Frustrated in his attempts to assassinate Yee, who is an important official in Japanese-ruled Shanghai, Old Wu, who has lost his wife and two sons as well as two women who had attempted to seduce Yee, now recruits Kuang, Mai Tai Tai, and their troupe of drama students from Hong Kong University in yet another attempt to do away with Yee. Mai Tai Tai is chosen to befriend Yee, which she does by posing as the wife of Mak, befriending Yee's wife and her female friends, and then eventually befriending Yee himself. Even though both get together, they do end up going separate ways, only to meet again four years later. This time Mai is all set to entrap Yee at Chandni Chowk Jewellers which is owned by an East Indian man named Khalid Saiduddin. The question does remain: Will she and her troupe succeed? Written by
I had been hyping myself up a great deal for Lust, Caution ever since I first heard of the project, so I'm glad to say that it did not disappoint. The film was a beautifully executed "espionage thriller," if you want to go with how it's being marketed to a broad audience. Steeped in the historically and culturally turbulent period of the second Sino-Japanese War, one must applaud Ang Lee for the dizzying array of minutiae he oversaw as director.
Because of the nature of the film's protagonist Wang Jiazhi (played by a newcomer named Tang Wei - not shabby for your first feature) as an agent working under a second identity to ensnare a dangerous collaborationist (Tony Leung), all the scenes where Wang masquerades as the bourgeois Ms. Mai are fraught with a psychological tension, doubling with the political agenda at stake as well as her womanhood. She portrays both roles with heartbreaking deftness; a great casting choice if there ever was one. While not as physically alluring as some of her competitors for the role - Chinese language actresses including Zhou Xun and Shu Qi - I don't think anyone else could have pulled it off like Tang. She convincingly transforms herself from a naive college girl to coy seductress...and back again.
The film struck quite a few personal nerves on my part too. While mainstream cinema should be, you know, self-sustaining or whatever you want to call it, there's really a lot to this movie that gets lost in subtitling to an extent, but also just in context and culture. Etiquette at the mah-jongg table; the omnipresent yet understated background of wartime occupation; political interests in the Chinese Civil War era; the weight of regional identity in dialects and interpersonal relationships. Tang Wei spoke Mandarin, Cantonese, and Shanghainese. My only thought is: What a hottie.
The sex scenes are...something else. As echoed by most critics, they serve the story perfectly in capturing the urgency that Tang and Leung have in their precarious affair. There's a lot of violence in them, and it is through these carnal and savage acts that Tony Leung's Mr. Yee character is established as a very dangerous man. I won't spoil too much but there were several times when it became too difficult to watch.
There were quite a few moments that made my heart flutter and eyes wobble. I'll just leave it at that.
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