 157 minute film, largely in Mandarin, to find out more. Or, and forgive me for being a little bit cynical, they could well have picked this film because it features several scenes that are so graphic they have been dubbed by some as verging on porn.
But hey - even if the lads were after cheap thrills, they ended up subjecting themselves to a piece of richly satisfying and absorbing film. Perhaps the only chance they’ll get for such enrichment before stumbling back home to play on Champ Manager for seven hours. Anyhoo, back to Lust, Caution; two words explored in depth by Lee in this tale of a young girl enlisted to bring down a powerful but corrupt man by becoming his mistress. There’s a lot more going on in terms of plot, but rather than waste time explaining details, why don’t I just say it’s good, so go and see it.
Granted, the chunky running time and subtitles might put some off, and this isn’t the enjoyable time-waster that I Am Legend was. Lust, Caution will intrigue and repulse, lift and depress. For every lust portion, there’s certainly a caution. Long, sizzling stares between yearning characters; violent sexual assault. A softening heart and crumbling emotional barriers in the hardest of men; a distressing, drawn-out murder scene that had even the likes of me wincing. It sounds like hard work but surprisingly isn’t, with moments of comedy and a solid undercover plot behind it all that’s comfortingly familiar but adds extra elements of tension.
As for those scenes. Well, they certainly leave nothing to the imagination, acting in parts as a practical guide to the karma sutra. They are, however, used for a purpose, charting the relationship progression in ways no amount of frolicking in a field of flowers could manage. Plus you can play the “are they / aren’t they?” game - quite frankly some shots make it very difficult to tell what’s real. And if it’s not real, then you certainly have to marvel at the precise, err, I suppose you could use the term “tucking” that must have been involved.
Tucking aside, the film’s key players, Wei Tang and Tony Leung Chiu Wai, are superb, the look and feel is remarkably fresh considering it’s set in the stuffy past, and on a girly note there are some really pretty dresses. Brokeback was a powerful film, but too close to tragic love-story for me to fully enjoy (I’m not a fan of those). Lust, Caution has similar elements, but with a gripping plot, scintillating character interaction and an unusual blend of, well, lust and caution. It even stood up to the sleepy/slightly hung-over test, and therefore soars in with a CF3. Well done Ang!