In World War II-era Shanghai, Wong Chia Chi (Tang Wei) has been left behind by her father, who has escaped to England. At university, she meets Kuang Yu Min (Wang Leehom) who has started a drama society to shore up patriotism in the face of the Japanese occupation. As the troupe's new leading lady, Wong has found her calling. Kuang convenes a group of students to carry out a radical and ambitious plan to assassinate a senior Chinese collaborator with the Japanese, Mr. Yee (Tony Leung). Wong will take the role of her life as Mrs. Mak, to gain Yee's trust by befriending his wife (Joan Chen) and then draw the man into an affair so she can pinpoint his movements for the planned assassination.

Exquisite attention to detail in this beautifully crafted spy thriller.

You’ve gotta love Ang Lee for stirring things up in the depiction of sexuality in cinema. First he roused the ire of American conservatives by making gay lovers of cowboys in Brokeback Mountain. Now he’s delivered a borderline pornographic depiction of a sado-masochistic love affair between a freedom fighter and the fascist that she’s meant to help kill.

Lust, Caution is set in Japanese ruled China during WWII. Wong Chia Chi, played by Wei Tang, is our young heroine. With her uni-student buddies, she decides to do something about Mr Yee, played by Tony Leung, a local powerbroker and collaborator with the occupying army.

Her job is to pose as a woman of means and to infiltrate, pro-Japanese Chinese society. There, she’ll seduce Mr Yee – and then, when his guard is down, her friends will assassinate him.

Lust, Caution plays a little like downbeat, reverse Casablanca. The graphic nature of the sex scenes shouldn’t faze grown ups. But what is tough to take is their brutality, simply because it makes it hard to understand Wong Chia Chi’s tenderness towards the sadistic Mr Yee.

While our heroine’s emotions are unfathomable, it’s impossible not to love newcomer Wei Tang’s performance. She’s lustrous as the quick-witted girl who’s forced to walk the finest line between life and death, passion and debasement.

Lust, Caution does move very slowly in places, but it rewards our patience with Ang Lee’s beautiful period recreation and its intricate and unexpected plotting.

Like the breakneck speed games of mah-jong in the film, we might not understand every move but we are held in thrall to see who wins.

It’s for this espionage – rather than for the dubious erotica – that Lust Caution rates three and a half stars.


Watch 'Lust, Caution'

Sunday 27 December, 8:30pm on SBS World Movies (NOTE: No catch-up at SBS On Demand)

MA15+, CC
Taiwan, USA, Hong Kong, China, 2007
Genre: Drama, Romance, Thriller, War
Language: Mandarin, Japanese, English, Shanghainese, Hindi, Cantonese
Director: Ang Lee
Starring: Tony Leung Chiu-Wai, Tang Wei, Joan Chen, Leehom Wang, Tou Chung-Hua

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