As the credits scrolled by, I thought to myself, “è‰²ï¼Œæˆ’” is the perfect name for this movie. The translation into English seems more stilted; in Chinese the pair sound like they are intended to balance each other, almost as duals. Is the scale sliding from lust towards love? Or from caution to trust? In the scene where Wang Jiazhi finally (emotionally!) expresses the tremendous conflict she has had to subsume in her own identity, as well as Yee’s, we see the pendulum swinging unpredictably. Here I offer some impressions of the movie:
In typical Ang Lee style, the subtlety of expression provides a powerful contrast to the evocative visuals. The period sets are are immersive; at least 5 languages interplay throughout; Jiazhi appears entirely transformed, from plain college girl to sophisticated cosmopolitan lady. But the brilliance is the language in which the characters communicate – meaningful looks, moments of distraction, slight hesitations. How much of it can the characters control, and how much are they forced to reveal by the passions burning inside?
So, how is it that Jiazhi is able to obtain the confidence of Yee, when others failed miserably? It’s not because of loyalty to her country, that’s for sure. In my mind, though she seems to compartmentalize her two indentities so well, it is only because each one is completely within her nature, excepting those parts which touch each other. Her dance between two realities, one ordinary but safe, one thrilling but filled with risk, is underscored by her love of movies, and is reminiscent of Dieyi’s struggle to distinguish reality in “Farewell My Concubine”. Her use of movies to transcend from one to the other is disrupted twice, first when she sets off for the theater and ends up in the brutal hands of Yee; and then again by Kuang who intercepts her to inform her of the demise of friendly agents. What else could the climax be, in then end, but for her to make an impossible choice between the two?
Kuang represents to me, two essential Chinese traits. They are: idealism in youth, and (ironically) restraint in expression. His nationalistic zealotry ends with the shocking reality of delivering the final blow to his hometown acquaintance (åŒä¹¡), who simply refuses to die in a bloody scene. His motes of materialized concern for Jiazhi peak later (too late) when the original innocence of both is already gone. I feel that many Chinese can see an aspect of themselves in Kuang.
Of course I can’t neglect to mention the NC-17 scenes in “Lust, Caution”. They are anything but what you would expect, unless you know Ang Lee. The movie could not exist without them. Through them, Lee reveals so much about the historical personality, evolution of passions, and reflections of the “alternate” lives of both Jiazhi and Yee. If you know Lee, you know that he doesn’t waste a scene. Instead of being lost in surface-level amorous stimulation (Bond), each scene (very different from all others) invites the audience to consider, what just happened? It’s the question we must ask of everything that happens in life, as we (like Jiazhi) cannot measure undercurrents of our own passions.