The personal cost of underground struggle betrayed

Issue 

Lust, Caution

Directed by Ang Lee

Written by Eileen Chang (story); James Schamus & Hui-Ling Wang (screenplay)

With Tony Leung, Tang Wei & Joan Chen

In cinemas

Typical of the sexist, hierarchical mainstream movie industry, the credits for Lust, Caution name Tony Leung as the star, with lesser status to Joan Chen and then Tang Wei. In fact, Tang Wei carries the whole film with an astonishing performance that depends on the expressive nuances of her eyes, momentary flashes that communicate everything.

Tony Leung as Mr Yee is a malignant presence, police chief for the fascist Wang Jingwei collaborator regime, torturing members of the communist resistance in WWII Japanese-occupied Shanghai. Joan Chen is an effective support actor as his wife.

Tang's character, Wong Chia Chi, begins as a naive student, swept up in the chaos of the Japanese invasion. She accidentally finds her voice when she stars in a patriotic student play.

The play-acting becomes her real life when she joins a plot to assassinate Yee, taking on the role of luring him into a place where he can be murdered. However, sleeping with Yee comes at a price: like many torturers he is a sexual predator.

Throughout most of this movie I thought that it was a great revolutionary film, one that truly tells the unromantic, personal cost of operating underground. It really conveys the heroism of the Chinese resistance and the brutality it battled.

Unfolding at a gentle pace, the viewer is drawn into an appreciation of the pressure-cooker double life Wong Chia Chi is living. The brutal lovemaking is riven with tension as we wait for the expected fatal conclusion. Will Yee recognise in Wong's glance at his gun what is really going on?

As I left the cinema the proprietor laughingly commented to a friend that everyone who comes out of this film looks dazed. That is because ultimately and unexpectedly, Lust, Caution betrays the dignity of the Chinese revolution and the bravery of its heroes, especially the women fighters.

Superbly crafted, perfectly paced and brilliantly acted, unfortunately, this is a profoundly counter-revolutionary and misogynist film.