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The Statesman

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The Statesman

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    Innocence, Caution

    Ang Lee’s newest film, “Lust, Caution,” premiered at the Staller Center on Friday, Feb. 29.

    It tells the tale of a young Chinese woman, played by China’s newest hot star, the sultry Wei Tang, during World War II, who becomes the key player in a ring of anti-Japanese spies set to take out one of the leading traitorous Chinese officials.

    Mr. Yee, a high-up in the Chinese government who has become complicitous with the Japanese invader, is a quiet, mysterious and highly dangerous man who can make people “disappear” and trusts nearly no one.

    Can the naive Wong Chia Chi, also known as Mak Tai Tai, seduce him and gain his confidence enough to take him somewhere where her comrades can get a clear shot and eliminate him?

    As the movie begins late into the action with Mak Tai Tai already playing Mah Jongg with Mr. Yee’s wife and her friends before skipping backwards four years, I have no qualms in telling you that she does indeed seduce the elusive and brutal Mr. Yee.

    The film is rated NC-17, in fact, for its dramatic, passionate, and at times violent depictions of the liaisons of Mak Tai Tai and Mr. Yee. Clearly, Mr. Yee has been waiting for someone with whom to try out moves of which the wife would not approve.

    Aside from the mind-boggling calisthenics they perform in the bedroom, Tang and Tony Liung Chiu Wai, in the role of Mr. Yee, give outstanding performances. The supporting cast is likewise strong; the portraits of cosmopolitan Hong Kong and Shanghai mid-century are beautiful and heart-wrenching.

    Where the movie lacks is in explanations. Why cannot Mak Tai Tai simply shoot Mr. Yee herself? Wouldn’t that be easier? And why would killing one Chinese official effect any change, when undoubtedly several equally brutal candidates await to take his place?

    These and other questions essential to the plot go unanswered. The film, however, is evidently unconcerned with these aspects. Instead, it focuses on the difficult decisions a young woman must make about personal sacrifice, love, lust and virtue.

    The ending is anything but Hollywood, and though I’d be the first to applaud eschewing a typical “happy ending,” I have to admit, I left the theater with a bad taste in my mouth. Undoubtedly this is what Lee is angling for. At the same time, the ending seemed unfounded, and the sacrifices of the protagonists unnoticed and irrelevant.

    Perhaps, however, this is precisely what Lee hoped to achieve. We shed no tears watching this film. There is no anguished love story, no scenes of children walking next to dead bodies, no families torn asunder.

    Instead, we are horrified at how young idealists become corrupted by war and by the bloody sacrifices it extorts from its victims. Innocence is not a virtue for these protagonists; instead, it is their downfall.

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