Lust, Caution is a film directed by Ang Lee, a Taiwanese film director and producer. He is famous not only in Asia but globally for such works as Sense and Sensibility, Brokeback Mountain, and others. Lee’s films are usually very sensitive, and a spectator expects a new portion of emotions from every new work. Lust, Caution was released in 2007 and the critiques unanimously characterized it as an erotic espionage thriller film. Based on a short story with the same name of the Chinese author Eileen Chang, the film unites love, sexual humiliation, espionage, and deceit. The following paper presents my impressions about the movie and some thoughts about the plot, characters, and the emotions it awakens.
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Musical background is the thing that catches attention from the opening titles of the film. It is tender and thick at the same time. There are two main locations for the story. It begins in Shanghai of 1942, when it was occupied by the Japanese, and then gets back to Hong Kong of 1938, where the main events took place. A young and naïve student girl, Wong Chia Chi, tried to escape the Second Sino-Japanese War and moved from Shanghai to Hong Kong. In Hong Kong, she studied at Lingnan University and got involved into a patriotic drama club, where she fell in love with Kuang Yu Min, another student of the same university. However, apart from patriotic propaganda, their club develops a plan to assassinate Mr. Yee who was an agent of the government imposed by the Japanese invaders in China. Chia Chi got the most important role in this plan. She was supposed to seduce Mr. Yee and take him to some isolated location where her fellow students could kill him. I was especially moved by her decision to participate in this plan. However, I believe she did id not because of her strong patriotic feelings, but because of affection to Kuang.
Thus, she became Mrs. Mak. According to the created legend, she was a glamorous and beautiful wife of a successful Hong Kong businessman who was always busy at work and in business trips. The legend allowed her entering the Hong Kong selected circle where she managed to get acquainted with Mrs. Yee and was invited to her home to play Mahjong. It was not difficult for the young girl to attract Mr. Yee and they got into an affair. In my opinion, Chia Chi made a significant sacrifice. She was virgin, and had to play a role of a married women, so she had to practice sex with another student. However, despite the fact that Chia Chi did everything she was expected to do, her fellows failed to assassinate Mr. Yee. I felt that Chia Chi made more efforts to accomplish the plan of their group than the other members. Still, they were just students and did not have any special preparation. After some time, Mr. and Mrs. Yee had to move to Shanghai, and the patriotic students lost an opportunity to achieve their goal. Moreover, Yee’s subordinate revealed the fact that Mr. and Mrs. Mak were not the ones they pretended to be, and the students killed him and hide.
Back to Shanghai, Chia Chi met Kuang again. He had another plan to assassinate Mr. Yee and the girl agreed to help again. The second part of the story is more violent and more emotional at the same time. Chia Chi in the role of Mrs. Mak becomes Mr. Yee’s mistress. At that time, he already was the head of secret police department, and thus a more important figure. Consequently, his assassination was expected to produce a more significant effect. In my opinion, this part of the film is particularly rich with emotions, because Chia Chi became really attached to Mr. Yee and still had to kill him. Her emotional bond to this man made her save him when an attempt of assassination was planned. It was the scene in a jewelry shop, which was a perfect place for assassination. Thus, already seeing the resistance agents, Chia Chi told Mr. Yee to run away and saved his life.
Later that day, the resistance group including Chia Chi and Kuang was caught. Mr. Yee signed death warrant for all members of the group including Chia Chi and they all were executed.
The film became an issue of debate for censors. The scenes of sex and violence made it unsuitable for some parts of audience (“Caution: Lust”). Still, the movie also managed to collect positive feedback both from critics and the spectators. Thus, Thompson in The Washington Post review claims that Ang Lee “has created an affecting, minor-key ode to love, in the tradition of films such as “The Night Porter,” “Dance with a Stranger,” “M. Butterfly” and “Damage.” Lim compares the film with one of the director’s previous works, Brokeback Mountain, and quotes the director who claimed that if Brokeback was about the paradise lost, then Lust, Caution is “down in the cave, a scary place” and is more like hell.
What I love about Ang Lee as a director, is his selection of stories for backgrounds of the movies. Some critiques agree that “he does not direct movies according to fashion or the dictates of short attention spans” (Travers). With his Lust, Caution he took a risk and created a film, which may seem too long and slow for a thriller, but a patient and interested spectator is rewarded with a rich storyline. It is not overloaded with events, but is full of emotions and issues to think not with the brain, but with one’s heart. The beginning of the film can be considered as “an exceedingly well-made but conventional wartime spy drama” and I agree with this description (Stevens). Still, the second part changes this impression. The correlation between “good revolutionists” and “bad collaborationist guy” here collapse (Stevens). It creates an effect of a new story, both similar to other war films and absolutely individual. Another amazing feature mentioned by reviewers is the depiction of the streetscapes of Shanghai (Bradshaw). I agree with the reviewers that the background is particularly important for this film.
Summarizing, I should say that Lust, Caution is not a film for everyone and may be not a good choice for the weekend. Still, it is a valuable creation of the film industry and is worth watching. However, it should be kept in mind that the film received an NC-17 rating, which means it is not allowed for children under 18. It is not a conventional war story. It has its peculiar features, which make the movie easy to recognize. I am not sure if I watch Lust, Caution again, but I do not regret the time spent on watching it.
Bradshaw, Peter. “Lust, Caution.” The Guardian, Web.
“Caution: Lust.” The Economist. 2008. Web.
Lim, Dennis. “Love as an Illusion: Beautiful to See, Impossible to Hold.” The New York Times, Web.
Stevens, Dana. “Lust, Caution.” Slate. 2007. Web.
Thompson, Desson. “‘Lust, Caution’s’ Open Hearts Aren’t for Closed Minds.” Washington Post, Web.
Travers, Peter. “Lust, Caution (Se jie).” The Rolling Stone. 2007. Web.