Just as he did with his Oscar-winning Brokeback Mountain, Ang Lee has plundered a novella to make his first film in Mandarin since Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon in 2000. Eileen Chan’s largely autobiographical 60-page prose has been expanded into a toilet-busting epic with heavy tonal echoes of Stanley Kwan’s 2005 Shanghai love letter Everlasting Regret.
Asian superstar Tony Leung (Infernal Affairs, In the Mood for Love) plays World War II Japanese collaborator Mr Yee, who a group of Chinese patriotic students wish to assassinate. In 1938 a shy young woman Wong (Tang Wei) joins the group and is persuaded by the group leader Kuang (Wang Lee-hom) to be a honeytrap for Mr Yee. Where Paul Verhoeven made such a woman pivotal to the action-packed plot in last year’s Black Book, Lee has a more discerning take in which he tries to get into the mind of a femme fatale and investigate her emotional wellbeing.
Unfortunately, despite the lush set design and excellent performances, Lee and screenwriter James Schamus don’t deliver a coherent or even particularly compelling narrative. Lust, Caution, as the comma in the title alludes to, is essentially two films locked together. The first half is where most of the additions to the novella take place and is slow-burning to a fault. Only when the film jumps to 1941 and the action takes an erotically charged turn do we really start to get some substance adding to the style. Alas, Lee would have benefited by showing more lust and less caution.
Selected release from Fri 4 Jan.