In his latest deliberate piece of cinematic craftsmanship (which won high honors at the recent Venice Film Festival) , Ang Lee has created his Last Tango in Paris, a more lascivious take on Casablanca.
Lust, Caution is drawn from a short story (like Brokeback Mountain) by Eileen Chang; the backdrop being World War II Japanese occupation of Shanghai.
It's about a gullable young drama student (newcomer Tang Wei), recruited by Kuang Yu-Min (Wang Lee-Hom) to impersonate a potential socialite, therefore being part of a mah-jongg contest presided over by Mrs. Yee (Joan Chen). It seems her Mr. Yee (Tony Leung of accomplished pics like 2046) is in collusion with the vicious invaders from the land of the rising sun. This innocent is molded to entrap and seduce him, and the film gradually takes hold as one listens to the clacking of mahjongg staccato tiles.
As an espionage, erotic thriller, Lee's effort bears comparison to this year's Black Book from Paul Verhoeven. There a Jewish woman becomes involved with a Gestapo lover to aid the efforts of the underground resistance. The sexuality here is less gratuitous, though the overrall tension, precipitated by feelings of fear and paranoia, has less of an urgency as Lee's film has a more protracted nature to it, figuratively and literally.
Still, there is something artistic and lovely to behold through the graphic eroticism which includes Kama Sutra. Notions of one's identity and not losing control have a furtive resonance, as the physicality assumes a language of its own, in the way positions are "inflicted" by the bodies of the gradually lusting couple.
Wei is quite a find and holds her own against a materialistic, garrulous Chen, and especially the estimable veteran Leung. The lush lensing of Rodrigo Prieto is indelible and Alexandre Desplat (The Painted Veil) contributes another rich, atmospheric score. Lee has done it again, even for some there may too much caution and too little lust.