Eugene Weekly : Movies : 11.21.07


Sex, Tedium

LUST, CAUTION: Directed by Ang Lee. Written by Wang Hui Ling and James Schamus, based on the short story “Se, jei” by Eileen Chang. Cinematography, Rodrigo Prieto. Music, Alexandre Lesplat. Starring Tony Leung, Tang Wei, Joan Chen and Wang Leehom. Focus Features, 2007. NC-17. 157 minutes.

Tang Wei and Tony Leung in Lust, Caution

If little else about it compels you, you might at least find Ang Lee’s Lust, Caution quite lovely to look at. As shot by Rodrigo Prieto (the director of photography on Alejandro González Iñárritu’s films), WWII-era Hong Kong and Shanghai are elegant, drab places where light often seems to come from within people, their faces bright spots in dim parlors and streets. The brightest spot in these streets is the gorgeous face of Wong Chia Chi (Tang Wei), a student and actress who turns revolutionary when she’s recruited by a small group of fellow students working to overthrow the Japanese occupation. Tang’s composed bearing and acting skills suit her well in the task she’s given: earning the trust (and lust) of Mr. Yee (Tony Leung), a collaborator with the Japanese. Between snappy mah-jongg games with Mrs. Yee (Joan Chen) and friends, Wong does just that.

Lee’s film dances lightly with issues of identity, love and power, but it remains flat and stuffy, despite both Lee’s attention to gorgeous detail (the dresses! the teacups!) and the intense, realistic sex scenes that earned the film an NC-17 rating. What ought to carry the film is the relationship between Wong and Mr. Yee, set against the realities of this period in Chinese history. But there is too little character on which to base Wong and Yee’s connection, and the story seems to sit atop its historical setting rather than fully engaging with it. There is a potentially fascinating story hiding behind the fastidious beauty of Lee’s vision, but this languid, unconvincing historical romance doesn’t succeed in bringing it to the fore. Lust, Caution opens Friday, Nov. 23, at the Bijou.