The story of Lust Caution begins in the midst of WWII in Asia as the Japanese have a stranglehold on key areas of China including Shanghai and Hong Kong. The iron-fisted Chinese who are collaborating with the invaders are led by Mr. Yee (Tony Leung) a cruel and ruthless man who delights in the torture and murder of his fellow countrymen who are fighting against the Japanese occupation. When a patriotic band of college students (made up of four men and two women all part of the drama school) decide to strike a blow for Chinese freedom by assassinating Mr. Yee it falls to Wang (the mesmerizingly beautiful Wei Tang) to infiltrate his home and heart to pave the way for the killing. But as her compatriots--including handsome Kuang played by American-born Chinese rock star Lee-Hom Wang who loves her from afar--bid their time waiting for the moment to strike Mr. Yee and Wang enter into a torrid affair that begins to consume them both. Think of the Hitchcock classic Suspicion shift from Europe to Asia add in intensely explicit sex scenes and a completely unexpected ending and you have Lust Caution--a film that is soon to be considered a classic as well. Veteran actors Tony Leung and Joan Chen lead a fine cast of actors who together create this completely believable glimpse into Chinese culture during the dark days of Japanese occupation. Both give intense performances--he as the powerful emotionless Mr. Yee and she as his vapid shopping and Mah Jong-obsessed wife. But the most amazing performance is that of newcomer Wei Tang the Miss Universe finalist who makes her film debut in Lust Caution. Her fantastic face slim body and almost ethereal presence seem to blot out everyone else when she is on the screen; you can’t help but look at only her. Her transformation in the four-year span of the story is masterful. As she goes from a naïve young student to a mature woman whose physical obsession with a man she despises begins to overwhelm her. The ingénue proves that she is much more than just a pretty face. In fact she deserves an Academy Award nomination for her often subtle always fearless performance that is at the heart of the film. Ang Lee has a unique cinematic ability to begin a story very specific to a time a place and a culture and end with a universal tale that resonates across all societies and peoples. He did it beautifully with Sense and Sensibility Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon as well as Brokeback Mountain and he’s done it again masterfully with Lust Caution. This newest film is an intense look at how war often causes an individual to make the ultimate sacrifice for the common good yet it also explores another underlying theme: the idea that there is a never-ending battle between the sexes for emotional dominance within a sexual relationship. Ang Lee’s deft hand is evident in every frame including the incredibly explicit (and often violent) sex scenes that have given the film its NC-17 rating. But this is not pornography; every scene is necessary to the story showing us that using sex as a means to an end (no matter how noble that end) is a very dangerous game to play especially during wartime. Look for Ang Lee’s name to come up on the Academy’s list again this year as awards season kicks into high gear. He deserves every honor for this emotionally disturbing masterpiece.
Wong Kar Mun (Lee Sin-Je) has been blind since the age of two. After 18 years she has fully adapted to her disability never knowing what she has missed. Until that is a new medical procedure gives her her sight back through an advanced corneal transplant. The young girl finally enters the world of light and images but has trouble comprehending what she sees. She doesn't understand what is real and what is not because she has no point of reference. But that isn't all. Mun sees more with her new eyes than she expected--Mun sees dead people. Almost going mad from the constant stream of apparitions before her Mun suddenly discovers to her horror that the image she thought was herself is in fact another woman--Ling (Chutcha Rujinanon) the corneas' original owner. Mun realizes she is recalling Ling's memories and seeing through her eyes--literally. With her boyfriend/psychotherapist Lee Sin (Lawrence Chou) Mun travels to Thailand in search for answers on who Ling was as well as unravel the mystery of her death.
All the other characters being peripheral to Mun's circumstances Lee Sin-Je amply carries the whole movie on her own making her blindness totally believable as well as showing how Mun adjusts to her new world of sight.. She also expertly pulls off the scenes where Mun goes stark raving mad displaying truly chilling abilities. This actress is worthy of attention. In the supporting role as her boyfriend and psychotherapist Lee Sin Lawrence Chou simply works as more as a sidekick never realizing utilizing his part and coming off fairly bland.
The camera effects and editing are well done but ultimately the story fails to live up to the expectations it builds in the beginning. Borrowing from The Sixth Sense Jacob's Ladder and Final Destination directors Danny Pang and Oxide Pang try to heighten the suspense of whole "dead people" horror scenario by introducing the uneasy awareness of one's inescapable fate but ultimately it falls short. The pace of the story zooms along but the scenes seem to run together and you wade through a murky story line rather than a frightening one. Unfortunately the really scary scenes are few and far between in what is supposedly a psychological thriller. The rest of the film is unable to perpetuate the fear it creates.