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  Publicity Stills of "Lust, Caution"
(Courtesy from BVI)

In Mandarin with English and Chinese Subtitles
Director: Ang Lee
Cast: Tony Leung, Wang Li Hom, Joan Chen, Tang Wei
RunTime: 2 hrs 28 mins
Released By: BVI
Rating: NC-16 (Some Intimate Scenes)

Opening Day: 4 October 2007



The new film from Ang Lee, the Academy Award® winning director of Brokeback Mountain and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. A startling erotic espionage thriller about the fate of an ordinary woman's heart, it is based on the short story by revered Chinese author Eileen Chang, and stars Asian cinema icon Tony Leung opposite screen newcomer, Tang Wei.

Shanghai 1942, The World War II Japanese occupation of this Chinese city continues in force. Mrs. Mak, a woman of sophistication and means, walks into a cafe, places a call, and then sits and waits. She remembers how her story began several years earlier, in 1938 China.

She is not in fact Mrs. Mak, but shy Wong Chia Chia (Tang Wei). With WWII underway, Wong has been left behind by her father who has escaped to England. As a freshman at university, she meets fellow student Kuang Yu Min (Wang Leehom) Kuang has started a drama society to shore up patriotism. As the theatre troupe's new leading lady, Wong realizes that she has found her calling, able to move and inspire audiences-and Kuang. He convenes a core group of students to carry out a radical and ambitious plan to assassinate a top Japanese collaborator, Mr. Yee (Tony Leung).

Each student has a part to play; Wong will be Mrs. Mak, who will gain Yee's trust by befriending his wife (Joan Chen) and then draw the man into an affair. Wong transforms herself utterly inside and out, and the scenario proceeds as scripted until an unexpectedly fatal twist spurs her to flee.

Shanghai, 1941. With no end in sight for the occupation, Wong having emigrated from Hong Kong goes through the motions of her existence. Much to her surprise, Kuang re-enters her life. Now part of the organized resistance, he enlists her to again become Mrs. Mak in a revival of the plot to kill Yee, who as head of the collaborationist secret service has become even more a key part of the puppet government. As Wong reprises her earlier role, and is drawn even closer to her dangerous prey, she finds her very identity being pushed to the limit.

Movie Review:

With a heavy heart, this reviewer is reporting that the original uncensored version of Oscar winner Ang Lee’s new film is probably better than the one that is being screened here in Singapore. And that is not because he is interested in how explicit the extra nine minutes of footages are – he genuinely feels that the anguish and repression of the story would be better expressed with the reportedly steamy sex scenes played out by lead actors Tony Leung and newcomer Tang Wei.

Based on a novel written by Chinese author Eileen Chang in the 1950s, Tang plays a young girl who gets swept into a whirlpool of love, lust and betrayal in 1942 Shanghai. Together with a group of students, she is tasked to carry out a plan to assassinate a Japanese collaborator played by Leung. Feelings for the man become entwined with her call for duty, and the drama ultimately culminates in a heartbreaking tragedy.

The 148-minute (as compared to the original 157-minute) version may be a test of patience to the fidgety movie patron, but the Venice Film Festival Golden Lion winner is like fine wine: take your time to savor the heartrending and intricate emotions, and the takeaway will be worth your while.

Taiwanese director Lee has his cast to thank for this. Wang Leehom’s student leader is accessibly likeable. Critically-acclaimed for his versatility, Leung characterizes his villainous character with an appropriately inward authoritarianism. Tang complements this nicely by playing her young idealistic student role with poignant effect.

Which is why, the film would have fared better with the supposedly animalistic sex scenes to contrast with the two leads’ suppressed feelings. Such pity, because local viewers cannot enjoy the film in its entirety, but this review shall not go into which party should be responsible for this regrettable flaw.

Having helmed other commendable works like Eat Drink Man Woman (1994) back home and Brokeback Mountain (2005) at Hollywood, the seemingly soft-spoken filmmaker definitely knows how to get a fantastic story out of the materials and resources he has on hand. In his latest work, other than his fine exploration of the emotions between characters, he has Mexican Rodrigo Prieto’s (25th Hour, Babel) sturdily grounded cinematography to carry the film forward, American Tim Squyres’ (Hulk, Syriana) simple yet effective editing to coherently tell the tale of espionage, and French Alexandre Desplat’s affecting music underscore to move your heart.

As the movie ends with a quietly tragic scene, this reviewer was left shaken by how the film has stripped bare the vulnerabilities of human emotions. It is with a heavy heart he walks out of the theatre, reflecting on this tragic human nature. And of course, how much more poignant the film would be if he saw the extra nine minutes.

Movie Rating:

(Another fine piece of cinematic gem by Ang Lee)

Review by John Li


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