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Lust, Caution (Ang Lee, 2007)

There's no doubt while watching Ang Lee's Lust, Caution that you're in the hands of a supreme filmmaker. Clocking in at about 160 minutes long, this espionage thriller set in Shanghai during the Japanese occupation has scarcely a second of wasted time. Extremely talky, it's never less than spellbinding to look at. Everything from its classy cinematography, to its deft editing, to its attractive cast, to its exquisite costumes, features a level of technical polish that few films can match. Furthermore, even though Lee goes after intrigue over action here, he infuses even the most outwardly mundane sequences, like that of the opening mahjong game, with the graceful, fluid camerawork of a Crouching Tiger fight scene. Everything is so immaculately constructed that one canít help but wish the intellectualized story was more of a gut grabber.

Telling a politicized tale of sexual repression, Lust, Caution focuses on Wang Jiazhi, played by Wei Tang in a wholly accomplished performance that feels like as much of a breakthrough as Zhang Ziyi's Crouching Tiger turn was a few years back. A young student turned revolutionary spy, she engages in an extended undercover stint in which she attempts to set the traitorous, but careful, Yee (Tony Leung) up for an assassination attempt. Leung remains elusive for most of the film's duration, and a large portion of his performance is delivered through a series of sex scenes that demonstrate just how sadistic a traitor he is playing. Several Hitchcock references are made during the movie, and the before long it becomes obvious that Lust, Cautionís natural touchstone is his Notorious, which definitively covered similar, sexually embroiled ground.

Despite its epic runtime, Lust, Caution offers a straightforward, laser focused narrative with an intimate scale. Most of the film is spent questioning to what degree a person can separate personal feelings from political ones. This theme emerges early on as the youth group that the story follows joins the nationalist cause through a mix of genuine want to help their motherland and old-fashioned peer pressure. Lee keeps probing this theme throughout the rest of the movie, mining considerable drama from the central question of where Wang Jiazhi's loyalties truly lie. It's worthy fodder for an epic treatment, delivered with all of the class one would expect from one of our most consistent and exciting moviemakers.

 

66

Jeremy Heilman

01.09.08