Tuesday, September 25, 2007

LUST, CAUTION: More Caution Than Lust

LUST, CAUTION (war romance/drama in Mandarin & Cantonese)

Cast: Tony Leung Chiu-Wai, Tang Wei, Joan Chen and Wang LeeHom
Director: Ang Lee
Time: 142 mins
Rating: * * * (out of 4)

PREAMBLE: When you are having an illicit affair at a time when the country is at war and everything is in turmoil, you need to exercise a fine balance between Lust and Caution. The same applies when you are in love with someone who has to carry out a dangerous mission: you need to balance feelings of Love with Caution.

Now that I have explained the title of Ang Lee's latest movie (adapted from a short story by Eileen Chang), let me add that this version of "Lust, Caution" for Malaysian audiences is five per cent Lust, 95 per cent Caution - and a whole lot of plot build-up. This is partly because the 'original' version shown at the Venice Film Festival was 157 minutes long while the censored version for local viewing is only 142 minutes. Yes, 15 minutes of the much-touted seduction and torrid sex scenes were snipped away, leaving us to imagine what the first half of the title is all about!

WHAT'S IT ABOUT? The story is about Wang Jiazhi (newcomer Tang Wei, pictured above with Tony Leung), a first-year Hong Kong university student who is roped in by fellow student Kuang Yumin (Wang Leehom) to join the Resistance against the Japanese in 1938. Their mission is to infiltrate the home of Mr Yee (Tony Leung Chiu-wai) and his mahjong-playing wife (Joan Chen) so that they can target Mr Yee for assassination. Yee, you see, is collaborating with the Japanese occupiers and been responsible for the torture and death of hundreds of patriots. In Hong Kong, Jiazhi manages to lure Yee to her fellow conspirators but the hit fails at the last minute.

Fast-forward to Shanghai in 1941: Jiazhi is now a poor student living with her aunt and studying Japanese. Kuang re-enters her life one day, with news that Yee is in Shanghai. He persuades Jiazhi to reactivate their mission - to seduce the guy again and set him up for termination. Mr Yee, however, is a very cautious man, given the nature of his job - and the more Jiazhi gets 'entangled' with him, the deeper she falls for him. At one stage, Huang and Jiazhi, who realises the predicament she is in, even beg their handlers to complete the mission quickly. The conflict between duty and desire comes to a head when Yee and Jiazhi decide to throw caution to the wind and indulge in their lust...

HIGHS & LOWS: Ang Lee's directorial trademarks in "Lust, Caution" are unmistakable. The locations (some of which were shot in Penang and Ipoh) and sets are lush and detailed, the cinematography by Rodrigo Prieto (of "Babel" and "Brokeback Mountain") captures the 'country-at-war' atmosphere vividly, and the music score helps to evoke the appropriate emotions. However, Ang Lee is better known for pushing the limit with his films (like the gay factor in "Brokeback Mountain") and here he reportedly does what nobody had dared to with sexually-explicit scenes in mainstream Chinese cinema. Alas, it is a pity we just don't get to see how far he had gone.

So for Malaysian audiences, "Lust, Caution" will probably be remembered for the sterling performance by newcomer Tang Wei who has us on tenterhooks whenever her Jiazhi carries out her mission. Contrary to expectation, Tang Wei's lines and wardrobe are rather tame - but she still manages to hold our awe and sympathy throughout the movie. Leung is a veteran at this seduction game (read: "In The Mood For Love") and this role must have been a walk-in-the-park for him. Joan Chen is largely wasted in scenes confined to the mahjong table. LeeHom is passable in expressing the 'subplot' about 'Love, Caution' - as a guy who is too careful to show his love for Jiazhi until it is too late.

THE LOWDOWN: This 'cleaned-up' or 'cautious' version is still a must for Ang Lee fans - who will probably be waiting for the full-length version on DVD.


At 2:27 am, Blogger jesscet said...

yep, the `lust' part has to be left to viewers' imagination but overall it did not really affect the story.

tony leung's role is like `walk-in-the-park'? quite the contrary! there had been many write-up on how even the experienced award-winning actor found it so intense and stressed to play this role. he said it's his most difficult role to date! because he had to put himself in the person of this dark, sadist traitor character of Mr Yee - too engrossed i guess?

At 11:58 am, Blogger Lim Chang Moh said...

Hi Jesset, thanks for the comments. As for Tony Leung's role, I could only comment on what I saw of his acting on the screen. Would love to catch the steamy scenes though. Cheers!


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