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A Lesson in Aeronautics in Ang Lee’s Lust, Caution (2007) November 5, 2007

Posted by Richard Bolisay in Asian Films, Literature.

Original Title: Se, Jie
Directed by Ang Lee
Cast: Tony Leung Chiu-Wai, Tang Wei, Lee-Hom Wang, Joan Chen
Based on Eileen Chang’s short story
Winner of 2007 Venice Film Festival’s Golden Lion

To think that his name consists only of six letters — five to be exact — Ang Lee has now placed his signature, above all the rest and no matter how uneven, in the blazing pages of auteur cinema. After Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (arguably the most popular Chinese film of all time), Brokeback Mountain (an essential work in the western genre), and several Hollywood productions in between, Lee is back, fiery and sumptuous, bringing home his second Golden Lion in three years, with an espionage thriller that surfaces with razor-sharp mastery, filmed exquisitely by Rodrigo Prieto in such splendor reminiscent of a golden age.

The mahjong scenes that set the pace of Lust, Caution at the beginning are defiantly crucial: without the intrinsic atmosphere of boredom that one gets while coping with the deliberate camera movement and fast-changing subtitles, the emotional upheaval that builds from fury to lust would have been less striking. Likewise, the war seems not to be taking place and every detail shown to intensify its presence makes it feel less threatening, transitory, and to put it more precisely: the war is taking place elsewhere but not in Shanghai. This dreamlike supposition, which of course would be opposed by anyone basing it on history, is singularly impressive, as most films that relate to war would use this backdrop to heighten, or in some cases lengthen, their narratives to create an evil justified by blood and ammunitions.

The explicit sexual intercourse — a fantastic series of acrobatics, an Olympic display of arduous but definitely pleasurable calisthenics, the closest reach to seventh heaven — is the most integral part of the film. The controversy that arises from it is purely expected, at least we realize we’re still in this world, but the impact it creates, as if it’s not the first time we see pubic hairs, erect nipples, moans, lip-biting, silent orgasms, and vehement to and fro pelvic exercises, is phenomenal. Catherine Breillat’s, Gaspar Noé’s, Michael Winterbottom’s, and several films that feature unsimulated sex are mostly European, with the possible exception of the most notorious of them all: Nagisa Oshima’s In The Realm of the Senses. Of course this assertion demands further analysis but somehow it is conclusive that Europeans are more inclined — and more liberated — to film sex than Asians. But the difference, the very unmistakable difference, is the way they are staged — admit it, the sensuality in Lust, Caution is felt a thousand-fold more than Romance or Rape Me — the reason why it will attain a status of classic vulnerability that other films never take into consideration.

Tang Wei is alluring: her nipples having a rare standing ovation, her beautiful forest of armpit hairs, her childlike sensuality, her eyes that roll with fear, her pubis that moves seamlessly — everything about her radiates with passion she resembles an engine working perfectly, running the longest mile around the suburbs of desire and lust. She is an epitome of sinful simplicity, a lost kite of trapped loneliness falling relentlessly.

Lust, Caution is apolitical. Contrary to Zhang Yimou and Chen Kaige’s conscious aversion (at least during their early years, and the fairest of their collaborations is Chen’s Yellow Earth, shot in immense austerity by Zhang) and Wong Kar-wai’s political apathy, Lee stands in between, which contributes to the apparent mainstream appeal of his works. As Chinese history has the most diverse account of politics — everything about it — in the world, and its people that seem to co-exist with their past, it is rather difficult to film emotions that harbor not in history but in humanity itself — a feat that Lust, Caution delivers.

Tony Leung looks older in age but not in talent. His stone face, his intergalactic stare, his elegiac gestures — he embodies a Martian for reasons I still cannot decipher. When he mentions that If you pay attention, nothing is trivial, he glows with vigor, a bursting mix of vibrance and suave that can only come from an icon, and he surely is.

Must be the sheer popularity — particularly to Western audience — Lee reminds me of Akira Kurosawa during his glorious years of immense recognition. In this light, I would like to express an analogy that only fools like myself would believe: almost ten years after completing his Rashomon, Ang Lee, now, in a stunning piece of work, presents his Seven Samurai, bustling, running, in an aeronautic battle. If you are still wondering what that mysterious closure of Days of Being Wild means, with Tony Leung combing his vaselined hair in his usual gesture, preparing himself for a night out, then think no further. This is where he goes — with Wong Chia Chi — to spend a feisty evening, in rage. * * * * *



1. kizay - November 5, 2007

Chard, I love your description of Tony Leung. ^_^

2. Abi - November 6, 2007

As I was watching it I had the distinct feeling that I’ve seen it before. Must be because of the European cars, fedoras, and trench coats. I remembered mentioning to Nate, “It could be any spy film set in 1940’s Germany.” (Perhaps something like Notorious?) :D

3. lilokpelikula - November 6, 2007

KZ: salamat :D haha, may fans club ba si tony leung? sali tayo.

Abi: Déjà vu? Hehe. Notorious! Magandang ideya yan! Wong Chia Chi is watching a Cary Grant film early on the film, right? Wala lang, nakakatuwa. There must be some similarities, which I don’t know yet, perhaps with the atmosphere. Sige iisipin ko yan. :D Salamat sa pagbisita.

4. bittergrace - November 6, 2007

chard, love this review. wala lang. sumali ka nga ng Berlinale Talent Press next year. matutuwa ka talaga dun.

5. lilokpelikula - November 6, 2007

haha, maraming salamat ayn! hehe, wish ko lang makapunta run. katuparan ng pangarap. haha. how do you find the film? :)

6. bittergrace - November 6, 2007

i loved it too. kaya lang di ko nasimulan (this dohna kasi, haha a buying mcdo so nalate kami, haha…tapos kinailangan ko na umuwi afterwards. owel. anyway) ang bigat niya sa puso, sobra. i love Tony Leung. tapos nakita ko nga pala na may binebenta na Lust Caution na libro sa Fully Booked (as usual tie-in for more marketing) mga 400 pesos. haha.

7. lilokpelikula - November 6, 2007

oh — the start. the film catches up after a “dragging” start. sayang di mo nakita. dibidi dibidi. hehe. i have a certain affinity to mahjong scenes — ewan ko, must be the eyes. hahaha. kumusta naman ang 400! e 26 pages lang daw un a! well, pati nga love in the time of cholera, nilabas nila ng bago e — at syempre cover nung film version, maganda, pero mas gusto ko pa rin yung sakin, hehe.

8. Oggs Cruz - November 6, 2007

Beautifully written review, Chard. The sex scenes are hot but they’re “too arty” (which is Ang Lee in two words). I don’t prefer European erotica, but at least there you sense a bit of unfettered abandon, a giddy and crazed lack of restraint that gets you going. You got it right, Ang Lee is always in the middle and not just in politics, even in sex. He’s neither male or female, homosexual or heterosexual, which makes his works highly accessible, not necessarily engaging or interesting though.

9. lilokpelikula - November 6, 2007

Thank you very much, Oggs. :D I am not actually much of an Ang Lee fan — I did not enjoy Crouching Tiger the same way other people did — but he got me hooked on this one. I believe his artsi-ness is quite conscious to the point of extremism. On-your-face European erotica bores me in a way because I have probably seen them in porn movies. I enjoy the sex scenes, the fast cutting, the vague images — which part of her body is that? — the flaming passion. I agree with your observation — his works are highly accessible bacause of that in-between stance.

10. Oggs Cruz - November 6, 2007

William Friedkin did a very similar sex scene in Bug, fast cutting, vague images, saliva and lots of it, undeterminable body parts, it’s strangely erotic, much more than Lee’s gloss-fest (woohoo, six commas in one sentence, I’m the master of run-off sentences).

11. lilokpelikula - November 6, 2007

ah talaga, i wish to see that. bago lang yun di ba? grabe a lot of interesting films this year — loads of films, less money. Should we get paid by the producers of these films we write? hahaha. I love run-onsentences. :D

12. el pistolero - November 6, 2007

i agree with ayn.you did a great description on tony leung. he is simply THE MAN. ang gwapo na lang. :D

13. lilokpelikula - November 6, 2007

thanks kirk :D

14. dohnalicious - November 7, 2007

hahaha. uy ayn, obb lang namiss natin. yun na rin yung start. pramis, i watched it again eh.

15. lilokpelikula - November 8, 2007

so this dohna is the culprit pala ayn no. hahaha. how’s the second viewing? and why the second viewing? haha.

16. Richmond - November 8, 2007

Sana may time ako para sa sine… para sa kahit na ano.

17. dodo dayao - November 8, 2007

ganda,chard. malamang nga yung character ni tony leung sa dulong days eto na. hindi ko napanood to. pareho tayong di gaano fan ni ang lee pero madami-dami siyang gawa na malapit sa puso ko – – -eat drink man woman, crouching tiger, hulk, kahit brokeback – – -kaya nanghihinayang ako di ko napanood to. dibidi na lang. hehe. :)

18. lilokpelikula - November 8, 2007

Richmond: may oras ka niyan. subukan mo lang. time management. :)

Dodo: salamat :D palabas pa tsong!! abot ka niyan, kahit last full show. grabe yung days, gustung-gusto ko siya, bukod sa syinut sya rito sa pinas. alam mo ba, may anecdote dun, sabi ni wong kar wai dapat daw lahat ng pinoy na crew niya, nakatrabaho na si lino brocka. parang requirement. astig.

19. ilaya - November 8, 2007

nakatulog ako. *hiya*

20. dodo dayao - November 9, 2007

Talaga? Astig nga. Ganda nga ng scenes dito sa Pinas. Paborito ko din yang days although wala naman ata akong hindi gustong gawa ni wongkarwai. Fanboy. Hehe. Try ko habulin yung lust. Medyo baon sa pagpuputa (i.e. trabahong pangpera lang) ngayon. Dalawa ang gusto kong panoorin – – -lust,caution tsaka we own the night. Subukan ko mamaya. Hehe. Salamat.

21. lilokpelikula - November 10, 2007

tonet: haha, ayus lang un. nakatulog ka nga sa transformers e. o di ba. :D

dodo: haha, siguro yung ashes of time di ko masyadong nasakyan. yung fallen angels natutunan ko na rin mahalin dahil sa baliw-baliwan lang si takeshi. gusto ko rin panuorin yung isa pang night — 30 days of night. kaso mukhang inaakit ako ng one more chance. hahaha. kailangan ko rin ng mga ganung moment minsan. naku tayong mga alipin ng kapitalismo at komersyalismo at kahirapan — hanggang kailan.

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