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. Shes constantly afraid that her real identity will be discovered and hes 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, its not unlike Dutch director Paul Verhoevens 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, its 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 Kongs top actor Tony Leung Chiu-Wai, while Joan Chen is superb as the gossipy, materialistic matron. Rodrigo Prietos cinematography is exquisite, accompanied by Alexandre Desplats 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.