Lust, Caution

Posted October 24, 2007 in Film

 Ang Lee’s wrenching WWII drama is set among the spies and back-stabbers of the Japanese occupation of China. Based on Eileen Chang’s short story (a title card that provoked snickers as the audience bunkered down for the 2 1/2 hour running time), it follows the psychological disintegration of Wong Chia Chi (Tang Wei), a doll-faced college girl, whose knack for acting is her gift and curse. Performing saccharine dreck at Resistance fundraisers, she manages to wring tears from the crowd. But the freedom fighters next mission is more challenging: Pose as wealthy merchant’s wife Mak Tai Tai and observe, seduce, and assassinate brutal, paranoid Chinese turncoat Mr. Lee (Wong Kar Wai fav Tony Leung) by befriending his catty wife (Joan Chen) with idle afternoons of gossip and Mahjong. (In a skin-crawling scene, the rebels realize the virgin can’t improv sexual experience and press her to sleep with a friend who’s only familiar with whores.) Lee’s film earns its NC-17; the violence is visceral and the sex isn’t arousing but upsettingly raw and blunt. The worst part of Wong and Mr. Lee’s first encounter isn’t that he chokes her or tears her hair, but that she’s so dead inside she smiles. What lingers is the suspicion that women—though they rarely hoist a gun—carry a burden of war they can’t ever put down, and that even noble idealists can justify turning their girls into whores. (Amy Nicholson)


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