Lust, Caution wants to be a great film - a stylish, exotic thriller of the first order - and, compared to works of deep, sublime composition, like Vertigo - it fails. Ang Lee is often considered one of the most significant contemporary directors, and The Ice Storm and Brokeback Mountain are lovely, important movies, so Eyewear went in very much wanting to approve of his new feature.
I was especially drawn in, because the theme - being a lover in the house of spies - is not original at all (despite what some breathless critics have written) - but rather old hat. And I like old hats, especially fedoras. In fact, Lust, Caution is Lee's very well-crafted version of a Grindhouse retro-homage, a la Tarantino: an examination of themes, tropes, and subjects, from propaganda and film noir and soft porn cinemas - Sade meets Said. It is, of course, first and foremost about Orientalism - the villains and the heroes are all Asian, removing that Hollywood ban that says the inscrutable other must be wicked.
And then again, ho hum, about how the body of a sexual victim is also like a country raped by Imperialism. I say ho hum because this tired idea was aired by The Jewel In The Crown, among others, and it is high time male directors stopped raping women in their movies simply because they think the violence is a useful metaphor for what they really want to talk about, which is dominant men. The sexual relationship in this film is expressed mainly through many longing, smoke-filled glances, one weirdly savage scene, a few montage sequences, and brief dialogue. The motto is: loyalty is skin deep. Or, in otherwords, our bodies are true to their own desires, not higher (ideological) callings (or nations).
This may be a plea for radical, sexual, and even gender freedoms, or maybe just a way of defending the work of sadistic police officers, and the undercover agents who sleep with them. The problem, for me, is that there was insufficient preparation for the sudden, twice-expressed warning, that gives the game away, and leads to many innocent friends killed. I felt that the mise-en-scene, acting, and soundtrack, were exquisite, summoning the lush, glamorous period, perfectly - but, unlike, say, The Year of Living Dangerously, the film was unable to fuse the entirely convincing menace and glamour of the time, with the menace and glamour of a doomed sexually extreme affair. Four Specs.