"More Sexual Confusion, Of Another Color"
What You Need To Know:
This story would be enough to make a great movie, but Director Ang Lee can’t leave well enough alone, even though he is blessed by two terrific actors, Tony Leung and Tang Wei. He peppers his lengthy movie with pornographic, sometimes brutal, gratuitous sex scenes. Like Ang Lee’s BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN, this movie’s explicit sexual immorality doesn’t make much sense dramatically. Lee can’t decide whether the two characters are in lust or in love, or whether they like their relationship or are disgusted by it.
(HH, VVV, SSS, NNN, AA, D, MM) Confusing humanist worldview seems to sympathize with both right-wing fascists and their left-wing enemies, who also lack high moral standards; no foul language; brief snatch of extreme violence with blood when a man sympathizing with Japanese fascists is brutally stabbed many times and emotionally distraught man collaborating with Japanese fascists tells lover about torture incident where victim’s blood splattered his shoes and clothes; extreme adulterous sex includes sadomasochistic sodomy scene and more demure scenes where young woman fornicates with man so she can have sexual experience before she tries to become lover of fascist collaborator; many shots of full nudity and upper and rear nudity; drinking and drunkenness; smoking; and, miscellaneous immorality such as betrayal, lying, espionage, fascism, most of which is not resolved in a moral fashion that edifies viewers.
Director Ang Lee (BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN) brings more romantic confusion to his new movie, the NC-17 rated LUST, CAUTION. As in the earlier movie about two homosexual sheepherders (which was very baaaad), Lee can’t seem to tell the difference between sex, lust and love, leaving the viewer confused. That’s a real shame here, because at least in this movie’s non-sex scenes, Lee has a dynamite story that could have been a great movie if he were not so interested in shocking moviegoers with lewd scenes of pornography. Reportedly, Lee has agreed to cut the movie for the more modest Chinese audience. Apparently, the rest of the world isn’t so lucky.
Most of the movie takes place in flashback, in 1938 and 1941 in Hong Kong and Shanghai, China. Wong Chia Chi, a young woman, gets involved with a troupe of left-wing actors in 1938 Hong Kong. Wong has a knack for acting. On her first night, she brings the audience to their feet, shouting defiance against the Japanese troops invading the mainland.
One day, Kuang, the director of the troupe, has a chance encounter with an old friend, who just happens to be involved in the local Chinese collaborator working for Japan, the extremely cautious Mr. Yee. Kuang decides that the troupe must use Wong’s charms and acting skills as bait, so they can assassinate the Mr. Yee, who is already married. Though Kuang clearly loves Wong, he lets her practice sex with a more experienced member of their acting troupe to make sure Yee takes the seductive bait.
Their attempt fails, but several years later, Kuang, now working for the Chinese Resistance in Shanghai, convinces Wong to set the trap for Mr. Yee once again. This time, however, it becomes Wong who is trapped emotionally by her quarry.
The upshot of this movie is that everyone becomes trapped by the roles they play, including collaborators like Mr. Yee. In the end, he, Wong and Kuang are all trapped by the political roles they set for themselves. The result is terrible agony and death.
This would be enough to make a great movie, but Ang Lee can’t leave well enough alone, even though he is blessed by two terrific actors, Tony Leung and Tang Wei. Thus, he peppers his lengthy movie with pornographic, sometimes brutal, gratuitous sex scenes between Yee and Wong. These scenes add little insight into their characters or the story, and are confusing when placed into context of the movie’s other, almost pristine scenes. Yee and Wong are clearly drawn to one another by a smoldering passion, but Yee brutally rapes Wong in their first sexual encounter. Then, as their sex and their relationship seems to become more romantic, and perhaps even more loving, there is a confusing scene where Wong complains emotionally and bitterly to Kuang and their boss about Yee’s lust and brutality. The question arises, therefore, just what is going on between these two supposed enemies? What are Wong’s true feelings? When is she acting and when is she not?
Apparently, Ang Lee can’t decide whether the two characters are in lust or in love, or whether they like their relationship or are disgusted by it. Whether anyone but sexual deviants, which probably includes many film critics, will find this movie interesting is anyone’s guess, but we think only a few moviegoers will be anything but curious, and that in a prurient way.
This is all confusing enough (not to mention lewd enough) to make one’s head ache. Like BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN, this movie may be analyzed ad infinitum in what passes for education and film scholarship on today’s college campuses, but, except perhaps for its performances, LUST, CAUTION will be long forgotten by the vast majority of moviegoers who have enough common sense to know when they are being sold a useless cinematic bill of goods.
Ang Lee’s talented compatriot from China, Zhang Yimou (HERO, CURSE OF THE GOLDEN FLOWER and HOUSE OF FLYING DAGGERS), makes far more compelling, more interesting, and more exciting, tragic movies. And, they are far more suitable movie fare for audiences, both inside China and out.