Based on the short story by Eileen Chang and adapted by Lee regulars James Schamus and Hui-Ling Wang, Lust, Caution tells the story of Wang Jiazhi (played by newcomer Tang Wei), a drama student in Japanesse occupied Shanghai who joins a group of radicals to assassinate a traitor, Mr. Yee (Tony Leung.) In order to get closer to her target Wang assumes the identity of a wife of a importer\exporter and ingratiates herself with Mrs. Yee (Joan Chen,) joining her Mah Jong table. Over time Wang and Mr. Yee become close and fall into a sexual relationship that's kinky and violent and, I suppose, passionate. From the dirty sexual antics of these two were to assume they've fallen in love, and suppose, Lee envisions this some sort of doomed hyper-sexual update of Casablanca or something.
Nothing against the sex scenes in the movie-- they're honest and forthright, this is certainly one of the few movies that has the balls to show more and yet belong in the story. If the film were an artistic success, comparisons on the ranks of Last Tango in Paris would be allowed. It's an out-and-out travesty that this film was branded an NC-17 rating, even with the untrimmed sex scenes and one somewhat gruesome bit of violence. That silly double standard and puritanicalism on the part of the Motion Picture Association of America is laughable-- if Hostel Part II can get away with a R rating, with it's graphic displays of nauseating torture porn, Lust, Caution can as well, but alas, that's a rant left best for another time.
The reason Lust, Caution doesn't succeed is because while it's expressed these characters yearn and need each other, even despite their duplicity, it's never felt. There's practically no scene in the movie that delves into an honest emotion by the two characters. This isn't the fault of the actors, both Wei and Leung plunge into their characters, both practically giving their bodies up to Ang Lee. What's left to take away from this movie-- a lot of beautiful imagery, a bit of body exposure, and a cold shower to wake up afterwards. C