Cinematography can be regarded as an artistic reflection of the society, its events, and its people. It is natural that such events as revolutions and people’s fight against invaders or oppressors will be in the spotlight. The films Eternity in Flames (1965) and Lust, Caution (2007) focus on underground resistance and the events that took place in China in the first part of the 20th century. It is noteworthy that both films are based on novels that have been popular for decades. The cinematographic works mentioned above depict the struggle of female patriots who sacrifice their lives. However, their struggle, their lives, and the way they are featured are very different. The films were made with a gap in almost fifty years, which makes them quite different. This paper includes an analysis of the image of underground resistance revealed in the films Eternity in Flames (1965) and Lust, Caution (2007).
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It is necessary to start with the protagonists of the films under analysis. The filmmakers decided to focus on female members of underground resistance movements. The films show the movements where females play central roles. Sister Jiang is the protagonist in Eternity in Flames (1965), and Chia Chi is the main character in Lust, Caution (2007). The two characters are very different. Sister Jiang is a married woman having a baby son (Eternity in Flames). She is a chief of an underground revolutionary journal and is married to a leader of a guerrilla group. Chia Chi is a young student who joins an underground student resistance movement (Lust, Caution). The major similarity between the two women is their commitment to their beliefs.
Sister Jiang becomes the leader of her husband’s guerrilla band (Eternity in Flames). Chia Chi is ready to seduce an enemy to help her comrades kill him. The two heroines (as well as the rest of the characters) are ready to sacrifice many things (Lust, Caution). Sister Jiang leaves her only son when her husband is killed. Her struggle started with a certain kind of commitment and abstract readiness to make sacrifices if needed. In the course of her revolutionary activity, she has to lose her husband and her son. These losses make her even more committed to continuing her fight. Chia Chi has to start sexual life with one of her comrades to get closer to their target. She also has to be his mistress. The young innocent girl has to lose her virginity, forget about shame, as well as her dreams about normal life. She also has to give up her dreams about the man she truly loves. Eventually, both women sacrifice their lives, which is regarded as liberation.
The films are quite remarkable as they depict different kinds and aspects of the resistance movement. In Eternity in Flames (1965), the revolutionary effort is shown as an organized activity of a mature group that has specific agenda and goals as well as a myriad of accomplished tasks (Zheng 196). The movement is quite successful as Sister Jiang manages to reach many people’s minds and hearts through their journal. The student group featured in Lust, Caution (2007) is a circle of like-minded patriots who are eager to make their country free but are too unskilled to succeed (Weng 331). They are depicted as dreamers rather than active doers and real actors of change. Their efforts are appealing and worth appraisal. Nevertheless, they are quite disorganized. Their first big project fails due to many reasons, one of which was the members being unprepared to do what they were doing.
Torture is a significant component of the image of the resistance movement revealed in the films under study. Sister Jiang has to endure horrible tortures, but she never betrays her comrades (Zheng 197). The woman is exposed to enormous physical pain and suffering as her Nationalist captors used all possible ways to suppress the revolutionary movement. The focus on this kind of torture is due to the time of the film production. In the 1960s, it was impossible to consider other types of violence although sexual abuse was quite common.
The version of the struggle against oppressors of the 2010s (or rather 1980s as the book was written in 1979) depicted in Lust, Caution (2007) concentrates on another type of torture. The protagonist experiences sexual and emotional abuse. Chia Chi’s first sexual intercourse with Yee is characterized by certain violence. The very idea of the need to start a sexual relationship with an enemy can be regarded as emotional torture (Luo 85). It is noteworthy that this torture is inflicted by the protagonist’s comrades. First, the girl agrees to seduce the man and is committed to the goal. However, she understands that she may be unable to do what is required and addresses other members of the group to make everything quicker. However, her comrades do not feel the danger and continue the young woman’s emotional torture.
Another concept closely linked to any revolutionary movement is the betrayal. The films in question shed light on this aspect of underground resistance. Sister Jiang becomes a captive due to the betrayal of one of the members of her group. The plot is rather conventional as leaders are often betrayed by their subordinates who are not as strong (Zheng 197). The main heroine becomes a martyr of the movement. Her suffering and her death become an inspiration for others to start or continue their struggle.
The concept of betrayal in Lust, Caution (2007) is more complex. The protagonist is the traitor whose deed remains concealed. She does not explicitly tell about her resistance circle and her comrades, but seasoned Yee understands everything when the young girl pleads him to leave (Lust, Caution). Her weakness is very costly as all her comrades are executed. She is not spared, but the major torture is her understanding of her disgrace. She suffers as Chia Chi knows that all those deaths are her fault. The protagonist cannot be a martyr although she is in the eyes of her comrades. The viewer understands that there is no actual martyr in the film. The image of underground resistance acquired the shade of unprofessionalism and doom. At that, this is a valuable facet of the entire revolutionary movement. The film shows that different groups tried to fight and each input mattered since the oppressors never knew what to expect. The case with Chia Chi is remarkable as even a young mistress could be an assassin.
The two films also shed light on the emotional load of the underground resistance. Sister Jiang’s story is quite linear as the struggle is bipolar. The protagonist is a brave fighter and a martyr while the enemies are cruel and violent (Eternity in Flames). All the feelings the heroine expresses are adequate and consistent with the conventional image of revolutionary struggle. The filmmakers show the movement as a union of patriots who are ready to give everything for their land.
Again, the emotional load of the other story is more complex. The young protagonist has to live through various challenges and express a plethora of emotions. She is an innocent girl who has to lose her virginity to fulfill an important task. Irrespective of this negative experience, Chia Chi remains committed to her struggle (Lust, Caution). Until her second encounter with Yee, her feelings and emotions are quite straightforward. She is brave as she knows that the enemy has to be defeated. However, as her relationship with Yee progresses, the young girl’s emotion become more complex. The enemy transforms into a close one while comrades are unable to hear the young girl. Chia Chi understands that she endangers her friends’ lives when she helps Yee escape. However, she still lets the enemy go. The complexity of underground resistance is revealed as the line between the enemy and friend was often blurred. Traitors, friends, beloved, enemies interacted and collaborated under different circumstance. The film Lust, Caution (2007) unveils some of the complexities of any revolutionary movement.
As has been mentioned above, the differences between the two films are mainly due to the time of their production as well as the purpose they served. The film Eternity in Flames (1965) was released in China at the time when censorship was strict (Zheng 198). Moreover, all works of art were to be tools of propaganda. The film became one of these instruments (Cai 39). The struggle against enemies was shown in terms of the existing traditions. The protagonists had to be committed and ready to sacrifice everything. The film was to inspire people and make them understand that the country was heading to the bright future that could come into existence due to high prices paid by true patriots.
The film Lust, Caution (2007) was produced in the 2000s and shown in many countries. The topics addressed are more controversial as compared to Eternity in Flames (1965) as the modern society is prepared to discuss such issues as sexual and phycological abuse. The film was not created as a tool for propaganda. It was rather a stimulus to start a debate and consider different aspects of underground resistance and people’s lives behind it. There are no strict lines between the good and the bad. For instance, Yee stops being just an enemy at a certain point. At the same time, Chia Chi is not a victim while she is a martyr in her comrades’ eyes.
In conclusion, it is necessary to note that the films in question develop quite different images of underground resistance. Eternity in Flames (1965) depict people’s struggle against their oppressors in a conventional way. The protagonist is a committed patriot who sacrifices everything in the name of their goal. However, the image of this struggle is rather different in Lust, Caution (2007). The protagonist is a patriot who becomes confused and unable to solve certain ethical dilemmas. This inability leads to her death as well as the end of the group’s fight as all members die. The two films show how different revolutionary movements can be.
Cai, Shenshen. State Propaganda in China’s Entertainment Industry. Routledge, 2016.
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Eternity in Flames. Directed by Shui Hua, China Film Press, 1965.
Luo, Liang. “ Performing the Political in Lust, Caution.” Trans-Humanities Journal, vol. 8, no. 3, 2015, pp. 85-109.
Lust, Caution. Directed by Ang Lee, River Road Entertainment, 2007.
Weng, Leihua. “Time, History, and Nation in Ang Lee’s Lust, Caution.” Symploke, vol. 25, no. 1-2, 2017, pp. 331-353.
Zheng, Wang. Finding Women in the State: A Socialist Feminist Revolution in the People’s Republic of China, 1949-1964. University of California Press, 2016.