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Joan Chen
Tony Leung Chiu-Wai
Tang Wei
Leehom Wang.
Ang Lee.
James Schamus
Hui-Ling Wang.
Running Time
158 minutes

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Lust, Caution
Spying and sex in Ang Lee’s latest genre-hop

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The year is 1942 in occupied Shanghai, and a society woman walks into a café and makes a phone call. In flashback, we discover that she is Wong Chia Chi (Tang), a drama student turned spy on a secret mission to facilitate the assassination of Mr Yee (Leung), a hated collaborator.

Lust, Caution
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You have to marvel at Ang Lee’s ability to take short stories and turn them into modern epics, as he did with Brokeback Mountain and has done again with this steamy take on Eileen Chang’s 68-page not-even-a-novella. Is he transported by parking tickets? Is every menu he reads a potential Lawrence Of Arabia? If we sent him three postcards would he give you the new Lord Of The Rings trilogy? But however the muse strikes him, Lee is one of the few directors working today who actually seems to have a handle on the concept of time, and though Lust, Caution has its seeming longueurs, this is a film of deceptive subtlety that springs shut in its final moments like a steel trap.

Working in his native Mandarin again, Lee is clearly having fun with audience preconceptions, opening his film with a mah jong game that, though it reveals plenty about the milieu we’re about to move in, will pose quite a challenge for slow readers of subtitles. It will also baffle those who have heard only that this is Lee’s most sexually explicit film to date. Given that Lee’s forte so far has been turning his hand to every possible genre and sub-genre - literary adaptation (Sense And Sensibilty), the Western (Ride With The Devil), comic book movie (Hulk) - one could be forgiven for thinking, after reading the advance press, that here, at last, is the master craftsman’s porno.

But although it does tip its hat to Nagisa Oshima’s erotic classic Ai No Corrida (In The Realm Of The Senses) when the raunchiness finally arrives, this is not a film about sex but about sacrifice and obsession. Providing the first half of this equation is Tang Wei, a beautiful first-timer who is quite extraordinary in the role of Wong. Sent to infiltrate the household of Mr Yee, a governor responsible for the deaths of many Chinese rebels, Wong has a number of masks to wear at any given time, first persuading Mrs Yee that she is a socialite named Mrs Mak, and ultimately responding to Mr Yee’s vicious and, visually, shocking advances. Finally, she has to deal with the radical underground movement that is paying her - but is she still happy to be a pawn in their game?

Playing opposite her and sparking off this delicate, nuanced performance is Hong Kong star Tony Leung as the wolfish Mr Yee. To those used to seeing Leung as a melancholy matinee idol in the films of Wong Kar-Wei - most notably the lush, romantic In The Mood For Love, in which he played a shy, sympathetic cuckold - his work here is extraordinary, unleashing a previously hidden and wholly uncharacteristic mean streak. But as time unfolds, My Yee’s cruelty stops being simply vile and starts to become fascinating, and even paradoxical, infusing a potentially two-dimensional moustache-twirling villain with humanity and pathos, leading to a terrific, unexpectedly amusing scene in a jewellery shop when Wong’s conflicting emotions finally boil over. However, this is not a feelgood story of beauty meeting beast, and when Wong’s facade eventually breaks down, Lee’s story finally jerks into a focus. It may seem like a long time getting there, but when Lust, Caution finally reels you in, the payoff is both provocative and satisfying. More importantly, you may find yourself heading for the door thinking, maybe, just maybe, you could have sat through just a little bit more...

A beautifully rendered, long, drawn-out but ultimately very satisfying story of betrayal and revenge in an uneasy setting of wartime paranoia.

Reviewed by Damon Wise

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Your Reviews

Average user rating for Lust, Caution
Empire Star Rating

Ang Lee - One of the best directors out there!

I find it really irritating that people see this as Ang Lee's porno movie. Yes ok there are a lot of sex scenes in it and yes they do get quite erotic and explicit, but theres so much more to the film than it's very own sexual element/content. It was a riveting movie filled with suspense and gripping moments while set against the second world war in 1940s china. Both central performances were magnifient and the ending really got to me in a very sad way. Bravo Mr. Lee! ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by MartyW at 02:01, 03 June 2009 | Report This Post

Bonk Lee

I know I should be talking about the the brilliant central performance by Wei Tang as the talented student/ actress who falls into the resistance movenment, the sumptuous period look or the tension filled story but there's no getting away from the banging sex scenes! They really go at it and get into some good positions - I can't remember the last movie outside of a porno I saw with such explicit shagging. Hats off to the two main protagonists for have the guts to do that onscreen, although you... More

Posted by Fluke Skywalker at 12:14, 02 February 2009 | Report This Post

Hmm, Not Sure Yet.

I just finished it and I'm still undecieded about this. The first half of the movie seems long and taking it's damn time to get on with things which can be really annoying. But when the second half comes, it's shocking and leaves you with a bitter taste ending. The sex is very erotic, only twice it appears but when it does it can put you off but you have to carry on to see what happens next. I had to fast-foward some of it as it got too drawn-out and very slow but I managed to hold on to find a ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by joanna likes films at 18:03, 18 December 2008 | Report This Post

Lust, Caution

Good but not great. The first half is too long and could have been shortened without losing the plot. The second half is bold and daring with a great ending. But, the first half drags the film down, ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by lynnshep at 00:52, 03 July 2008 | Report This Post

RE: Even better that Brokeback Mountain

Totally better than Brokeback. I also loved this film and was more than I xpected from Lee. What's next please?? ... More

Posted by skouliki at 11:14, 20 May 2008 | Report This Post

RE: Even better that Brokeback Mountain

Loved this film. I was a little unsure I'd like it when I got it but I was hooked by about 20 minutes in and it kept my attention all the way to the end. I even watched the 'making of' on the extras which I never normally do just to get a better understanding of the characters.   I rented it at the same time as Enchanted so watched one after the other. Talk about 2 completely different films! ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by Diggler at 16:35, 15 May 2008 | Report This Post

RE: Even better that Brokeback Mountain

uous period piece, beautiful to look at and elegantly put together. The gorgeous Tang Wei anchors the entire film with a courageous and ambiguous performance, not least in the explicit (but crucially not gratuitous) sex scenes with Leung. It’s a little overlong and the deliberate pacing renders the espionage aspect of the plot less gripping, but this is still superior, intelligent film-making by a versatile and passionate director. ... More

Posted by MOTH at 10:36, 14 May 2008 | Report This Post

Even better that Brokeback Mountain

Ang Lee's Lust, Caution is wonderfull, erotic and brutal. A beautiful love story. I think Lust, Caution is Wong Kar-Wai's masterpiece 2046. Brilliant performances, cinematography and directio ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by nc_jj at 00:11, 22 February 2008 | Report This Post

I thought this was a good film, but it dodn't blow me away. The sex scenes are suprisingly shocking and act as a good counterpoint the the rest of the movie which tells it's story in quite a subdued way. ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by Spookygeek101 at 13:14, 18 January 2008 | Report This Post

RE: over too quickly!

Ang Lee's latest effort, a sorta political thriller set in WWII Japanese-occupied Shanghai. A bunch of Chinese students have formed a dramatic theatre group and are wowing native audiences with pro-Chinese propoganda plays. Inspired by the success, they decide to go the next step and assassinate a high-ranking Chinese official, who deals with the Japanese invaders and is therefore a traitor. Their leading actress must infiltrate the official's circle, seduce him, and bring him to where the othe... More

Posted by Lightfoot at 11:26, 06 January 2008 | Report This Post

RE: over too quickly!

L: kimratcliffe full marks all round- and leaving you wondering- What if???? sp; Yeah, what if? What if you made your own porn movie and got loads of money for it? ... More

Posted by Rumble Jack at 20:24, 05 January 2008 | Report This Post

over too quickly!

like other reviewers i was not a fan of Brokeback Mountain but this is head and shoulders above it- the only similarlity is the quality of the cinematography which is breathtaking & authentic. Beautifully crafted & acted this is the best subtitled film i;ve seen - my partner would have refused to go if he had realised it was subtitled but even he said that it didn't matter & it was one of the best films he has ever seen. It must get oscar nominations surely- except it might be a bit ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by kimratcliffe at 18:24, 05 January 2008 | Report This Post

RE: You'll not forget

Having sat through the monumentally overrated snorefest that was 'Brokeback Mountain' I wasn't overly enthusiastic about going to see another Ang Lee love story which is again based on a short story.  Seeing as I'd enjoyed Lee's earlier films I decided to give it a go and I have to say I was pleasantly surprised.  This was my first cinema trip of 2008 and I hope it bodes well for the rest of the year.  Superbly acted and elegantly crafted the film plays like something from t... More

Posted by mackey at 13:30, 05 January 2008 | Report This Post

You'll not forget

My first instinct having seeing this beautiful film in New York was that I wanted to go straight back in and watch it again. It is far beyond what I could have expected from Ang Lee, being that I didn't enjoy Brokeback beyond the excellent cinematography. This is no porno - it's a truly painful love story - one of sacrifice to the highest level. ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by mrpeterbeech at 19:46, 01 January 2008 | Report This Post

You'll not forget

My first instinct having seeing this beautiful film in New York was that I wanted to go straight back in and watch it again. It is far beyond what I could have expected from Ang Lee, being that I didn't enjoy Brokeback beyond the excellent cinematography. This is no porno - it's a truly painful love story - one of sacrifice to the highest level. ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by mrpeterbeech at 19:38, 01 January 2008 | Report This Post

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