Lust, Caution (Focus Features, NC-17)

film_lustsm.jpgClocking in at two hours and 37 minutes, Lust, Caution is just too long and is really, really boring. Really boring.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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It seems like the majority of the press that Ang Lee’s new film Lust, Caution has gotten so far is for its realistic (maybe real?) sex and resultant NC-17 rating. Over the course of his career, Lee has garnered press for being a genre-skipper of the highest order, going from costume drama (Sense & Sensibility) to martial arts epic (Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon) to Hollywood comic-book cash-in (Hulk) to gay cowboy movie (Brokeback Mountain). Doesn’t this all sound a little familiar? The other great international genre skipper, England’s Michael Winterbottom, pulled the porn trick with 9 Songs back in 2004, which wasn’t much more than an interesting failure. I’m not sure I’d call Lust, Caution an interesting failure, though; it’s really just a regular old failure.

Clocking in at two hours and 37 minutes, Lust, Caution is just too long and is really, really boring. Really boring. Also, aside from the career arc of Lee as compared to Winterbottom, Lust, Caution feels like a pale imitation of a similar foreign film from last year, Paul Verhoeven’s Black Book (someone in marketing either on the side of Focus or Sony Pictures Classics must have realized this, as Black Book was released on DVD the same week that Lust, Caution opened in limited release). Both are highly sexualized stories of women who seduce corrupt leaders in the hopes of bringing them down from their position of power but wind up getting more involved with said leader than they were expecting in the process. In Lust, Caution, young theater student Wang Jiazhi (newcomer Tang Wei, who isn’t half as charismatic as her Black Book equivalent, Carice van Houten) plays the part of seductress Wong Chia Chi in order to seduce Mr. Yee (Tong Leung of In the Mood for Love, and maybe my favorite actor from the Asian continent ever), a Japanese collaborator in China around WWII. After about 90 minutes of boring setup, the much-publicized sex finally starts, and as long as it is going on, the movie is admittedly less boring, if only marginally.

The real problem here is that the sex doesn’t really add anything to the movie; it’s really pretty much just distracting. Granted, there’s a scene or two that advance the plot, but mostly it feels like Lee is trying to see how much he can get away with now that he is an Oscar-winning director. All that he is really getting away with is getting bigger stars (well, one bigger star, anyway) to engage in it, whereas Winterbottom, who was the real trailblazer in terms of recent, respected directors making a foray into blue movies, didn’t have the sway to get anyone recognizable to fuck on camera. | Pete Timmermann

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