This week Joe West looks at sex, violence and espionage in WWII Hong Kong
Lust, Caution, Ang Lee’s slow moving, sexually explicit thriller set during the Second World War is difficult to watch at points. This is in part due to its 2 hours and 37 minutes uncut runtime, but is also because, as in many of Lee’s films, when the characters are having a bad time, the actors portraying them seem to be genuinely distressed.
It is, you would agree, a bold movie for a first date. But back in 2007 it was something I chose for just this purpose, albeit without any prior knowledge of its content. As a rule, I would say that seeing a movie with some sexual exploits in it during the early stages of a relationship is no bad thing. But one such as this, with sadomasochistic intercourse and plenty of Tony Leung testicle shots, is not necessarily going to help your real world frisson to flourish.
However, if you’re at all interested in adult themes that are no just purely sexual then there is a lot going on. The narrative involves young resistance fighters, government spies and inevitable violence, with the shifting dominance within male and female relationships also examined.
Sex is used as a political tool as well as a social one, which means that the heavily edited versions which were released in China and other areas did lose some of their sting. However, in all its glory Lust, Caution becomes a beautifully shot study of deceit and degradation. It’s also probably the easiest movie to actually get your hands on in the UK compared to others covered in previous Foreign Film Tips.
In many ways I feel the same way about Lust, Caution as I do about Charlie Kaufman’s Synecdoche, New York. Films that are a battle to watch end up being more nourishing in the long run. A little like eating sprouts. And I love sprouts.