Herald rating: * * *
Cast: Tony Leung, Tang Wei, Joan Chen
Director: Ang Lee
Running Time: 158 minutes
Rating: R18 (violence, sex scenes)
Screening: Rialto, SkyCity Cinemas.
Verdict: A beautiful but lengthy and self-indulgent affair from Ang Lee.
Ang Lee's erotic espionage drama, Lust, Caution is filled with the director's typical cinematic characteristics; intense yet restrained and internalised emotion, stunning visuals, and thoughtful detail. Loosely based on an actual even that took place in Hong Kong and Shanghai during World War II, the film studies the complexity of love rather than politics, or history and like Brokeback Mountain is an adaptation of a short novel, this time by Chinese author Eileen Chang.
The film opens in Japanese occupied Shanghai in 1942, and quickly flashes back four years introducing us to Wong Chia Chi (Tang Wei), a shy young university student who has fled from China to Hong Kong. She joins a patriotic theatre group lead by the charismatic Kuang Yu Min (Wang Leehom) who convinces this small group of young naive idealists that they can do more for their homeland than just putting on plays.
Kuang comes up with a plan to assassinate a top Chinese official and Japanese collaborator Mr Lee (Tony Leung) who has also temporarily fled to Hong Kong. The plan is for Wong to use her new acting skills to play the part of Mrs Mak, a sophisticated and worldly woman who will befriend Lee's wife (Joan Chen), hoping that she can draw her husband into an affair, giving the group an opportunity to kill him.
Their slightly fanciful and comedic plan almost works, but Lee escapes, leaving the group shaken by the reality of what they were trying to achieve.
A changed woman, Wong moves back to Shanghai to live with her aunt, and three years later is discovered again by Kuang, now a member of the organised resistance, who informs her that they have one more chance to finish what they started in Hong Kong. With nothing to lose, Wong transforms herself back into Mrs Mak and goes in search of Mr Lee, now head of the secret service in Shanghai.
Newcomer Tang Wei was selected from more than 10,000 actresses to star as Wang, and like all the beautiful styled, sharp-tongued women in this film, is absolutely captivating as Mrs. Mak. She deals with the brutal and explicit sex scenes with total trust in her director and her co-star, Asian cinema icon Tony Leung, and is no doubt a young star on the rise.
All this said, Lust, Caution is a long drawn-out affair more for avid fans of Chinese cinema. While it's a beautiful film to watch the combination of a simple plot and its thoughtfully slow pacing drags this film out, making Lee appear uncharacteristically self-indulgent.