Monday, October 8, 2007
Passion in a Dangerous Time
Many of my Hong Kong friends asked me if I had seen Ang Lee's latest movie, Lust, Caution (Se, Jie).
It is currently playing in the city, but won't be released in China until later this month.
And knowing the Chinese censors will be all over the R-rated movie, I made an effort to see the film which recently won the Golden Lion award at the Venice Film Festival.
Set during the Japanese occupation of China during the 1940s, a group of naive college drama students plot to assassinate a Japanese collaborator, played by Tong Leung Chiu-wai. The students, led by Mando-pop singer Wang Leehom put their ingenue, newcomer Tang Wei up to the task of seducing the cautious Mr Yee.
Their relationship is a game of cat and mouse, each daring and luring the other into a more vulnerable state. Some critics complained about the excessive and explicit sex scenes. While I agree the scenes were extensive, in a way they were necessary to describe the progression of their relationship as well as how intense and complex their physical and emotional liaison was.
I loved the fluid mix of Mandarin, Shanghainese, Cantonese and English in the movie, demonstrating how cosmopolitan the well-to-do were during that time.
While a friend of mine complains casting Wang in the movie was wrong because of his Chinese-American face, I still think he was convincing as an idealistic person who is full of determination. Joan Chen was fantastic as the Shanghainese tai tai who is stuck in a life of mahjong and gossip. And Leung's eyes were soulful like a faithful dog. He also looked fit and trim for his bare all scenes.
Best of all is Tang, who makes a dramatic transformation from a plain school girl to playing a sophisticated woman. She has the classic Chinese face found in those advertising posters of that time which is probably why Lee picked her for the role. But also her acting was amazing, evoking a range of emotions from indifference to wild passion.
For me, Lust, Caution is not as good as Brokeback Mountain, but it's definitely up there as a film that makes you think about the roles people play and who is really deceiving whom.