Ang Lee Tackles Tough Subjects in 'Lust, Caution'

Ang Lee's new film Lust, Caution, set in l942 during the Japanese occupation of China, is about a dangerous affair between a young female resistance fighter and a top Chinese collaborator.

Lee, who won an Academy Award for Brokeback Mountain, says this was much more difficult subject to tackle — and much more personal.

The film, starring Tony Leung and Tang Wei and adapted from a short story by Eileen Chang, just won the Golden Lion award at the Venice Film Festival.

During World War II, a young village woman named Wong washes up at a big-city university and joins a drama troupe. The young men and women of the troupe decide to do something more practical with their national fervor than just rouse an audience to stand and shout, "China will not fail!" They hatch a scheme to plant Wong on a Chinese official who is a collaborator — and a torturer — so that they can assassinate him.

The first part of their plot works. But Wong and that official, Mr. Yi, also become ensnared in a brutal relationship that is deceitful on one part and savage on the other; and they both become increasingly vulnerable.

The "lust" of the film's title is so graphic — and often wrenching — that it drew an NC-17 rating.

Lee joins Scott Simon from member station KALW in San Francisco.

'Lust, Caution'

Tang Wei (right) and Tony Leung in 'Lust, Caution' i i

Showmance: Actress Wong Chia Chi (Tang Wei, right) sets out to seduce a collaborator (Tony Leung) in Lust, Caution, but soon her performance becomes a little too convincing. Chan Kam Chuen/Focus Features hide caption

itoggle caption Chan Kam Chuen/Focus Features
Tang Wei (right) and Tony Leung in 'Lust, Caution'

Showmance: Actress Wong Chia Chi (Tang Wei, right) sets out to seduce a collaborator (Tony Leung) in Lust, Caution, but soon her performance becomes a little too convincing.

Chan Kam Chuen/Focus Features
  • Director: Ang Lee
  • Genre: Thriller
  • Running Time: 157 minutes

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There's a bit of fairly explicit lust and an awful lot of dramatic caution in this World War II epic.

The plot is faintly preposterous — a troupe of Chinese college thespians goes undercover in Hong Kong and Shanghai during the Japanese occupation, hoping their ingenue (Tang Wei) can get close enough to a well-guarded collaborator (Tony Leung) to let them attempt an assassination. The ingenue falls for her target, which rather complicates things.

Having dealt significantly less explicitly with a different sort of forbidden love in Brokeback Mountain, director Ang Lee conjures up a persuasively bustling version of 1940s China for his lovers to inhabit. But he's allowed the storytelling to stretch to 157 minutes, which gets to be a bit of a slog — copious nudity and an NC-17 rating notwithstanding.

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