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"Lust, Caution"

Directed by Ang Lee.
Written by James Schamus and Hui-Ling Wang.
Starring Wei Tang, Tony Leung, and Lee-Hom Wang.
Release Year:  2007
Review Date:  10/15/07

Ang Lee is quickly becoming "The Man"?  Check.  Tony Leung, once again brilliant?  Check.  Solid rookie effort from an unknown actress:  Check.  And, finally--movie sex scenes done right?  Check!

"Lust, Caution" isn't your mama's Japanese-occupied China wartime love story; nope, it's all grow'd up and Lee just does excellent work with his epic film.  It's an all-around solid performer but it is so understated at times--so Asian, if you will--that I just really liked how solid it was.  In 1942, Shanghai is occupied by those Axis-lovin' Japanese bastards (it almost would have been comedy to have a scene where even the Chinese call Japanese enemies "Japs" like all of the old American talkies used to), and in this new landscape, one Chinese guy named Mr. Yee (Tony Leung, from everything half-decent that ever came out of Chinese cinema like "Hard Boiled", "Infernal Affairs" and "Hero") has taken advantage of the system to work as the de facto police chief in Shanghai.  He is a traitor in every sense of the term, from his country right down to his wife (Joan Chen, well removed from her days on "Twin Peaks"), and that makes members of the local Chinese resistance movement want the bastard dead.  So, rather than coming right at Yee, a small six-person cell of the resistance sends in their ace in the hole--20-something beauty Wong Chia Chi (Wei Tang)--to slowly seduce Mr. Yee and blow out the operation from the inside, learning more about Yee's tactics and eventually killing Yee herself.

But, in flipping around between the present, a four-years-prior scenario and then spending time in the year up until the present, Lee keeps his long film moving and interesting by giving us very nuanced looks at what life might have been like for those who were living at home but under bad-guy control for such long stretches; also, it is cool to watch little things like how rich Chinese women work politically amongst one another just over a game of mahjongg.  Leung is moving so slowly, so practiced, throughout much of "Lust, Caution"...and then, he's moving like the wind, be it running through a room, whipping the clothes off of a female companion or just snapping his head around.  I can't honestly say that I've ever seen Leung "acting" before, but rather "starring" and being a charismatic action screen presence over the years.  This is great work and I'm very anxious to see if it translates during awards season in this country.

Of course, the film hinges on one performance and that is Tang's...and, she is beyond excellent.  Just her looks at the Yee character are very revealing, but I thought she did her best work during the sex scenes; when you see the movie, you'll see what I mean, but her character's facial reactions are what elevate the sex scenes from soft-core pornography into legitimate drama.  I mean, those scenes are heavy and effective and infinitely watchable because there is a story behind each character as they are going to town on each other; I really love that the Landmark Theater chain decided to carry these films (amongst others) without being edited, because these are the kinds of scenes that really make you sit back and think.

The sets are beautiful, well-detailed and perfect for taking the viewer back to the early 40s in Asia.  The score is great and the cinematography is at times jerky and lively and then quiet and peaceful; it reminds you of Lee's "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" in that way, with far less action.  And, the acting and the occasional laughs round out the experience.  At this early juncture, I can't think of any film so far that has the kind of balance that makes voters vote for a Best Picture candidate, because this one has it all.

Rating:  Opening Weekend


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Bellview Rating System:

"Opening Weekend":  This is the highest rating a movie can receive.  Reserved for movies that exhibit the highest level of acting, plot, character development, setting...or Salma Hayek.  Not necessarily in that order. 

"$X.XX Show":  This price changes each year due to the inflation of movie prices; currently, it is the $9.50 Show.  While not technically perfect, this is a movie that will still entertain you at a very high level.  "Undercover Brother" falls into this category; it's no "Casablanca", but you'll have a great time watching.  The $9.50 Show won't win any Oscars, but you'll be quoting lines from the thing for ages (see "Office Space"). 

"Matinee":  An average movie that merits no more than a $6.50 viewing at your local theater.  Seeing it for less than $9.50 will make you feel a lot better about yourself.  A movie like "Blue Crush" fits this category; you leave the theater saying "That wasn't too, did you see that Lakers game last night?" 

"Rental":  This rating indicates a movie that you see in the previews and say to your friend, "I'll be sure to miss that one."  Mostly forgettable, you couldn't lose too much by going to Hollywood Video and paying $3 to watch it with your sig other, but you would only do that if the video store was out of copies of "Ronin."  If you can, see this movie for free.  This is what your TV Guide would give "one and a half stars." 

"Hard Vice":  This rating is the bottom of the barrel.  A movie that only six other human beings have witnessed, this is the worst movie I have ever seen.  A Shannon Tweed "thriller," it is so bad as to be funny during almost every one of its 84 minutes, and includes the worst ending ever put into a movie.  Marginally worse than "Cabin Boy", "The Avengers" or "Leonard, Part 6", this rating means that you should avoid this movie at all costs, or no costs, EVEN IF YOU CAN SEE IT FOR FREE!  (Warning:  strong profanity will be used in all reviews of "Hard Vice"-rated movies.)

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The "fine print":
All material by Justin Elliot Bell for SMR/Bellview/ except where noted
1999-2009 Justin Elliot Bell This site was last updated 01/08/09