Lust, Caution is an Ang Lee film based on a novel of the same name, which is in turn based on a short story called The Spyring. The story takes place in Hong Kong and in Shanghai during the late 1930s and early 1940s. This of course was when imperial Japan occupied much of northeastern China. Shanghai was ruled by traitor Wang Jingwei's collaborationist KMT puppet state. It is a story about a group of students who plan to assassinate a prestigious collaborator named Mr. Yee, played brilliantly by Tony Leung. The plot of the assassination is centered around using the attractive "Mrs. Mak" (Tang Wei) to entice him. Mrs. Mak is actually the seemingly shy and unassuming student Wong Chia Chi. The film begins by focusing on her finding the resistance's agents and her own rise among them, but it soon stays focused on her transformation to Mrs. Mak and her interactions with Mr. Yee.
I just recently saw the 2007 documentary Nanking which goes over the infamous massacre of 1937, arguably the most horrific two to three months in the history of humanity. I also recommend that documentary but especially as a precursor to the exciting espionage film we have here in Ang Lee's Lust, Caution. I've read about the Rape of Nanjing before, but watching that first really fired me up to root for the resistance in this film and helped to enhance the experience overall. Lust, Caution really does have it's share of unpredictable moments and the way it unfolds was surprisingly compelling and uneasy, but I don't want to give too much away. Suffice to say, there are some remarkably intense moments in this film and I am not talking about the well-publicized sex scenes.
The sex scenes by the way only make up about ten minutes of total screen time. Altogether there are only three or four scenes that contain sexual content or nudity within this two and a half hour movie. Yet, because the film is NC-17 we seem to only be hearing about those scenes, although the film's success has possibly encouraged similar content. I love when a film draws controversy, especially for perfectly natural reasons, but it is even better when it's a film that is effectively telling us an important and interesting story. In fact, I'd go as far as to say the film has been denounced by some for its most beautiful moments. The sex scenes are actually among the most compelling I've ever seen, perhaps it was just a little too close to the bedroom for the MPAA? I would've given this film a heavy R rating for one pervasive murder sequence but even if you do happen to have a teenager you can control enough to keep them from seeing a movie they want to see, don't worry about the sex scenes.
Ang Lee is incredibly versatile and lately he has created some hugely significant films. He has convinced me his films are always going to be worth watching out for. Lust, Caution has it all. It is interesting, suspenseful, shocking, sexy, and beautiful. The screenplay, the score, the cinematography, and the performances are far stronger than any other film released as an NC-17. That means a lot for us waiting to see a marketable non-pornographic adult rating in the United States.