Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Lust, Caution

It is the second world war and a pretty young woman uses her sexual attraction to get close to a senior enemy official in order to aid the resistance. This synopsis will be familiar to those who saw Black Book.

In Ang Lee's film the setting is Shanghai under Japanese occupation and being run by the Nanjing regime. The resistance are the Chinese Nationalists -- who later became the government of Taiwan (Ang Lee's homeland). Unlike Black Book, this film explores the delicate process of seducing a highly suspicious, aloof and dangerous married man. To this end the pace of the film is very slow and somewhat non-chronological. The heroine, Chia Chi, is initially a university student and member of a drama club which decides en mass to join the resistance. Their strategy is suitably dramatic, use Chai Chi to infiltrate the Yee household and lure Mr Yee to a place where he can be assassinated.

This is basically a Chinese film, the Japanese are a foreign and menacing presence, and white people are refugees queuing in the streets. I don't know what 1940's Shanghai looked like but the interior shots in the film are often very lush. Understandably the exterior shots look more like sets, some long shots look very fake and 1970s London taxis are substituted for period cars in a couple of places. But I was willing to overlook these things in what was basically character driven film.

What is more difficult to get my head around was the love story. Was it love, lust, acting or sexual relief from the suffocating social environment of occupied Shanghai? Did they both feel the same way about each other? The slow build up of the relationship in Lust, Warning contracts with the instant love affair in Black Book, and general paranoia makes for a more realistic feel.

There is a bit of hype around the sex scenes and whether they were simulated or real. Let me burst some bubbles here: there are about 10 minutes of sex in 2.5 hours of film, it doesn't look any more real than other mainstream movies, there is one violent sex scene (which might account for the R18 rating) and there is more nudity in a British comedy like Death at Funeral than here.

Ian's rating 4.5/5

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