Tuesday, January 29, 2008

LUST, CAUTION (2007)….9.5/10

Ang Lee’s latest feature, taking place in Japanese occupied Shanghai, is a film lavished with classical aesthetic sensibilities and period detail, heightened by a bold streak of dimensional sexuality. LUST, CAUTION dips and sways between shades of noir, espionage, rending emotional portraiture, a story of youth and ignorance, and political period drama, never settling as but one of them. It’s a solution, not a mixture. A near perfect amalgam, helmed by two wealthily talented leads (Tony Leung, Wei Tang), a director in peak performance, and a warmly convincing family of idealistic friends daring to change their world.

Youthful and beautiful Wong Chia Chi (Tang) is a college girl that gets swept up into a novice resistance scheme by the ambition of her fellow theater group. After their promising start as patriotic performers, and realizing Wong Chia Chi's immersive capacity as a performer, they attempt to elevate their goals to ensnare and eliminate a local high ranking officer of the collaborationist government (Chinese that are aiding the Japanese occupation) named Mr. Lee, using Wong Chia Chi as sexual bait, so to speak, though not as such at first. The sexual nature of her mission arises as an unplanned but vital opportunity. Her cosmopolitan alias is Mrs. Mak, and her companions all have their own roles etched out from a false history. The scheme drags on and dredges her soul, getting ever more consuming and precarious, especially as it resumes after a long postponement.

The most effective, and least disguised tactic of the film is strictly narrative. LUST, CAUTION builds the catalyst and model of the young groups subversion agenda from their preexisting involvement in theater. No better tactile element threads the body of the film together, for it stems from their ambitious beginnings, to their subversion methodology, to their fatal and final curtain call. The groups last scene together,and the second to last scene in the film, is especially powerful because in it they kneel defeated at the stage of their execution; a stage without any audience but the night, completely stripped of their invented roles. As this unfolds, and the camera lifts above their heads to reveal the blackness of the quarry into which their bodies will fall, one can only recall the triumphant ovation and resounding cries by the audience, “China will not fall!” at the end of their first play together years before. “China will not fall!”

LUST, CAUTION builds a significant bridge to Lee’s previous film BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN, by exploring the emotional degradation that occurs in subverting ones own identity and inventing passions, which the young activists must do in order to, in turn, subvert the collaborationists. The irony continues further when we discover that, not only was Wong Chia Chi and her group watched unknowingly by actual resistance outfits eager to use them, but the collaborationist govt itself, was watching them as well, using Mr. Yee (Leung) as a convenient bait in order to gain information about the resistance cell. LUST, CAUTION rounds out as an elegant mobius strip of espionage, charade, and broken hearts that is so beautiful to behold.

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