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PostPosted: Wed Sep 12, 2007 3:36 am    Post subject: <Lust, Caution> Review Collection

Review: Se jie (Lust, Caution) (Venice 2007)

Written by Boyd van Hoeij, Wednesday, 29 August 2007

"Movies are for people with time to kill," says the main character of Ang Lee’s new film Se jie (Lust, Caution), and in this particular case this means killing two-and-a-half hours, though there are certainly worse ways to pass the time. The Taiwanese director’s adaptation of a novella by Eileen Chang is an uncompromising and incredibly seductive piece of filmmaking that is too long but has so many good elements going for it that it is hard to really care that on certain points the director seems to have thrown caution to the wind. Acting and technical credits are more than first-class and newcomer Wei Tang, starring alongside veteran Tony Leung, is simply riveting. Appropriately marketing this film -- almost certainly the most explicit Chinese-language film this side of porn ever made -- will be a challenge, though, ideally, Lee’s reputation should do the heavy lifting in that department.A prize at the Venice Film Festival, where it plays in Competition, could be a first push to wider recognition.

Set during the Japanese occupation of China in the early 1940s, Se jie plays out between Hong Kong and Shanghai and centres on the character of Wang Jiazhi (Wei Tang), a young student who gets caught up in a resistance cell formed by the patriotic theatre group she was part of. Her big mission: infiltrate the household of Mr Yee (Tony Leung), a high-placed official who openly collaborates with the Japanese occupiers. The goal: put everything into place to have the traitor killed in cold blood. The means: using her womanly wiles.

One can imagine this scenario going various ways (Verhoeven would have made an interesting film out of this and his Zwartboek / Black Book shares more than a few elements with this film), but Lee has chosen to approach it in the only way he knows: searching for the humans behind the dangle of story threads and plot twists. Se jie is a thriller and has many chilling moments, but the real danger comes about only because we care for the characters. No jumps from the dark or sudden explosions here.

The sure-to-be-talked-about explicit sex scenes only make an appearance well after the mid-point of the film, when Lee has had more than enough time to invest the two characters with so much emotional baggage that it is impossible to only consider the bodily acts that occur between them. It is one of the few instances in the history of cinema that pinpoints the complicated wrangle between love -- or hate -- and lust that occurs during lovemaking with such precision. Of course for a spy in bed with the enemy, there can never be no such thing as complete and utter nakedness, whatever the state of undress. The film nicely plays with these contrasts of love and lust, caution and abandon, weaving a web of complex emotions that typifies so many of Lee's films.

Lee also makes a point of playing up other erotically charged moments that happen when the characters are fully dressed, from their very first glance at one another at a mahjong table to an absolutely chilling moment in which they barely touch hands in a Japanese brothel. This charge is only really present when the two lovers have fallen in lust, and up until that point the film meanders.

This early section is too leisurely set up to make any direct impact, though it does sketch all the main characters extremely well, including Mrs Yee (Joan Chen) and Kuang Yu-Min (Lee-hom Wang), the theatre director who persuades Tang’s character to go undercover and who seems to be interested in her himself as well. Shifts back and forth in time seem arbitrary at first but make sense in retrospect, while Lee, more so than in his previous films, pays explicit homage to many films from the past, especially those from the period in which Se jie is set and which served as an obvious first template for this film.

The major discovery of the film is Wei Tang, who is completely believable as the shy young girl-come-professional seductress, and Leung once again shows why he is not only considered one of the world’s best actors. Technical aspects of the film are all extremely polished, including costume and production design (sometimes a little heavy on the CGI in the cityscapes), Rodrigo Prietos’ stunningly lit cinematography that plays with light and shadows throughout the film and Alexandre Desplat’s lush period score that is perfectly suited to the old-fashioned yet contemporary tone of the film.

This film was screened as part of the 2007 Venice Film Festival.

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PostPosted: Wed Sep 12, 2007 3:47 am    Post subject:

Lust, Caution (Se Jie)
Dan Fainaru in Venice

30 Aug 2007 22:00

Dir. Ang Lee. China/US, 2007. 156 mins.
One of the main attractions in Venice this year, Ang Lee's new film promises much more than it actually delivers. Lavishly handsome and elegant, possibly too much so for its own good, this sprawling adaptation of a short story by Eileen Chang risks leaving audiences cold - despite the sometimes excessively passionate nature of its storyline.

Comparisons with Brokeback Mountain are inevitable but with its long-running time and the subtitled, non-English content there isn't much chance that Lee will secure the same level of global market success. Still, the high production values and the presence of some of the sexiest movie scenes of the year may well help the film navigate, at least for a while, the high-end of the international arthouse circuit thanks to the director's already established reputation. Ancillaries and DVD will be strong.

However he relative novelty of the torrid love-making scenes between Tony Leung and tyro Tang Wei (some ninety minutes into the film), looking out of place in the context of most Chinese cinema, don't add much depth to the characters. Sexually explicit to the point of bluntness, a tamer version is said to be in preparation for mainland China; censorship issues would otherwise follow. Lust, Caution has already received an NC-17 rating in the US which Focus Features are not disputing.

Though taking on a major slice of Chinese history it never explores beyond its most obvious and superficial aspects. The plot fits perfectly within the dimensions of a short story; in 1938 Chia Chi (Wei), a Hong Kong University student, is drafted by the Resistance to participate in a plot whose purpose is to murder a certain Mr. Yee (Leung), a collaborator with the Japanese occupiers.

Pushed into this plan by a fellow student, Kuang (Wang Leehom), who is secretly in love with her, Chia Chi takes on a fake identity and pretends to be married to a rich merchant. Introduced into Yee's household, the plan is a secution and delivery into the hands of the conspirators. But at the last moment, Yee suddenly goes back to Shanghai before the plotters can act.

Three years later, Chai Chi is in Shanghai too, a poor student living with her aunt and studying Japanese, when Kuang enters her life again, persuading her to pick up the plot where it had been left in Hong Kong. She is supposed to go back to Yee, who is now the head of the secret police in town, and when he is in her power, help finish him off. But once Chia Chi and Yee become lovers, their mutual lust burns them up to the point where she is no longer sure of her mission. He throws caution to the winds as they both yearn with equal passion to be in each other's arms.

Had Lee accepted that his film is about the conflict between duty and desire, and worked smoothly on this premise, this could have been a far more focused and precise film. Hitchcock, whose work is mentioned several times in his picture, applied a similar approach to films such as Suspicion or Notorious (whose plot bears more than just a little resemblance to Chang's story). But by wishing to expand the story into a vast period portrait, first of Hong Kong, and then of Shanghai, Lee opens up avenues that he never has time to follow up.

What happens instead is one of those typical Hollywood scenarios consisting of huge well-upholstered sets, which look far too clean and spruced up for the world they represent. Pristine photography belies the frankly dire conditions of poverty and war which the film is supposed to portray; costumes too are decoratively ragged. A calm, laid back sense of montage contradicts the urgency of the story itself and of the dramatic times it takes place in.

Joan Chen, as Yee's wife, presides over a bevy of perfectly made-up socialites playing mahjong and gossiping to their hearts' delight (in sessions badly in need of trimming) Not that one would notice it here but their world is going up in flames.

The steamy clinches between the two lovers are the exception, going much farther afield than most commercial pictures ever dare and revealing details that are usually restricted to exploitation fare only. But since neither Chia Chi nor Yee are more than briefly sketched it is hard to see these scenes anything more than captured moments of enjoyable passtime. After all, her motivations to stick with her deadly assignment are never satisfactorily clarified, while his sadistic chief of police looks more like a pose.

Wei is lovely to look at and pretty fearless to play this part, but complexity is not one of her distinguishing features. As for Leung, he was far more of a smouldering, passionate, obsessed personality in Wong Kar Wai's In the Mood for Love than he ever begins to be here. If anything, this film might remind audiences of that earlier Chang adaptation, Stanley Kwan's more intimate, more subdued Red Rose, White Rose.

Excessive use of dialogue largely carries the story; Lust, Caution's literary origins haven't quite made the transition to the big screen.

Production companies
Hai Sheng Production Company
River Road Production
Focus Features Int.

International sales
Focus Features Int
(1) 212 539 4000

Ang Lee
James Schamus
Bill Kong

Wang Hui-Ling
James Schamus
Based on Elaine Chang's short story Se, Jie

Rodrigo Prieto

Tim Squyres

Production design
Pan Lai

Alexandre Desplat

Main cast
Tony Leung (Chiu Wai)
Tang Wei
Joan Chen
Wang Leehom

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PostPosted: Wed Sep 12, 2007 3:49 am    Post subject:

Lust, Caution
Se, Jie (Hong Kong-U.S.-China)

Tony Leung Chiu-wai and Tang Wei have a dangerous liaison in Ang Lee's 'Lust, Caution,' adapted from the short story by Eileen Chang.
A Focus Features release (in U.S.) of a Haishang Films presentation, in association with Focus Features, River Road Entertainment, Sil-Metropole Organisation, Shanghai Film Group Corp. (International sales: Focus Features Intl., London.) Produced by Bill Kong, Ang Lee, James Schamus. Executive producers, Ren Zhonglun, Darren Shaw. Co-producers, Doris Tse, David Lee. Directed by Ang Lee. Screenplay, Wang Hui-ling, James Schamus, based on the short story by Eileen Chang.

With: Tony Leung Chiu-wai, Tang Wei, Joan Chen, Wang Leehom, Anupam Kher, Chu Tsz-ying.
(Mandarin, Cantonese, Shanghainese, English, Japanese dialogue)

Too much caution and too little lust squeeze much of the dramatic juice out of Ang Lee's "Lust, Caution," a 2½--hour period drama that's a long haul for relatively few returns. Adapted from a short story by the late Eileen Chang, tale of a patriotic student -- who's willing bait in a plot to assassinate a high-up Chinese collaborator in Japanese-held WWII Shanghai -- is an immaculately played but largely bloodless melodrama which takes an hour-and-a-half to even start revving up its motor.
A handful of explicit sex scenes (in the final act) have earned pic an NC-17 rating in the U.S., where it goes out in limited release Sept. 28. But beyond the notoriety of a Chinese-language picture with full-frontal female nudity, pic lacks the deep-churning emotional currents that drove Lee's "Brokeback Mountain" and his best other works. B.O. in the West looks to be modest, once the initial ballyhoo has died down.

Story opens in Japanese-occupied Shanghai in 1942, at the home of Yee (Hong Kong's Tony Leung Chiu-wai), head of the secret service of the collaborationist Chinese government, and his wife (Joan Chen). One of Mrs. Yee's mahjong partners, swapping gossip over the tiles, is the much younger Mrs. Mak (Tang Wei), the half-Cantonese, half-Shanghainese wife of a businessman who was recently in Hong Kong.

As Yee returns from work and passes by the mahjong table, it's clear there's something between him and Mak, though neither one lets their façade slip. Later, Mak makes a coded phone call to Kuang Yumin (U.S.-born pop star Wang Leehom), who says "the operation can start."
After this lengthy 15-minute intro, largely occupied by idle chatter around the mahjong table, the film flashes back four years to Hong Kong to show who Mak really is: Wang Jiazhi, a first-year university student whose family fled Hong Kong for the U.K. Through her friend Lai (Chu Tsz-ying), Wang falls in with a patriotic, anti-Japanese group that is mounting a play to fund their activities.

Leader of the group is the passionate Kuang, who hears that Yee, a high-ranking collaborator with the Japanese, is in Hong Kong on a recruitment mission. Kuang hatches a plan in which Wang plays the fictional Mrs. Mak and insinuates herself into Mrs. Yee's confidence. But Mrs. Yee's cool, wily husband, though attracted to Wang, slips through the net.

Cut to Shanghai, 1941 -- a year before the opening timeframe -- and it's round two between Yee and Wang. After Wang is rehired by the resistance to continue her Mrs. Mak role, this time their liaison is far more full-on, and as lust raises its sometimes violent head, it looks as if caution may be thrown to the wind by one or both parties.

Both Leung and newcomer Tang -- whose characters are far more charismatic and attractive than in Chang's original short story -- do strike some sparks, especially in the sex scenes, which are very bold by Chinese standards. (A tamer version will reportedly be released in mainland China.) But for most of the film, the two dance around each other in conversations that don't have much electricity or sense of repressed passion -- and vitally, no sense of the real danger that Wang is courting in the game of cat-and-mouse.

Moments of either grim wit (as in the messy stabbing of a blackmailing traitor) or spry comedy (Wang getting rid of her virginity to further the cause) occasionally vary pic's tone but don't bolster the underlying drama.

Wartime Shanghai was far more realistically drawn in Lou Ye's Zhang Ziyi starrer "Purple Butterfly," which also conveyed a stronger sense of resistance and collaborationist politics. (Here, Yee's work, which involves interrogation and torture, is never shown.) Lee's '40s Shanghai, though immaculately costumed, has a standard backlot look; the Hong Kong sequences, largely shot in Malaysia, are much more flavorsome.

Tang, a Beijing drama student who's previously played in some TV series, holds her own against Hong Kong vet Leung, who suggests the cold calculation of his character without ever going much deeper. Fellow vet Chen doesn't get many chances beyond the mahjong table, while Wang Leehom, as the leader of the resistance cell, is just OK, sans much personality.

Alexandre Desplat's music injects some badly needed emotion and drama at certain points, while lensing by Rodrigo Prieto has little of the variety and atmosphere he's demonstarted on recent assignments like "Babel," "Alexander" and Lee's previous "Brokeback Mountain."
Camera (Deluxe color), Rodrigo Prieto; editor, Tim Squyres; music, Alexandre Desplat; production designer, Pan Lai; supervising art director, Olympic Lau; costume designer, Pan; sound (Dolby Digital/DTS Digital), Philip Stockton, Eugene Gearty, Drew Kunin; assistant director, Rosanna Ng; casting, Ng. Reviewed at Venice Film Festival (competing), Aug. 29, 2007. (Also in Toronto Film Festival -- Special Presentations.) MPAA Rating: NC-17. Running time: 157 MIN.

Date in print: Wed., Aug. 30, 2000, Los Angeles

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PostPosted: Wed Sep 12, 2007 3:54 am    Post subject:

David Gritten reports on 'Atonement', 'Lust, Caution' and 'Sleuth' at the Venice Film Festival

Last Updated: 12:01am BST 31/08/2007

Venice Film Festival 2007

Torrential rain and thunder yesterday made the Lido unusually damp and gloomy for the time of year - but few could deny the 64th Venice Film Festival got off to a bright start.

The opening film, Britain's Atonement, received an overwhelmingly warm reaction. Even those not completely bowled over by director Joe Wright's bold adaptation of Ian McEwan's novel at least found much to admire in it.

It was universally agreed that Atonement fully deserved the accolade of opening the festival.

And, on Venice 64's first day, another major work surfaced: Ang Lee's Chinese-language film Lust, Caution, set during the Japanese occupation of Shanghai in 1942.

Like his last acclaimed film Brokeback Mountain (which also had its world première in Venice) Lust, Caution is adapted from a short story, Eileen Chang's Se, Jei. And, like its predecessor, it is hugely expanded from its 28-page source: Lee's film is an epic 156 minutes.

It centres on a group of young Chinese resistance members, who perform worthy patriotic plays to drum up partisan support. But they grow weary of this strategy and graduate to more direct action, targeting Chinese businessmen who collaborate with the Japanese.

One of these is Mr Yee (Tony Leung, from In The Mood For Love), who gradually becomes important to the occupying forces.

The young rebels decide that one of their number, an innocent virgin called Wang Chia-Chih (Tang Wei), should become Yee's mistress, first befriending his wife, then gaining his confidence and tricking him to disclose crucial secrets before they kill him.

Reluctantly she agrees, even surrendering her virginity to a fellow rebel in order to seem more sexually experienced for Yee. But she is completely unprepared for her reaction to their love-making, which ranges from brutal to tender and utterly overwhelming.

Ironically, only in these acts of pretence does she arrive at self-awareness.

The sex scenes between Leung and Tang are notable for their explicitness. Yet Lust, Caution is also a hugely accomplished piece of filmmaking, capturing with a confident if slightly romanticised sweep the languid charm of 1940s Shanghai.

Completed shortly before its Venice première, it is a little overlong. It would be no surprise if Ang Lee opted to cut it slightly, and perhaps clarified some early explanatory scenes.

But it must be a contender for major prizes here; Leung is once more an impossibly suave presence, and it's not too soon to proclaim Tang Wei in her first role as a new Gong Li in the making.

Sleuth, a second film based on Anthony Shaffer's play, is a decidedly lesser affair. In 1972, Laurence Olivier and Michael Caine starred in a the film about a battle of wits between an older and a younger man.

This time around, Caine takes the senior role as a bestselling writer of detective fiction, while Jude Law is the young pup now ensconced with Caine's wife, who arrives at his expansive home to demand he gives her a divorce.

This two-hander is directed briskly by Kenneth Branagh, though he never quite shakes off the story's stage origins. Intriguingly, the new script was written by Harold Pinter, who unsurprisingly adds a certain grit and menace to proceedings.

Caine lives in a gorgeous house replete with electronic gadgets and surveillance cameras; his character seems both sinister and vulnerable.

It's agreeable, but doesn't add up to much. And Law's accent in a sequence when he is disguised as a detective is utterly bizarre - somewhere between Ambridge and a Lancashire mill town.

The spin on Sleuth is that it isn't a remake, but a new story altogether. Fine. So why call it Sleuth at all?
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PostPosted: Wed Sep 12, 2007 5:16 am    Post subject:

Ang Lee's Lust, Caution could buck the NC-17 trend

Geoffrey Macnab, August 31, 2007 1:19 PM

Hot fuss... Ang Lee's censor-bating Lust, Caution.

The deceptively mild-mannered Ang Lee is set to provoke a censorship row with his new feature, Lust, Caution (which received its world premiere in Venice yesterday). The Mandarin-language espionage thriller might best be described as a cross between Alfred Hitchcock's Notorious and Nagisa Oshima's In the Realm Of the Senses. It's clearly the very graphic sex sequences that have earned the film its NC-17 rating in the US, where it will be released later this autumn.

Generally, when mainstream directors receive NC-17 ratings, they promptly retreat. The label is regarded as a kiss of death for US releases, and most cinema chains refuse to show films branded with it. Lee, however, is reportedly insisting that his film is shown in its full 156-minute glory.

It's a magnificent piece of filmmaking, albeit one that takes some time to click into gear. Other directors condense huge novels into tidy 90-minute features. Lee's method is to take short stories and slowly expand them into epics. This is what he did with Brokeback Mountain. It is a trick he has performed again with Lust, Caution, based on a short story by Eileen Chang. The richness of his approach lies, as ever, in his painstaking attention to detail and his ability to register the most subtle nuances of tone and expression.

This, though, isn't what will sell the movie or provoke outraged comment. Nor will the extraordinarily prolonged and bloody scene in which the student protagonists kill a man for the first time. (They stab him, bludgeon him, throw him down the stairs, but still he refuses to die.) What are bound to cause controversy are the extraordinarily graphic sex sequences.

The film tells the story of a young drama student, Wang Jiazhi (Tang Wei), drawn into a plot to assassinate the shadowy Mr Yee (Tony Leung), a collaborator with the Japanese in the Shanghai of the early 1940s. Mr Yee is a cold and brutal man. While his wife (Joan Chen) and her friends play Mah Jong and discuss their favourite restaurants, he oversees the torture and killing of resistance fighters. Wang is ordered to get close to Mr Yee in order to prise him out into the open. In the end, they begin a very violent, sado-masochistic affair. Their feelings for one another teeter between love and utter loathing. They instinctively distrust one another but can't hide their mutual fascination. At times, it is as if they hope that through their extreme and acrobatic sex together they can finally work out each others' motives and true personality. This is as much a tale of amour-fou as it is a thriller.

What is likely to make Lust, Caution difficult for the US censors to push under the carpet is its sheer artistry. This is palpably not an exploitation picture. The sex - which isn't shown until relatively late in the movie - is not gratuitous but is fundamental to the characterisation of the two leads. To cut it would be to undermine a core part of the storytelling. Thanks to Lee's reputation (topped by that directing Oscar for Brokeback Mountain), Lust, Caution now stands at least a chance of becoming one of the first NC-17 title to be taken seriously and contend for major awards. As a foreign language movie, it remains a tough sell. Nonetheless, you won't see many performances this year that are better than Tony Leung's chilling but melancholy turn as the mysterious Mr Yee.
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PostPosted: Wed Sep 12, 2007 5:17 am    Post subject:

Lust, Caution
Bottom Line: Long, slow spy saga with a few shocking scenes of sex and violence.

By Ray Bennett
Aug 31, 2007

Ang Lee's laborious tale appears to have no point at all.

Venice International Film Festival

VENICE, Italy -- Ang Lee's lugubrious spy epic "Lust, Caution" brings to mind what soldiers say about war: that it's long periods of boredom relieved by moments of extremely heightened excitement.

There's a long and nasty murder scene in which several inept resistance fighters make a bloody mess of stabbing a man to death and a series of sex scenes so close to the knuckle and more lubricious joints as to appear real. No wonder the MPAA has slapped an NC-17 rating on the picture, which screened in competition at the Venice International Film Festival.

But getting to those episodes, which are of dubious merit, means enduring 156 tedious minutes watching a group of not very interesting young Chinese people learn how to fight the occupying Japanese during WWII. Needlessly long and filled with albeit beautifully staged and filmed sequences where not very much happens, the film is unlikely to capture the word of mouth buzz required to overcome the handicap of its rating.

The plot is much like "Black Book," Dutch director Paul Verhoeven's tale of a young Jewish woman who sleeps with a Nazi on behalf of the resistance, although it has none of the flair of that film. In "Lust, Caution," it's an idealistic young Chinese woman named Chih-ying Chu (Tang Wei) who volunteers to become the mistress of Mr. Yee (Tony Yeung), a traitor who runs the brutal secret service on behalf of the hated occupying force.

The idea is that if she intrigues him enough he will breach his supercautious regimen and place himself at risk so the others in Chih-ying's group can assassinate him. Kuang Yu-Min (Wang Lee-Horn), who heads the group, is handsome and noble, and also attracted to the girl although he reveals that about three years too late.

Starting off as a theatrical troupe producing patriotic plays, they graduate to armed activity as part of a cell run by the organized resistance. They're just not very good at it. Chih-ying, however, having demonstrated onstage that she's a superb actress, takes to subterfuge like a natural-born Mata Hari.

With her shy beauty and pleasant manners, she is invited to join the mahjong circle of Mrs. Yee (Joan Chen) among the Chinese elite permitted to enjoy a privileged life by the Japanese. They are ladies who lunch and talk about the luxuries that they miss but are sometimes available from Hong Kong.

Chih-ying soon catches the eye of Mr. Yee and before long becomes his mistress. That's when she starts really earning her resistance pay. Mr. Yee is a brutal rapist and their sexual encounters become sado-masochistic episodes in which the man shows a glimmer of humanity only at the point of sating his lust.

There's a fair bit of that and it is well choreographed with lots of flesh on display although entirely devoid of passion. The film looks gorgeous but the plotting is clumsy and the acting is flat. It takes a long time before the idea of killing Mr. Yee gets going and by then it appears that director Lee has lost the plot and his laborious tale appears to have no point at all.

Focus Features
Produced by River Road Entertainment in association with Haishang Films
Director: Ang Lee
Screenwriters: James Schamus, Hui-Ling Wang, from a story by Eileen Chang
Producers: William Kong, Ang Lee
Executive producer: James Schamus
Director of photography: Rodrigo Prieto
Production designer: Pan Lei
Music: Alexandre Desplat
Editor: Tim Squyres
Mr. Yee: Tony Leung
Mrs. Yee: Joan Chen
Chih-ying Chu: Tang Wei
Kuang Yu-Min: Wang Lee-Horn
Indian jeweller: Anupam Kher
Running time -- 156 minutes
MPAA rating: NC-17
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PostPosted: Wed Sep 12, 2007 5:19 am    Post subject:

Spies, lies, and enough sex to frighten the reindeer

Ang Lee's latest is a touching gem while Brian De Palma chooses media over message. For cold reality, though, head for the Arctic ...

Jason Solomons at The Venice Film Festival

Sunday September 2, 2007


Ang Lee's Brokeback Mountain took its first, foal-like steps at Venice two years ago, testing the waters for a gay cowboy movie, seeing whether the mainstream might accept such a thing. It galloped to the Golden Lion and had progressed to a canter by the time of the Oscars, where Lee won Best Director before being pipped to the post by Crash
So Lee chose to unveil his latest on the Lido and the sumptuous Lust, Caution was hotly anticipated especially as US censors, apparently perturbed by some sexual content, had saddled it with a NC-17 certificate just moments before its premiere. Sexier than Heath and Jake rustling under canvas? We couldn't wait.

Actually, we had to - the sex in Lust, Caution doesn't happen for ages as Lee first meticulously re-creates Shanghai during the Japanese occupation of the Second World War and switches back several years to the colonial sophistication of Hong Kong for a Mata Hari-style story of spies and, eventually, sex.

Lee's new star Tang Wei is a revelation and a cert for Best Actress in her first film. She plays a young student who discovers a talent for acting after encouragement from an idealistic and handsome theatre director. After an ecstatic reception to a political play, he convinces the troupe they should put their thespian skills to a more subversive test - to kill a wealthy Hong Kong businessman (the magnificent Tony Leung, from In the Mood for Love) they're convinced is a spy. In a succession of charming scenes, the innocent Wei has to learn about sex (and lose her virginity) before she's ready to seduce Leung. But just as she's ignited his interest, the war intervenes.

Three years later, the action relocates to war-torn Shanghai, and the Resistance urge her to rekindle her seduction. This is when the sex explodes and the boundaries blur as they fall for each other. It is steamy stuff, occasionally verging on the rough, though nothing too scandalous - Lee, after all, is a tasteful director. There's a delicious, complex shot of Wei smiling after their first encounter - is it the accomplishment of her first orgasm or the smirk of a dutiful secret agent who has captured her target?

Shot by Mexico's Rodrigo Prieto, this is a beautiful cinematic experience, an old-fashioned, handsome picture that nods to the seductive power of movies - posters for Destry Rides Again here, a clip of Ingrid Bergman sobbing there - indeed, it's on the way to the pictures that Leung first instructs his chauffeur to bring Wei to the secret apartment that will become their sex nest. Lust, Caution is like a Ming vase, though, and while it's a wondrous object to behold, it somehow lacks a sense of passion. Perhaps I wanted more of the Lust and less of the Caution.

Lee's film made an interesting companion to Joe Wright's Atonement which opened the festival and is also a tale of lust and love cut short by war and lies. I think it's a wonderful film and an extremely moving one.

There's a lot of war out here. Brian De Palma's Redacted is a marked change from his Black Dahlia, which opened last year's festival. Set in Iraq among a troop of soldiers manning a checkpoint, it details a terrible (though fictional) episode of rape and murder perpetrated by two soldiers on a 15-year-old Muslim girl.

But De Palma is more concerned with using various media to tell his story, showing events through a pretentious French documentary; a soldier's video diary; US security cameras; terrorist websites; TV news crews; an army wife's tearful blog; and several YouTube clips.

He might have worked a few Hollywood film crews in there too, given how many studio-backed films now appear to be tackling the current war. As it is, the film isn't particularly well acted and relies on irritating improv (i.e. it feels scripted) while it also loses focus. Yes, this is a stupid war. Yes, there are lots of media outlets. And people are dying on both sides.

Venice fave George Clooney nipped down from his Lake Como villa to present Michael Clayton, in which he plays a corporate lawyer who develops a conscience when he realises he's working for bad guys, people whose fertiliser has harmed crops and innocent farm folk.

Though stylishly lit by Clooney's Good Night and Good Luck camerman Robert Elswit, it's poorly edited and tries too hard to be a Seventies-style conspiracy thriller - it even co-stars Sydney Pollack. Perhaps most disappointingly, George is slightly underpowered here, a bit too much Danny Ocean and not enough Erin Brockovich. It might soon be time to decide: does he want to act or be a politician?

Jude Law so desperately wants to act that, having tried Alfie, he's given himself the juicy Michael Caine role in a self-produced remake of that 1972 two-hander Sleuth. Caine in turn takes the Larry Olivier role while Harold Pinter has given Anthony Schaffer's script a rejig. Kenneth Branagh directs - how could it fail?

Let me count the ways. Although well received by the Italians, Sleuth was excruciating, like some dreadful school play in which the old English teacher (Caine) has a go and the golden head boy (Jude) embarrasses himself. A tasteless set, dated dialogue and flailing direction add to the misery.

My favourite surprise so far has been Asif Kapadia's Far North. The young British director pits the unlikely Sean Bean and Michelle Yeoh alongside newcomer Michelle Krusiec in a bizarrelove triangle set among reindeer and ice floes in a stunningly photographed Arctic.

Like his debut The Warrior, it's about survival, fate, the natural and the supernatural, a film not afraid to be bloody and brutal, showing animals killed as in old-school geography books rather than eco-sensitive modern wildlife docs.

But it's the shock ending that set people talking over the first few days here. It's a coup that establishes Kapadia as one of our most interesting story-tellers - a quite amazing, horrifying moment but, of course, I can't mention it. So I won't.,,330665500-102280,00.html

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PostPosted: Wed Sep 12, 2007 5:20 am    Post subject:

All's fair in love and war

Ang Lee's erotic thriller set in occupied China is favourite for the Venice film festival's Golden Lion in Peter Bradshaw's round-up

Peter Bradshaw
Tuesday September 4, 2007


After a rip-roaring start with Joe Wright's Atonement, the British have found themselves rather upstaged at the Venice film festival by two American pictures about Iraq from Brian De Palma and Paul Haggis. Absolutely everyone, however, was upstaged by Ang Lee's new film Lust, Caution, a compelling - and controversial - love story set in Japanese-occupied China in 1942.

The two Iraq pictures had very different visions of how the conflict has damaged the American psyche. De Palma's Redacted is a mocumentary-collage of faux home-movie footage, docu-footage and internet video downloads, telling the fact-based story of US soldiers who, in revenge for a sergeant killed by an IED ("improvised explosive device"), lead a retaliation raid into a civilian neighbourhood to rape a 15-year-old girl. Haggis (the author of the Oscar-winning Crash) directs In the Valley of Elah, a thrilling crime procedural about a retired military policeman (Tommy Lee Jones) who starts his own investigation into the murder of his son, a soldier back from Iraq and killed outside a US military base.

Both films are about cover-ups. "Redacted" is a jargon-euphemism like "rendition": it means official documents have been censored. De Palma's film sees US military abuses as the result of the army's brutal elements: criminals who in civilian life would be behind bars but in Iraq are protected by the fog of war. Some thought the film was overacted; I found its crudity and rawness powerful. Haggis has a more lenient view. He sees the military not as institutionally culpable, but as decent guys driven over the edge by the demands of an increasingly horrifying situation. It's gripping, and its final, daring image is as startling as Gary Cooper throwing away his badge at the end of High Noon.

The Brits brought their weather with them. There have been storms, flooding and some of the Piazza San Marco has been turned into a huge paddling pool. None of it dampened the Venetians' ardour for Michael Caine, who has been the darling of the festival's opening few days. He stars in the reworking of Sleuth, Anthony Shaffer's two-hander for the stage, turned into a movie in 1972. Originally, Caine played the young hairdresser having an affair with an ageing writer (Laurence Olivier) - with whom he begins a cat-and-mouse psychological game. Now he takes over Olivier's role, facing off against a new young rival, played by Jude Law.

Harold Pinter has revamped the storyline and dialogue and Kenneth Branagh directs, and though it looked stagey, Caine was eminently watchable and charismatic, replacing Olivier's catty theatricality with cool drollery and hidden menace. Virtually all his lines were greeted with adoring laughter, especially by the Italians.

After their Palme d'Or-winning The Wind That Shakes the Barley at Cannes, Ken Loach and screenwriter Paul Laverty have come storming back with their contemporary feature It's a Free World ..., in the main competition. Newcomer Kierston Wareing stars as Rose, a working single mum who sets up a dodgy employment agency for illegal and semi-illegal immigrants. She is dedicated to undercutting the opposition, with even cheaper workers, who are even more desperately obedient. Soon, business is booming and Wareing drums up trade on her motorbike, blond hair flying, like a crazed Pamela Anderson. But it all turns ugly. The Loach/Laverty style is straightforward with unshowy acting and directing. Loach doesn't twist dramatic knives in emotional wounds, even in the gravest crises. The result is a movie of great honesty and humanistic inquiry. It will be shown in the UK on Channel 4 later this month.

I was intrigued, but perplexed by another British film, Penny Woolcock's Exodus; it's a dystopian fantasy that parallels the Biblical story of the same name. Some time in the future, a firebrand fascist leader called Pharaoh (Bernard Hill) leads Margate as a secessionist city-state, and herds all the undesirables into a fenced-off zone on the site of the old Dreamland funfair. Part shanty-town, part concentration camp, it's a Sowetànamo of boiling resentment. Pharaoh's son Moses (Daniel Percival) winds up living there, and finds himself destined to lead the people into the promised land. The casting of up-and-comer Claire-Hope Ashitey underlines a resemblance to Alfonso Cuarón's Children of Men, though, frankly, without any very convincing or exciting story.

Alex Cox's wacky, scrappy neo-western comedy Searchers 2.0 is about two ageing film buffs in LA who hear that a famed screenwriter of westerns (in the Eastwood "Dollars" genre) is in Monument Valley to give a Q&A to fans. This man abused them when they appeared in his films as child actors, so they make the journey to see him - and kick his ass. An intriguing premise, but not much more.

So far, the finest film still has to be Lee's, an explicit erotic thriller set in the second world war about a Chinese resistance agent, played by Wei Tang, whose mission is to seduce a collaborationist police chief (Tony Leung). She begins to fall in love with him, and he, ambiguously, gives every sign of suspecting what she is up to. As a result of their self-hate and despair, their affair is coloured with dark psychological impulses; the lovers are obsessive, destructive and sado-masochistic. The ferocious sex scenes look like something from Nagisa Oshima's In the Realm of the Senses. Leung and Tang are superb. So far, in my view, this movie is in pole position and Lee's remarkable career may well be adorned with the Golden Lion.,,330673013-3181,00.html
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PostPosted: Wed Sep 12, 2007 6:42 am    Post subject:

Steam on screens

September 7, 2007

By Roger Ebert

TORONTO -- If there was ever a director who seems in no danger of repeating himself, that director is Ang Lee. None of his films bears the slightest similarity in subject or tone to any of the others. No doubt there is a subterranean link joining them, but it would take a journey to the center of the earth to find it. And he would be your man to film the journey.

Consider his latest and not even most controversial film, "Lust, Caution," which was a special presentation of the Toronto Film Festival here Friday night. Set in Shanghai during the years of the Japanese occupation of China, it is about politics, students, assassination, Mah-Jongg and a great deal of sex. It is also long, languid and exquisitely beautiful, its camera wandering the world of a privileged class of Chinese who collaborate with the Japanese and profit hugely from the black market.

Let's start with the sex. No, let's start with the Mah-Jongg. Joan Chen plays the spoiled wife of the secret service boss Mr. Yee (Tony Leung Chiu Wai, the Asian Cary Grant). She and her friends complain that their lives are limited to Mah-Jongg and shopping; their conversations around the game table include diamonds, nylons and cigarettes and other black-market bargains.

Into their circle comes Mrs. Mak (Tang Wei), allegedly the wife of a rich merchant, in fact a member of a student revolutionary group that has decided to murder a collaborationist as their summer project. Her assignment: Seduce Mr. Yee and set him up for killing. During a relationship that spans two years, they grow so intimate and passionate that, she observes, for him there is no satisfaction without some blood involved. She doesn't enjoy their sex, exactly, so much as marvel at the intimacy it brings despite her hatred for the man.

The sex scenes are not, as had been rumored, hard core. But they make use of positions also employed in Lee's "Brokeback Mountain," The Kama Sutra, and, I believe, chiropractic treatment. They show the characters being drawn almost against their will into fearsome intimacy.

Ang Lee's other films have included "Eat Drink Man Woman," "The Ice Storm," "Sense and Sensibility," "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" and "The Hulk," and find if you will the connecting link.
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PostPosted: Wed Sep 12, 2007 7:11 am    Post subject:

Movie Lust, Toronto-Style

By Richard Corliss/Venice

Saturday, Sep. 08, 2007


We come to these festive cities to be transported to other places, other sensibilities. In Lust, Caution it's Shanghai, 1942, where four Chinese ladies in the home of Mrs. Yee (Joan Chen) are deep in those twin devious pleasures, mahjong and gossip. What three of them don't know is that the fourth, Mak Tai Tai (Tang Wei), is embarking on an affair with Mrs. Yee's husband (Tony Leung Chiu-wai), a high-level government official collaborating with the occupying Japanese. Indeed, her name is not Mak Tai Tai but Wang Chia Chih, an operative of the underground Resistance. Her mission is to seduce and kill Yee.

A sumptuous Mata Hari melodrama that measures out its many luxurious over a 2-1/2hr. running time, Lust, Caution (from a short story by the late novelist and screenwriter Eileen Chang) is in a way the perfect blending of Ang Lee's two most popular films, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and Brokeback Mountain. Like the first, it returns the Taiwanese native to China for a tale of political intrigue; like the second, it locates the passion, melancholy and power struggles of two complicated people. In a new book that includes the movie's original story, script and comments by the crew, assistant director Roseanna Ng calls Lust, Caution "another action movie," but with "no martial masters from different schools. ... All we had were one bed and two actors."

For all the care taken in period detail and psychological nuance, the film's big talking point is three startlingly intense scenes between Leung and Wang. Sex may not sell at the box office (audiences get enough of that in their home entertainment), but it's news at film festivals. And Lee knows how to stoke feverish whispers. When at Venice he was asked if the actors engaged in actual sex, he impishly replied, "Have you seen the film?"

The two actors certainly go at it, with a fierce energy that was finally exhausted after 11 days shooting the three scenes. But whether or not they Did It doesn't matter as much as what they reveal of their characters while they're doing it. The first encounter is described in the script as "more or less a rape" — his will to dominate grinding down her stubbornness to survive long enough to get her revenge. In a later tryst, she moans in real or mock pleasure, while he goes silently about his work. Then he curls her body into his and finally makes an enigmatic but revealing little noise. They have connected. And when he begins to desire her, she can begin to use him. These are things we couldn't feel so strongly if they were expressed in dialogue or a kiss. Lee knows that sex, in movies, can be as eloquent as a knife to the heart.

Leung usually plays sympathetic loners, as in Hero and Infernal Affairs, the film that inspired Martin Scorsese's The Departed (Leung played the Leonardo DiCaprio part). Here he's hard, knowing and Freon-cool, and as ruthless in bed as in interrogating a Resistance suspect. As for the previously unknown Tang Wei, she's not a big-eyed cutie like those three-China favorites Faye Wong or Vicky Zhao Wei. She's more in the fashion of the sour beauties of Shanghai's film and music scene in the 40s. Her style and sensuality have to be discovered, peeled off layer by layer, as Yee does to Wang in the movie.

Lust, Caution has not been so widely admired as Lee's other famous films. But it should be, for it mixes daring and delicacy with a master's touch. Toronto has got off to a good start with Lee's elegant, erotic movie — his own Brokeback Bedroom.,8816,1660225,00.html
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PostPosted: Wed Sep 12, 2007 7:22 am    Post subject:

by Paul Fischer on Australia

"Lust Caution’’ is a lengthy, but erotic and fascinating work.

The film’s setting is Shanghai, 1942 and the Japanese occupation of this Chinese city continues in force. The film opens as 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 Chi. [Wei Tang]. With WWII underway, her father, who has escaped to England, has left behind Wong. As a freshman at university, she meets fellow student Kuang Yu Min. 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 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. Cut to 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 ever closer to her dangerous prey, she finds her very identity being pushed to the limit.

A study of identity, the blurry line between lust and love, and the evolving sexual identity of the film’s main character, Lust Caution is another extraordinary work from a world-renowned filmmaker. Lee knows how to make emotionally vivid films, but nothing compares to the complexity and eroticism of this film. Bold and irresistible, full marks to US distributor Focus for not cutting the film to get an R-rating here, for its graphic depiction of raw, uninhibited sexuality enhances the film’s sense of character.

Masterfully acted by Leung and the extraordinary, beautiful and hypnotic Tang, Lust Caution depicts the period with visually arresting detail, and provides audiences with a sharply detailed picture of unique world. This is a dazzling, sumptuous and erotic masterpiece that only Ang Lee can deliver in spades.
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PostPosted: Wed Sep 12, 2007 7:23 am    Post subject:

Lust, Caution A-

by Emanuel Levy

Venice and Toronto Film Festival (World Premiere)--Bold, audacious, and accomplished on many levels, Ang Lee’s “Lust, Caution” is a worthy and logical follow-up to “Brokeback Mountain,” for which he won the 2005 Director Oscar.

Lee may be the only director in Venice Fest’s history to have twice received the top award-—in such short period of time. Like “Brokeback Mountain” (a film that ironically was rejected by the Cannes Festival), “Lust, Caution” was awarded top prize by the Venice jury’s last week.

As was reported, due to steamy, explicit sex, Focus Features will release “Lust, Caution,” September 28, with the problematic rating, NC-17, a label that's usually the kiss of death at the box-office. It’s an uphill battle, but not an impossible one. Hopefully, “Lust, Caution” will become a "cause celebre,” in the same way that “Last Tango in Paris” was in 1973, when it was slapped with X-rating (later changed into R). With some luck, critical support and audience curiosity, Lee’s courageous feature will prove the doubters and pessimists wrong.

There are other (surmountable) obstacles: The film is long (two hours and 37 minutes), dramatically uneven, deliberately paced, and speaks various Chinese dialects; dialogue is in Mandarin, Cantonese, and Shanghainese, with some Japanese and English. And unlike Bertolucci’s “Last Tango in Paris” and “The Dreamers,” Lee’s film has no name cast, at least not on the level of Brando. Lee’s erotic espionage stars Asian cinema icon Tony Leung and newcomer Tang Wei.

Going back to his Taiwanese roots, while using all the experience he has accumulated in the U.S. as an indie and mainstream Hollywood director, Lee has made an erotically-charged melodrama-thriller. The screenplay, by Wang Hui-ling and James Schamus (a regular Lee collaborator and also credited as producer), is based on the short story by the revered Chinese author Eileen Chang, concerning the fate of a seemingly ordinary woman.

Tale begins in Shanghai, 1942, when the World War II Japanese occupation of the Chinese city prevails in force. Mrs. Mak, a woman of sophistication and means, walks into a café, places a phone call, and then sits and waits.

Through flashbacks, she remembers how her story began years earlier, in 1938 China. We find out that she is not Mrs. Mak, but the shy Wong Chia Chi (Tang Wei). With WWII underway, Wong has been left behind by her father, who has escaped to England.

As a freshman at university, Wong meets fellow student Kuang Yu Min (Wang Leehom), who has started a drama society to shore up patriotism. As the theater troupe’s new leading lady, Wong realizes she has found her calling, able to move and inspire audiences—and Kuang.

Kuang convenes a militant group of students to carry out a radical, ambitious plan to assassinate a top Japanese collaborator, Mr. Yee (Tony Leung). Each student has a part to play, and Wong is cast as Mrs. Mak. Her task is to gain Yee’s trust by first befriending his wife (Joan Chen) and then drawing Yee into an affair. Wong transforms herself utterly inside and out, and the events proceed as scripted--until an unexpectedly fatal twist spurs her to flee.

Cut to Shanghai, 1941,a year before the feature's first chapters began. With no end in sight for the occupation, Wong, having emigrated from Hong Kong, goes through the motions of survival. To her surprise, Kuang reenters her life. Now part of the organized resistance, he enlists her to again become Mrs. Mak in a revival of the old plot to kill Yee. In the intervening years, as head of the collaborationist secret service, Yee has become a crucial member of the puppet government. As Wong reprises her earlier role, and is drawn closer to her dangerous prey, she finds her very identity tested and pushed to the limit.

Early on, Wong attends a movie, “Intermezzo,” starring Ingrid Bergman, which leaves her touched and in tears. Volumes could be read about this scene choice, both in textual-fictional, the story of “Intermezzo, and intertextual-factual ways. This was Ingrid Bergman’s first Hollywood movie, after which she became a movie star, only to lose her credibility and status five years later, when she fell for Italian director Robert Rossellini and deserted her husband and daughter for him.

The issues of self-delusion and fragile identities, and how they change as a result of random encounters (including sexual ones) are recurring motifs in Lee’s work, not jut in “Brokeback Mountain.” In this feature, Wong’s identity is shattered, when she brings to the unexpected circumstances a set of needs, talents, and skills that have previously been unutilized, or remained dormant.

Interestingly, and this may be a coincidence, but “Lust, Caution” deals with similar themes to those of Paul Verhoeven’s provocative and erotic “Black Book,” which also centers on an attractive women, asked to sacrifice her self, identity, and nationality, and in the process falls real and hard for the enemy. Here, Wong immerses herself in the role of Madame Mak, based on personal conviction and persuasive skills; the Yees "buy" her identity.

The sexual acts of Wong and Yee are graphic, though anything but opportunistic, exhibitionist, or exploitative. Ang Lee stages them with meticulous attention to detail, imbuing each encounter with emotional intensity, eroticism, and power, too.

Like the heroine of “Black Book,” Wong’s sexual engagement is a peculiar, complex mix of carnal, emotional, and power motives. Like Paul Verhoeven, Lee recognizes women’s sense of empowerment as a result of sexual control, an issue that has not been explored by Hollywood directors.

Is Wong acting in an assassination play, or is she becoming part of an actual plot? When Wong’s receives a present from Yee's love, she is genuinely touched. But after witnessing a murder, her existence becomes too real and dangerous. Kuang vows to protect Wong from harm, but fails to recognize her identity until it becomes too late.

As helmer, Lee exercises meticulous command over the shifting identities, allegiances, emotions and desires in order to examine the desperate, destructive ways Wong (and figures like her) lose control over her fate.

As noted, ”Lust, Caution" shares thematic concerns with Lee's “Brokeback Mountain.” In both films, the characters delude themselves by living an illusory, unfulfilled life and in the end pay high price for that.

On another level, “Lust, Caution” is another poignant, deconstructive essay on acting as a profession, and female actors in particular, with Lee joining the league of such directors as Bergman, Godard, and others, all of whom have made meditations on actresses and role-playing.

The immaculately-nuanced melodrama takes its time to build dramatic momentum, and the first hour is particularly slow. The film is deliberately paced but always accessible; it requires greater patience and attention, qualities that are seldom called upon while watching Hollywood fare, particularly summer sequels. "Lust, Caution" is a decidedly "fall" season movie, in all the meanings of this term.

Wei, Leung, Chen, and Leehom render compelling performances. The gorgeously looking (not a single bad angle) screen debutante Tang Wei, a theater student who's done some TV series, meets the challenge of constructing conflicting facets of Wong's personality, with suitors vying for one or more of her sides, often at the same time.

Hong Kong heartthrob and international star Leung (known for his work for Wong Kar-wei, among others) persuasively suggests cold manipulation. Leung's Yee is a man of secrets, but he is more relaxed in Wong’s presence and can confide in her—up to a point. While keeping under wraps details of his business, he gradually begins discloses some hidden emotions.

The duo engages in conversations that conceal repressed desires and suggest dangerous political adventurism. Leung and Tang generate sparks and chemistry, especially in the sex scenes, which are bold by any standards as they involve full-frontal female nudity.

The writers have expanded the source material, fleshing out more fully the characters, but some of their choices will be scrutinized, such as the decision not to show Yee's interrogation and torture, or the fact that despite blackmails and assassinations, the saga is not as graphically violent as similarly-themed American movies.

That said, “Lust, Caution” is not without humor. It will be interesting to see how Western viewers, specifically women, relate to the scene in which Wong discards her virginity--in order to promote political causes!

Wartime Shanghai is vividly conveyed by the brilliant Mexican director of cinematography Rodrigo Prieto, who also shot Lee’s film, “Brokeback Mountain,” as well as Innaritu’s Oscar-nominated epic “Babel.” The Hong Kong sequences, shot in Malaysia, are colorful, too. Ace composer Alexandre Desplat's music elevates the saga’s dramatic and emotional moments with the right tunes.
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PostPosted: Fri Sep 14, 2007 5:05 am    Post subject:

IGN: Lust, Caution Among Lee's Best Work

TIFF 07: Lust, Caution
Review: Lee's latest takes the Taiwanese director to China for a searing, sexy tale of espionage.

by Todd Gilchrist

September 7, 2007 - Following his triumphant win at the 2006 Oscars for Brokeback Mountain, director Ang Lee quite literally could have done anything he wanted as a filmmaker (after all, he had just won the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences' highest filmmaking honor for bringing a controversial story about a decades-long gay relationship to the screen). And that's precisely what he has done with his latest, Lust, Caution: The Taiwanese director opted to make a sex-filled Chinese-language spy drama that runs more than two and a half hours and features a virtual unknown in the lead role.

Despite Lee's monumental talent and ability to make accessible subjects that in other hands would feel completely foreign, even longstanding fans are unlikely to expect this film to join the ranks of his other genre, gender and culture-transcending classics. But even as a less visible or immediately provocative tale than Brokeback, Lust, Caution is a beautiful, erotically-charged tale that easily stands among the director's best work.

Tang Wei plays Wong Chia Chi, an otherwise unassuming Chinese student who in 1938 finds an unexpected calling when she agrees to take part in a patriotic play. Moving the audience with her tearful performance, Wong realizes that she has been recognized for the very first time in her life -- albeit as a different person -- and throws herself into the life of an actor. But when fellow student Kuang Yu Min (Wang Leehom) invites the theater troupe to serve their country by assassinating a Japanese collaborator named Mr. Yee (Tony Leung), her talents are catapulted into circumstances that not only challenge her budding skill, but threaten to consume her real identity.

Becoming Mrs. Mak, the bored wife of an importer-exporter, Wong slowly infiltrates the Yee household -- first by earning Mrs. Yee's (Joan Chen) confidence and then by attempting to draw Mr. Yee into an affair. But Wong discovers that her role as Mrs. Mak is not only a facade for them, but also a trap for herself. And soon she must decide whether it's more valuable to play a fake person who is trusted and loved, or a real one whom she barely acknowledges herself.

Defining oneself is a recurrent theme in many of Lee's films, from The Wedding Banquet to Hulk to Brokeback Mountain. But here, the director makes some of his most devastating observations about human nature, finding in his main character a woman who almost literally has no identity until she creates one for others. In an early scene, Wong sits in a movie theater crying while watching Intermezzo; it's a telling moment because it immediately precedes her own emergence as an actress and speaks to the connection between the fiction of a "character" and the palpable emotion it generates within her.

Later, she becomes consumed by playing Mrs. Mak, not only because she completely believes the truth of her role, but because the Yees believe as well. It makes her self-delusion that much more powerful, and when she eventually sleeps with Mr. Yee, their sex scenes are charged with deep emotional intensity because he expresses a need to reveal himself to another person and she feels the gratification of finally becoming someone. To her, convincing him she is Mrs. Mak is actually being Mrs. Mak, and it empowers her -- both emotionally and physically -- as a fully-formed person rather than the discarded daughter of an expatriate or some street urchin playing with patrician-class values.

At the same time, the real world frequently imposes its own unflinching gaze upon her gambit and reminds her that she isn't acting in some assassination play, but part of a real plot. In an early sequence that concludes her first "performance" as Mrs. Mak, Wong finds herself witness to a murder -- a sight that proves far too real and unglamorous for her to stay "in character." Later, she receives a gift that reveals Yee's love, in the process unleashing her own buried feelings. Both events reconnect her with the humanity that she always possessed, but corrupted long ago as some affected part of her role, ultimately showing her how she not only betrayed those closest to her, but herself as well.

While Wei, Leung and Leehom are all brilliant and heartrending in their respective roles, Lee is the maestro of this story and he manipulates these fragile characters to evoke sad, beautiful and profound human truths. As powerfully as Wei creates the two tenuous halves of Wong's personality, Lee pits them against each other and positions them against the character's two would-be suitors, creating a dynamic where two men are fighting for two different women in the same frail frame.

Leung's Yee is a man full of secrets, and he finds in Mrs. Mak a person in whom he can confide -- if not the sordid details of his business, at the very least his tormented feelings. Meanwhile, Kuang vows to protect the shrinking-violet Wong from harm, but fails to recognize her real identity until it is too late, as she has already succumbed to the reassuring validation of the Yees' acceptance. (Her question to him -- "Why didn't you do that before?" -- after he kisses her is one of the movie's most heartbreaking moments.) Lee exercises meticulous control of these shifting emotional dynamics to not only maximize the drama, but to properly -- and thoroughly -- examine the desperate and destructive ways that Wong has sealed her own fate.

Unsurprisingly, there are scores of moments from the film that linger in the mind's eye, but overall the appeal of Lust, Caution is not one of graphic exhibitionism (its sex scenes earned the film an NC-17) nor pastoral beauty (director of photography Rodrigo Prieto creates a brilliance that seems to emanate from within the characters). Rather, it's that the film deconstructs the very nature of acting as we know it -- creating fiction in order to explore truth -- and observes how that destroys the people who put on those facades.

In other words, Lust, Caution really isn't so radically different from Brokeback Mountain; in both cases, the characters are living lies that they desperately want to be the truth. But even if this film fails to make the same sort of immediate impression on audiences, make no mistake that it will make one that is equally lasting. The key to Lee's versatility is not that he makes so many different kinds of movies, but that he makes them all accessible -- even if it sometimes takes a little more time and effort to get into some of them than it does others.

4.5 out of 5 Stars
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PostPosted: Fri Sep 14, 2007 5:10 am    Post subject:

Brief Review from Toronto (The Seattle Times)

Ang Lee's "Lust, Caution" is a world away from his last film, "Brokeback Mountain": It's a Chinese-language film, set in 1940s Shanghai and based on Eileen Chang's haunting novella of a young actress/revolutionary who disguises herself in order to seduce and destroy a government official. Newcomer Tang Wei captures, in few words, the performer's thrill of learning how to dissolve oneself into a role; early in the film, after her stage debut, she's so dazzled she can't sit still; the very blood in her veins seems changed.

Tony Leung Chiu Wai, as her lover, shows only the faintest trace of that unforgettably gentle sadness he showed in "In the Mood For Love"; here, he's a cold man interested in possession rather than love. The movie's fairly graphic sex scenes (making much more explicit what was only hinted at in Chang's novella) have earned the movie an NC-17 rating, which is likely to keep its U.S. audience small when it opens in theaters later this fall. But the film is a beautiful showcase for Lee's trademark elegance, intelligence and attention to detail; here, a tiny lipstick smudge on a cup speaks volumes.
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PostPosted: Fri Sep 14, 2007 5:14 am    Post subject:

'Lust, Caution'
By Duane Dudek
Friday, Sep 7 2007, 07:03 AM

Toronto - The psycho sexual convolutions of the Ang Lee film "Lust, Caution" are so intense that when the two lovers are wrapped in a fetal coital position, it is hard to tell where one ends and the other begins. Away from their trysts it is much more clear. They are as opposite as the film's title.

He, played by the estimable Tony Leung, is a powerful man in the collaborationist government in Shanghai during its occupation by the Japanese during World War II. She, played by Tang Wei, a model making her film debut, is a part of a college resistance group's plot to assassinate Leung, during which she infiltrates his wife's mahjong circle and begins to reel him in.

The result has life altering consequences for both

The emotional, political and sexual topography of "Lust, Caution" - which is showing here at the Toronto International Film Festival before opening in limited release Sept. 28 - is so mature it makes other so called adult dramas look like child's play. But whether it deserves an NC-17 rating will be in the eye of the beholder.

It is never exploitative, pandering or even, arguably, erotic. But there is vigorous lovemaking between two desperate characters, with glimpses of the sort of intimacies that while differently shaded in "Brokeback Mountain" were no less desperate.

It too, like "Brokeback" is based on a short story - this time by Eileen Chang - that Lee has made into a much longer work: it clocks in at 157 minutes. The first encounter takes place almost two thirds into the film, prior to which "Lust, Caution" has the tension of extended foreplay; she poses as an apple ready to be picked and he considers her hungrily. While establishing all this "Lust, Caution" is a purposely slow moving, dramatically formal, even cautious work, with a lust for the sort of detail, atmosphere and density for which the Oscar winning director has become synonymous.
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