Dec 16, 2007

Lust, Caution

I'm glad I didn't listen to the tepid, unfair reviews for this perfectly satisfying film by Ang Lee, because I thoroughly enjoyed it. It is a beautifully sustained story about a love affair between a radical acting student and a collaborationist minister at the time of the Japanese invasion of China in the 1940s. It is a spy romance sort of thriller. I haven't seen a spy romance since Casablanca, so what's not to like?
I guess the critics were impatient because the much touted graphic sex scenes take a good while to show up. But that good while is wisely spent by Ang Lee lovingly developing his characters, and allowing them to raise the sexual tension, so why the rush? When the sex finally arrives in this film nothing really prepares one for the violence of the passion, since everybody in this movie is unfailingly polite. Sex is notoriously difficult to portray well and many a serious movie has been derailed by a failure to do so. The sex in Lust, Caution works because plenty of groundwork is laid before the characters finally make it to bed. It is emotionally realistic and it is photographed with great sensibility and restraint. It looks sincere. It works. Perhaps the movie should be called Caution, Lust.
The lovers are played by the unflappable Tony Leung and the absolutely gorgeous and amazing Wei Tang, who is a major discovery, as far as I'm concerned. She is stunning as an innocent who fast develops a taste for intrigue and playacting, and takes to deception like a fish to the water. It's a great female character and she shows admirable command in her performance of a performance.
The movie is shot by Rodrigo Prieto, who brings out absolute beauty without calling too much attention to the cinematography. The lighting seems natural; it is subtle and gorgeous and not show-off at all. The movie is a feast for the eyes and it is just lovely to let them wander and take in the richness of the textures in each frame, never crammed with too many tchotchkes, but radiant with beautiful faces and gorgeous, deep colors.
And someone had the endless good taste to hire the great Alexandre Desplat to write the score, which is a perfect melding of haunting Eastern melodies with lush romantic and suspenseful passages. It works beautifully with the film. I'm hoping Oscar nomination for Mr. Desplat.
Ang Lee is a very elegant director. Restrained and romantic, he is patiently enamored of the quiet reactions in the human face. His actors are all wonderful. I can't think of a better way to spend three hours on a dreary, wintry Sunday than to sit back and take Lust, Caution in.

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