Director: Ang Lee

Starring: Wei Tang, Leehom Wang, Tony Chiu-Wai Leung

Year: 2007

Apart from Brokeback Mountain, which I thought was excellent at the time and still love to this day, is it fair to say that Ang Lee hasn’t …really …made …good …movies …?  That seems sacrilegious almost, because he’s a stalwart, but his filmography isn’t that impressive when you break it down.  Sense and Sensibility, The Ice Storm, Ride with the Devil, Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon, Hulk, Brokeback, Lust Caution, Taking Woodstock, Life of Pi, Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk, Gemini Man; obviously there are some winners among that group, but there are at least an equal amount of complete bombs, and a few that we’re better off forgetting.  Lust Caution is from that category, because it isn’t either a success or a failure, it’s a big dull dud, and there’s no real reason that we need to consider it ever again.

WWII rages on in Asia, and the fight for a free China is being fought by small groups in secret and in ultimate danger.  In Shanghai and in Hong Kong, the Japanese Imperial Army spreads its influence, turning once-loyal Chinese citizens into conspirators and traitors.  A group of students, led by the passionate Kuang, vow to kill once such traitor, a wealthy businessman named Yee, planning to infiltrate his life and murder him in cold blood.  The beautiful Ms. Wong is sent to seduce Mr. Yee, gain his confidence, and lead the others in his assassination, all while pretending to be his lover and a friend to his wife.  But emotions are more powerful than plots, and love can destroy the most carefully laid plans.

I’ve seen similar stories to this, Black Book comes to mind, but somehow Lust Caution loses any inherent intrigue that the times should have naturally instilled, any real drama and heroism that these realistic events should have exhibited so easily.  The whole plot was dead on arrival, and then delivered without heart, speed, or energy; how could that possibly happen to a WWII story about sex, assassination, and betrayal?  Maybe Lee simply isn’t the incredible director that we’ve convinced ourselves he is, or perhaps he just didn’t mold this story into the correct shape.  Whatever the reason, Lust Caution is boring, scattered, misguided, and not fulfilling enough; it either should have been heroic or tragic, not as bland as it turned out to be.

My rating: ☆ ☆