Film review by: Witney Seibold
Shanghai, 1939, during the Japanese occupation. A pretty young student named Wang Jiazhi (Wei Tang) falls in with a group of actors interested in political plays. The political plays inspire the troupe, led by Kuang (Lee-Hom Wang), into committing a real-life political revolution. Their chosen revolution entails “acting” their way into the inner circles of a low-level government agent Yee (Tony Leung) in order to assassinate him.
They are fine actors, but amateur resistance fighters, so they easily infiltrate Mr. Yee’s inner circles (Wang poses as a rich society lady and befriends Mrs. Yee, played by Joan Chen), but cannot actually arrange the killing properly. Wang does manage to attract the lustful eye of Mr. Yee, though, and, intrigued, begins feeling lust herself. Wang even starts sleeping with a fellow actor in order to “train” herself for any possible amours with Mr. Yee. Then there’s a twist, and the actors must split up.
Fast forward three years. Wang is living at home, and barely staving off starvation as the war has raged on. Kuang contacts her out of the blue. Kuang is now a proper resistance fighter and Mr. Yee, it turns out, is now a high-ranking government official. Kuang needs Wang to pose as the society lady again and actually go through with the assassination they started years before. Wang gladly accepts, is paid well, and it’s not long before she has contacted Mr. Yee, and they are enacting pages, 13, 15, 47, 186, and all of chapter 12 of the Kama Sutra.
“Lust, Caution” is an Important Film about the resistance in Shanghai, a story not often told in WWII films. It’s beautifully shot… really gorgeous camerawork from director Ang Lee. The colors are gorgeous… It’s about the power of lust over human reason… it’s about… political intrigue… and stuff… it’s… it’s…
Oh Lord is it ever dull. “Lust, Caution” runs nearly 2 hours and 40 minutes, and could have easily fit into 100 minutes. I usually admire films that slow down their pace and take their time, but “Lust, Caution” doesn’t merely slow things down (which would have been fine), but beats around the bush for much of its runtime. It seems determined not to get to the inevitable plotpoints. We see from the setup what is going to happen, but the film allows several scenes of largely extraneous dialogue to elapse before anything of consequence happens.
The film is rated NC-17, so we know from the outset that there’s going to be a few scenes of graphic slap-and-tickle, but the film spends nearly 90 minutes getting to the first sexing. And when it finally does happen, it’s not a great release of built-up sexual tension or an explosion of unexpected passion, it’s just another step in a plodding film. You sit back, staring at the actors’ naked bodies thinking “Oh, so that’s what Tony Leung’s scrotum looks like. Ah, and there’s Wei Tang’s pubic hair. How about that? Oh look, another weird sex position. O.k. Gee, I could use some Jr. Mints.”
Lee made one of the best films of 2005 with “BrokebackMountain,” another film about hidden lust and repressed love. “Mountain” was a beautiful meditation about the heart’s yearnings. “Lust, Caution” stays closer to the crotch than to the heart, and takes so long getting there that it’s hardly worth mentioning when we do.