Throw ‘Caution’ to the wind and go see ‘Lust’
Let’s get one thing straight. Aside from its being directed by Ang Lee, his new work Lust, Caution (translation Si, Jie) has nothing to do with Brokeback Mountain. The association ends here. Any word to the contrary is a rumor. There are, however, many similar thematic and stylistic elements. Now that that is out of the way, we can move on to more pressing matters.
First and foremost, Lust is an adaptation of a short story of the same name by Eileen Chang that presents a tale of espionage in China. A group of college students turned thespians turned freedom fighters seeks to assassinate a corrupt Chinese politician under the spell of Japan by sending a woman to do the dirty work. Obviously, it’s a world away from gay cowboys.
Its lavish scenery and costumes are sure to make any young lady nostalgic for a time and place she was never part of. She will leave the theater feeling violated, yet somehow demure and strong. A real lady never lets anybody shake her.
On that note, the film itself seems to be startlingly aware of its portrayals of gender roles and calls itself out when a line is crossed and likes to point out the obvious. As the tale is from the perspective of a woman – and the short story was written by one – it makes sense that there may be some subtle feminist ideas fermenting just beneath the surface. See what happens when seduction and the subsequent acts enter the espionage equation.
Mention is even made of a multitude of distractions men may enjoy while women are limited to Mahjong and movies. In fact, our lovely and erotically talented protagonist Wong Chia Chi/Mrs. Mak (Tang Wei) frequents a couple of movies, mostly American ones, during Lust and loses several games of Mahjong when she isn’t picking out her favorite diamond or nagging her lover to throw him off track.
Stunning as this film is, there are a few things that, unfortunately, may leave a bad taste in the mouths of many stateside viewers. Hopefully, these obstacles can be overcome and the real beauty of the story can shine on through.
For one, much of the plot almost requires a working knowledge of modern Chinese history to enjoy, or at least follow, the action. Set in WWII-era Shanghai and Hong Kong, Lust lets viewers in on a dirty little secret shared by five friends of the resistance. During this time, the Japanese occupation of places such as Singapore and Hong Kong naturally encouraged conflict among Chinese youth, such as the ones we see here. Without proper orientation in the past, the events relating to the politics of the time may baffle the viewer to the point where they lose interest completely.
Of course, there is also a concern about its NC-17 rating, which it completely deserves by the way. There are times when the film borders on pornography. Even those who consider themselves far from prudish may turn shades of red and feel guilty of voyeurism.
Though not gratuitous, the sheer amount of explicit sex may be enough to cause some who would dismiss the film as vulgar to turn up their noses. It is important, though, that viewers take the time to really appreciate what is really going on. During this most intimate of acts, walls come tumbling down and real character development takes place that is essential to the manner in which the rest of the story plays out.
In addition, with the exception of a handful of lines, the entire bit of dialogue is delivered with English subtitles – and inadequately translated ones at that. This is to be expected, unfortunately, as the language of the film is multifaceted and complex.
What is obviously a dense script is reduced to trite, comfortable phrases. Luckily, the visuals and the characters’ body language help non-fluent viewers read between the lines.
It almost makes stubborn English-only-speaking Americans feel guilty for this prevalent affliction.
Luckily, love, hate, betrayal and camaraderie need no translation.