Take a Drink: whenever smuggling or the black market is referred to
Take a Drink: for acting, in any sphere
Take a Drink: for propaganda
Take a Drink: for smoking
Take a Drink: for reflections
Take a Drink: for mahjong
Take a Drink: for sex
Do a Shot: haha, white people
Do a Shot: for, yep, that’s rape
By: Henry J. Fromage (Two Beers) –
Before this week, I’d only seen about 10 minutes of Lust, Caution. I suspect it’s the same ten minutes that the majority of folks have seen of this almost three-hour Chinese historical drama (it’s also true for my wife, at least). Oh, did I mention it was rated NC-17?
The poster knows what I’m talkin’ about.
Set during the Japanese occupation of China, a university student (Tang Wei) joins a theater group, which soon switches to a more dangerous game- assassinating a high profile Chinese collaborator (Tony Leung). Tang soon catches his fancy, and a years-long battle of wits, trust, and passion ensues.
After the mainstream success of Brokeback Mountain, Ang Lee went back East with a lot more clout, and used it to stage an epic production, particularly for a story for which explicit sex is an integral part. The budget is right up there on the screen, elegant costuming, makeup, and set design, all lusciously shot by frequent DP Rodrigo Prieto and propulsively scored by Alexandre Desplat. This is a very good-looking film in every way.
The real raison d’etre for this film, though, is its emotion, and the cast delivers beautifully. Tang carries the film on her shoulders, and is radiant, a portrait of toughness and vulnerability, fearless and broken in turn. By all rights, it should’ve been a star-making turn, especially considering how well she plays off of old pro Tony Leung…
More likely Tony Hung, amirite? *collective groan*
… who is as good as ever, but in a different light than we’re accustomed to seeing in In the Mood for Love or Hard Boiled. He’s a hard man, perhaps made so by his constant struggle for security in a hostile environment, but attractive in a smoldering animalistic way. You can understand how on edge he is, and how Tang might start to develop ambivalent feelings towards her quarry despite his cruelties.
Ang Lee also directs the hell out of this film. Scenes like the first time the drama students turned resistance fighters have to kill show his mastery. A lesser director may have shot an ominously-scored nailbiter, or a quick burst of bloodshed, perhaps followed by a discussion of feelings or a shocked silence. Lee films it as a fumbling chaos, where these tough-talking kids show they can’t even hold a knife right without cutting themselves, or that a man doesn’t just sink to his knees and say his last words after one stab.
Bernardo woulda had to stab Riff for like ten minutes
What Lee’s after is realism, and how our ideals and misconceptions clash with it, whether it’s at war, in the bedroom, or, particularly, caught in a web of deception that we can’t extricate ourselves from.
You’ll need a beer for Tang and Leung’s first sex scene, which goes from rough to rape in two shakes of a lamb’s tale. For me at least, all of the moral and romantic ambiguity of the film drained right out of it in that scene. She goes back because she has no choice- it’s her later attraction to him I don’t quite get. And as for him, if he was trying to mortify her because he’s suspicious of her motives, won’t her coming back for more make her more suspicious? In the end, it just makes them both look dumb, and serves no purpose except evaporating any empathy for Leung faster than tears on a hot tin roof.
Or it could be more of this bullshit, I guess.
Lust, Caution is a lush, captivating melodrama based on, and pitched as, real history. It’s simply one of Ang Lee’s best films.