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Lust, Caution

Updated on March 19, 2011

Patriotism, Espionage and Passion

~People think that pace is fast action, quick cutting, people running around or whatever you will, and it's not really that at all. I think that pace in a film is made entirely by keeping the mind of the spector occupied.~

Alfred Hitchcock

Lust, Caution [2007] is a two and half hour epic, directed by Taiwanese American, Ang Lee and based on a short story by Chinese writer, Eileen Chang. Lang has directed a diverse pistache of films including Brokeback Mountain (2005), Hulk, (2003) ,Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.(2000) and Sense and Sensibilty (1995). Described by reviewer David Minihan as 'the epitome of globalisation'. Lee's appeal is broad and the flavour of his films span across cultures, whilst not omitting the conflict and contrast that is sometimes present between East and West.

This is a film with an unconventional pacing and treatment, yet for the most part, somehow manages to keep the mind of the spectator occupied. Set in 1942 in Japanese occupied Shangai, Lust Caution intially emerges as a story of patriotism and espionage, but as the film progresses, it's a theme which becomes overshadowed by the exponential force of a romantic passion. Many of Ang's films, while diverging in genre, share a commonallty in that they often explore the relationship between the individual and the society and this theme is as evident here as elsewhere.

Early in film, Lee employs a flashback technique, dragging the story back to Hong Kong in 1936, where a group of Chinese university students plot to assassinate Mr. Yee [Tony Leung Chiu Wai] a high-ranking Chinese businessman turned collaborator, by using a young woman, Chia Chi [Wei Tang], as bait. The plot is bungled and some years later Chi is recruited by an underground resistance group to reignite the original conspiracy.What begins [slowly] as a sado-masochistic affair eventually evolves into a deeply passionate relationship, causing all manner of conflict for the particular Chi, who is expected to lead Yee to his destruction.

Lust, Caution is not a briskly paced film and is essentially character driven. Apart from the flashback scenes, the action is revealed slowly like an unfurling bloom and where explicit action does occur, it has all the more impact by way of contrast to the langourous feel of the film. Feelings and emotions are portrayed more by placement, movement and expression rather than expository dialogue. A glance at a decorative clock, the opening of an elegant wardrobe--these are the visual clues to the emotions of the main characters. As writer Peter Green once noted, "an abscence of words can sometimes make a situation between people more telling than words" and always underneath the superficial calm the sexual frisson bubbles along with a moody sexiness.

Another significant aspect of the film is the everpresent mahjong game, presided over by Yee's wife. These sequences are beautifully placed, paced and timed and interweave the story with a kind of poetic body language. While the exquisitely groomed women engage in trite conversations around the table, their glances and gestures hint at subtleties beneath the surface and when Mr. Yee is present, the dynamic and body language changes again. The mahjong scenes are quietly expository and give the audience some refreshing credit for perception.

Snake in the Grass

Overall Lust,Caution is an unusually slow film that perhaps simmers a little too long before the story starts boiling. It feels almost stretched or elongated in its pacing and timing and at 158 minutes long, could alienate some viewers. The retrospective scenes, during the student activism and amateur espionage are, at least in part, cumbersome and suffer from a credibiity crisis. They are also over-written - there is hint of directorial self-indulgence in the film and perhaps Lee has not given as much though to audience response as he should have.

Yet despite it's plot difficulties and slow-motion timing the sheer beauty of the sequences and the force of the central, romantic, albeit sometimes brutal relationship, mesmerises the viewer. An audiences emotional involvement with a film usually passes through phases; first interest must be established, then attention and identification. Chia Chi's profound beauty and nobility, set against a politically fraught background, garners the viewers interest and identification as well as our attention and the "hook" is her perilous situation with Yee. Thus, the viewer has an emotional stake in the outcome of the story.

At one point Chi describes Yee's lust as a snake whispering in her ear--mysteriously powerful and seducing her beyond her own will. This metaphor could apply to the film itself as it winds its way into the viewer's sensibilities with a slow and deliberate grace that is almost hypnotic, leaving an imprint on viewer consciousness in a way few films do. Lust Caution is long, flawed ...and ultimately irresistable. While the story may at times linger too long in contemplation, the story-teller appears to have a good grasp of how to manipulate an audience or in Peter Greens's words "a feel for what grips people's imagination, what intrigues them, attracts them, as well as what worries them". If I had to describe Lust, Caution in one word, I would say...seductive.


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    • profile image

      alberich 6 years ago

      Oh sorry Jane, I didn’t answer you! I’ve been so absent this last year.

      Yes I’ve seen the movie and I’ve seldom seen or read such a clear description of this blur interrelational layer between people. I hope sincerely that you live as vivid as you let your way of words, take us!

    • Jane Bovary profile image

      Jane Bovary 7 years ago from The Fatal Shore

      Thanks James and Itfawkes.

    • James A Watkins profile image

      James A Watkins 7 years ago from Chicago

      I didn't like this film that much. But your review is top-notch and I enjoyed reading it. Thanks!

    • ltfawkes profile image

      ltfawkes 7 years ago from NE Ohio

      Thanks for a very fine review. I agree with Arthur Windermere - I was particularly interested in the way you describe Lee's use of the Mahjong game.


    • Jane Bovary profile image

      Jane Bovary 7 years ago from The Fatal Shore

      Hey...thanks for stopping by Silvergenes.

    • profile image

      SilverGenes 7 years ago

      Based on the review I'll definitely have a look - thank you! :)

    • Jane Bovary profile image

      Jane Bovary 7 years ago from The Fatal Shore

      Thanks very much Ioua!

    • loua profile image

      loua 7 years ago from Elsewhere, visiting Earth ~ the segregated community planet

      You etch a persuasive review. I hope the flick warrants the quality of the review...

    • Jane Bovary profile image

      Jane Bovary 7 years ago from The Fatal Shore

      Well this film does require a bit of a commitment wrenfrost..but then lots of good things do! Thanks for stopping by and leaving a comment.

    • wrenfrost56 profile image

      wrenfrost56 7 years ago from U.K.

      I have not seen the film or read the short story it's based on, however based on your very good review here I probably will. I know you mentioned it is rather a long film, I think I will just watch it prepared. (Lots of drink and popcorn) :)

    • Jane Bovary profile image

      Jane Bovary 7 years ago from The Fatal Shore

      Hey Katie...thanks. I appreciate the comment.

    • katiem2 profile image

      katiem2 7 years ago from I'm outta here

      Sounds fantastic and you've certainly got me curious, must see and so your job is well done with your review of Lust Caution... Thanks for the heads up :)

    • Jane Bovary profile image

      Jane Bovary 7 years ago from The Fatal Shore

      Thanks epigramman!

    • epigramman profile image

      epigramman 7 years ago

      what a wonderful film this is .... and thanks Dame Jane for bringing it to the attention of our intrepid readers here at hubpages ....

      and they're only intrepid because you make them so!!!

    • Jane Bovary profile image

      Jane Bovary 7 years ago from The Fatal Shore

      Tony, DVD! And thanks for reading.

      Lol drbj...thank YOU to for reading as well.

      Have you seen it alberich...?

    • Jane Bovary profile image

      Jane Bovary 7 years ago from The Fatal Shore

      David, it's the kind of film you have to stick with 'cause it takes a while to get going and like I said it is flawed but I still found much to admire about it and I hope you will too if you watch it.

      Way to smash Ang Lee Arthur! In truth this is the only film of his I've seen..I never got around to Brokeback Mountain. By now it'll be in the weekly DVD section, so yeah I'll give your dollar back if you hate it.

    • drbj profile image

      drbj and sherry 7 years ago from south Florida

      If I had to sum up this review in one word and one word only, Jane, I would say . . . seductive!

    • profile image

      alberich 7 years ago

      Just watch it!

      Thanks Jane

    • tonymac04 profile image

      Tony McGregor 7 years ago from South Africa

      This review has whetted my appetite - just as a good review should! I will definitely look out for this movie. Haven't seen it advertised here yet but maybe it will reach our cinemas.

      Love and peace


    • Arthur Windermere profile image

      Arthur Windermere 7 years ago

      I haven't bothered to see Lust, Caution yet. Big budget (melo)dramas always disappoint me with their facile glossing of real human emotion, or worse, serious indulgence in what they believe to be real human emotion. (Sometimes the facile glossing is better.) And Ang Lee has never failed to strike me as inordinately dull, despite his charming visual flourishes. Those visual flourshes are frankly filmschooly anyway.

      But I like your review. You make it sound interesting. Your description of the Mahjongg sequences is especially intriguing. Makes me think of the game sequences in Last Year in Marienbad. Maybe I'll give it a shot after all. If I don't like it, I expect Compensation. ;)

      Later alligator

    • David Stone profile image

      David Stone 7 years ago from New York City

      Great review, Jane. Thanks. It made me think about seeing the movie, knowing there was enough interesting content, without taking the gamble I usually take with corporate reviewers.