Lust, Caution

Ang Lee, the director of many noir American films, has brought his craft to a Chinese-language spy story set during World War II in Lust, Caution (Se, Jie). (We are perhaps reminded of the fascination of World War II spy films in the recent movie Black Book, with which Lust, Caution will inevitably be compared.) After Japanese troops invade China, resistance groups emerge, some eager to kill Chinese quislings (even more than the Japanese themselves!). One such group consists of Hongkong actors, who pull off an amateurish caper early in the film that falls apart. When they regroup from Shanghai to Hongkong, the thespian leader Kuang Yu-Min (played by Wang Lee-Horn) agrees to take orders from a resistance organizer. The target is Mr. Yee (played by Tony Leung), a collaborator who seeks to root out the resistance groups. Having briefly attracted Yee’s amorous attention in Shanghai while pretending to be Mrs. Mak, the wife of a rich merchant who is always out of town, Wong Chia Chi (played by Tang Wei) is accepted as bait to attract and distract Yee so that he will place himself in a risky situation where he can be assassinated. After the film establishes how Yee is bored with his middle-aged spouse Mrs. Yee (played by Joan Chen), whose sole pastimes appear to obtaining scarce material possessions and gossiping while playing Mahjong, the romance between Chia Chi and Yee dominates the plot. Trained as a military officer for the Chinese Nationalist Army, Yee is quite rough with Chia Chi in bed, but she gradually brings out his passionate and tender side to such an extent that he buys her a six-carat diamond ring. Are they truly in love? Meanwhile, Chia Chi meets with Yu-Min and the thespian conspirators so often that filmviewers may wonder whether the assassination plot is, once again, amateurish. And Yee has a boss, who clearly is spying on his affair with Chia Chi. The climax of the movie indeed lives up to the reputation of Ang Lee. By observing the plot carefully, many filmviewers will have a somewhat better idea of how Imperial Japan was able to subdue a much larger country, China, during World War II. MH

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