Running Time 157 minutes
Written by Wang Hui Ling and James Schamus
Directed by Ang Lee
Starring Tang Wei, Tony Leung
Lust, Caution, Ang Lee’s first film since his phenomenal masterpiece, Brokeback Mountain, signals a return to his geographical roots, but in no way dilutes his passion for sex. Hong Kong, 1938. China is under the Japanese occupation. An idealistic young country girl named Wong (radiant ingénue Tang Wei) flees her village, heads for the city, and joins a group of actors with a national conscience to form a patriotic theater troupe at her university. The actors become a closely knit unit of friends and comrades who decide to shovel out a Chinese spy working for the enemy named Mr. Yee (Chinese superstar Tony Leung). At first it’s a game, like one of their plays. But when the plot turns into the violent killing of one of Mr. Yee’s employees, the humble young Wong is so devastated by what they’ve done that she flees to Shanghai. But three years later, she’s back in the resistance, resuming her pursuit of Mr. Yee, who has been posted in Shanghai. No longer just a novice freedom fighter, Wong boldly goes undercover with a new identity to infiltrate the mah-jongg-obsessed social fabric of Mr. Yee’s silly wife (Joan Chen) and her lady friends, hoping to catch the wandering eye of Mr. Yee himself, who has now graduated from the role of rising star in the collaborationist government to head of the secret police. It’s not long before the unsophisticated Wong loses more than her virginity. Mr. Yee rapes her violently and guess what? She likes it. Enough to become his mistress. Torn between her former college friends in the underground who plan to assassinate him and the cruel, sexually dominant man who holds her emotions captive, Wong is in way over her pretty head with the tailored, sadistic Mr. Yee. Loyalties are torn apart, destiny is doomed and nobody will ever again be the same.
It’s not a fresh story, and after all the nudity and brutal sex, there isn’t much of it left to tell. It’s positively amazing how boring so much sex can be when it subs for character development and compelling narrative. Despite Ang Lee’s beautiful images and masterful glimpses into the decadence and glamour of a lost Shanghai, and the limitless physical boundaries the two stars explore and then shatter, Lust, Caution is 157 minutes of tedium. The sex is painful and graphic without revelation (you never actually see anything), and neither of the two stars look like they’re having much fun. The outcome is predictable. Ang Lee still knows where the camera should go, but do not expect Lust, Caution to come anywhere close to repeating the success of Brokeback Mountain.