“Lust, Caution,” review by Susan Granger

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Daring, innovative director Ang Lee follows his controversial “Brokeback Mountain” and breathtaking “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” with this erotic Chinese historical drama, rated NC-17 for “explicit sexuality.”

Based on an Eileen Chang short story set during the Japanese occupation of Shanghai during World War II, the plot involves a guileless young drama student (Tang Wei) who is recruited by idealistic Kuang Yu-Min (Wang Lee-Hom) to impersonate an aspiring socialite, Mrs. Mak, and join the mah-jongg game run by Mrs. Yee (Joan Chen) in order to seduce and entrap her husband, Mr. Yee (Tony Leung Chiu-Wai), a cruel collaborator who routinely turns in resistance members to the Japanese invaders. She’s constantly afraid that her real identity will be discovered and he’s paranoid about being duped. The furtive tension generated by their fear becomes mutual lust, punctuated by the staccato ‘clack, clack, clack’ of mah-jongg tiles.

In the espionage vein, it’s not unlike Dutch director Paul Verhoeven’s “Black Book” about a pretty Jewess who takes a Gestapo officer as her lover to aid the resistance.

As for the bold, often violent and abusive sex scenes, Leung and Wei maneuver naked through an unpredictable Kama Sutra of gratuitously graphic positions.

“Each time they have intercourse, it’s like a conversation,” explains Lee, “Sex is the ultimate body language. The contortion of their bodies visually represents what they inflict on each other.”

Lovely Beijing newcomer Tang Wei carries the film, ably supported by Hong Kong’s top actor Tony Leung Chiu-Wai, while Joan Chen is superb as the gossipy, materialistic matron. Rodrigo Prieto’s cinematography is exquisite, accompanied by Alexandre Desplat’s music. In Chinese with English subtitles, on the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “Lust, Caution” is a suspenseful, sadomasochistic 7, running a painfully long 158 minutes.

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Susan Granger

Susan Granger

Susan Granger is a product of Hollywood. Her natural father, S. Sylvan Simon, was a director and producer at R.K.O., M.G.M. and Columbia Pictures; her adoptive father, Armand Deutsch, produced movies at M.G.M. As a child, Susan appeared in movies with Abbott & Costello, Red Skelton, Lucille Ball, Margaret O'Brien and Lassie. She attended Mills College in California, studying journalism with Pierre Salinger, and graduated from the University of Pennsylvania, Phi Beta Kappa, with highest honors in journalism. During her adult life, Susan has been on radio and television as an anchorwoman and movie/drama critic. Her newspaper reviews have been syndicated around the world, and she has appeared on American Movie Classics cable television. In addition, her celebrity interviews and articles have been published in REDBOOK, PLAYBOY, FAMILY CIRCLE, COSMOPOLITAN, WORKING WOMAN and THE NEW YORK TIMES, as well as in PARIS MATCH, ELLE, HELLO, CARIBBEAN WORLD, ISLAND LIFE, MACO DESTINATIONS, NEWS LIMITED NEWSPAPERS (Australia), UK DAILY MAIL, UK SUNDAY MIRROR, DS (France), LA REPUBBLICA (Italy), BUNTE (Germany), VIP TRAVELLER (Krisworld) and many other international publications through SSG Syndicate. Susan also lectures on the "Magic and Mythology of Hollywood" and "Don't Take It Personally: Conquering Criticism and other Survival Skills," originally published on tape by Dove Audio.