The object of your love is tainted, far from perfect, despised, by many. You have your life ahead of you. You are, during one of the most perfect times in your life, at a University.
Ang Lee knows how to make big films, epic stories, and combine them with authentically mind blowing imagery. The film Lust Caution is long, (and taxing for me as I had to translate the French subtitles, because the film is in Chinese dialect) and has a lot to take in. Still, it is full of riches, great performances and suggests deep, ponderous questions. The setting for the film is a tragic period in Chinese history, the Japanese occupation. This is an entirely different film from the much lauded Brokeback Mountain, Ang Lee’s previous film that touched on other human issues in such a profound way. The principle character is Wong Chia Chi / Mrs. Mak (played by the beautiful and enchanting Tang Wei) who gives a mesmerizing performance. We see her early on in the film as a student, who has friends and her whole life in front of her. However, China is at war and the calling of patriotism leads her on an extraordinary mission. She was selected to play the part from two hundred actresses. The candidates must have been tested to the extreme. We see her and other students acting in a patriotic play. One of the students encourages his comrades to embark on a dangerous mission, inconceivable under normal circumstances, to kill a collaborator. The potential victim is a married man whose wife seems to spend her time playing Mahjong. As a collaborator Mr Yee (Tony Leung Chiu-Wai) seems to live a life full of advantages; a chauffeur to drive him, and protection, should anyone try to assassinate him. He does not present an easy target.
From acting in a college play, Wong Chia Chi, has to undertake the role of Mrs Mak and the only way to penetrate the ring of protection of Mr. Yee is to seduce him. Any innocence she had previously is lost. The human mind is so complex and unpredictable, especially when it comes to lust and sexuality. It is not beyond the realm of possibility that a captive can fall in love with their jailor. There is nothing endearing about Mr. Yee. Their first sexual encounter is violent and direct, Mr Yee ripping off her clothes slapping her and affording the respect a maltreated prostitute would begrudge. As time moves on, their passion is stoked up, putting Wong Chia Chi in an ever increasing uncompromising situation with some stark choices.
The film in the end takes us to the edge of an abyss. I enjoyed the detail in this film, and the authenticity of this tragic period in Chinese history.
Footnote: a source told me, the lead actress’s boyfriend left her after seeing her in action in this film. How he could walk out, despite some of the more rampant scenes, is beyond me
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