I randomly found the 2007 movie Lust, Caution directed by Ang Lee while browsing Netflix a few weeks ago. I'd never heard of it before. I saw a couple Chinese people on the cover, looked up the Chinese title on IMDB - Se, jie (色，戒), and then asked my wife what she knew about it.
Qian said that she'd heard that it was a really risque film and that the lead actress in it had been banned from Chinese media for three years because of it. I noticed that the film had an NC-17 rating (meaning that no children would be allowed to see it in theaters, even if accompanied by an adult) as Qian was mentioning that.
Hearing about the controversy surrounding the movie and seeing its explicit rating were more than enough incentive for us to give the movie a chance.
Lust, Caution takes place in late-1930's, early-1940's Shanghai and Hong Kong (it's in Chinese subtitled in English on Netflix). It's ostensibly about a group of Communist party insurgents who are trying to assassinate a Chinese man who's working closely with the occupying Japanese invaders. The main thrust of the movie, though, is about the passionate relationship between one of the young ideologues, the beautiful Mrs. Mai played by Tang Wei, and the Chinese traitor/Japanese sympathizer, Mr. Yee played by Tony Leung.
The movie has a very slow pace. Early parts of the movie are dominated by catty discussions between high-society women playing ma jiang and drinking tea. I can see how one would be turned off by the glacial speed that the movie begins with. I wasn't bothered by the slow beginning, though. I really enjoyed taking in the portrayal of bygone Shanghai and Hong Kong. I'm not sure how "realistic" the scenes at the ma jiang table, markets, stores, cafes really are, but they were quite romantic and cosmopolitan and really nice scenery for the movie.
After an hour-and-a-half or so (the movie is two-and-a-half-hours-long), things really begin heating up between the main couple, Mrs. Mai and Mr. Yee. Mr. Yee is married and about thirty years Mrs. Mai's senior. Being a powerful, politically-connected man, Mr. Yee has the capability to arrange places where he and Mrs. Mai can romp around. And romp around they do.
The most memorable scenes of this movie are most certainly the duo's sexual escapades. Very little is left to the imagination during these minutes-long performances. The two engage in a wide variety of different sexual positions. It's almost as if a Daoist sex manual is being demonstrated for the viewer. It's hot stuff!
The passion between the two and the forbidden relationship that they develop become the main focus of the movie. Mrs. Mai began the affair with him so that she could set him up and ultimately kill him. But this plan gets complicated as she falls in love with him.
Lust, Caution is most famous for its incredibly explicit sex scenes. The movie is more than just those lustful scenes, though. I appreciated the movie on a few different levels. The two main characters put on quite an acting performance. There are a number of complicated relationships and plot lines too; it's well-written. And the disturbing ending is a good pay-off for the time that the viewer has invested into watching this film.
Qian and I enjoyed this film a lot. I recommend it.
One final comment on the movie: Mr. Yee, played by the famous Hong Kong actor Tony Leung, looks so much like President Obama in this movie. It's uncanny.
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