2007-11-02 / Community

'Lust, Caution' - Lee In Lust

Review By Robert Snyder

Film director Ang Lee is chameleon-like in his selection of topics, from Jane Austen to Kung Fu to his Oscar-winning homosexual western "Brokeback Mountain."

The last film seems to have put him in a bit of a holding pattern, regarding sexual kinkiness. His recent "Lust, Caution," delves deep into the fine line between prurient desire and romantic love. Similar to Paul Verhoeven's "Black Book," it explores this territory using a Mata Hari heroine in a '40s wartime world.

The scene is Japanese-occupied Shanghai, where a group of drama students have naive expectations about infiltrating the ruling power. They plan to assassinate Chinese official Mr. Yee (Tony Leung-Chiu-Wai), who is collaborating with the Japanese. The group's main weapon is pretty Wong Chia Chi (Tang Wei), recruited and groomed to become Mr. Yee's mistress. Posing as Mrs. Mak Tai Tai, Wong joins the mah-jongg table with Yee's wife (Joan Chen) and gossipy lady friends. The intrigue moves slowly as the target keeps his guard (and pants) up. However, the plot explodes into David Cronenberg-style "Eastern Promises" gore, when the students attack a suspicious aide to Yee in a bloody stab-fest, resembling Julius Caesar's infamous Ides of March day at the Senate.

Things settle down and time passes, until Wong worms her way into Yee's bed. The collaborator's defenses and clothes drop before the now considerable charms of the seductress'. Soon, Lee's film transforms from "Notorious" to "Kama Sutra," highlighted by sequences of extreme sexual calisthenics. As in "Brokeback," the aggressive (though far more explicit) sex play grows into something deeper. The once cold-hearted official finds himself thawing with love. A trip to the jewelry store has him invest in an expensive gem to adorn his new love's finger. The ice is also melting his Mata Hari, who fatally clutches up before completing the conspiracy scheme.

Like all of Lee's films, the acting and timed tension contribute to the smooth and silky, captivating cinematic spell. Still, the restraint shown in "Brokeback" is sacrificed, earning "Lust" an NC-17 rating.

Maybe the versatile Lee should move into other movie pastures. Why not try a Disney-type fairy tale or two?

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