Thursday, November 22, 2007

Lust, Caution

[Pseudo Pspoilers follow]

Ang Lee's gorgeous new film Lust, Caution (Sie, je) winds its way through themes of subterfuge, choice, identity and betrayal.

When the film opens, the lead, Wang Jiazhi (in a knock-down performance by Wei Tang), is a school girl in Japanese-occupied China. She is invited to join a political drama group and proves to be an adept actress. Her skills as an actress come in handy as the group moves on to infiltrate the lives of the Yees, a wealthy couple who are collaborators, with the intention of assassinating Mr. Yee.

Jiazhi's transformation from school girl to sophisticated seductress is amazing. She fully adopts her new persona, and we only see her once more in her everyday personality. The only way I can grasp her character and the choices she makes is to believe that in the years in her role, however, she comes to believe it is her true self.

Because we know of Yee's bloody ruthlessness, we know that Jiazhi is in constant danger, and must be a consummate actor under a variety of stressful circumstances, including hiding the affair from Mrs. Yee and her circle of friends.

We are all actors of one kind or another, and certainly there is a long tradition of women "faking it" in bed to make a man feel powerful. (or just to get it over with...) But so much is left ambiguous in the film. Does Jiazhi have any true physical attraction to Yee? Or is she full of disgust, as she claims to be to her fellow conspirator Kuang, with whom it is clear there is a mutual physical attraction? Most intriguingly perhaps: if she is attracted to Yee, does this lessen her bravery?

Jiazhi's final choice at the end of the film puts into question all of her actions up to that point. And most frustratingly, for me, upends and even erases everything that has passed before. This is me, moaning quietly in the theatre as the credits roll: "Noooooooo!"

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