Thursday, 10 January 2008

Review: Lust, Caution

Intriguing thriller that possibly moves too slowly for its own good. Great visuals, acting and a subtle script that leaves a lot unsaid. 8/10

Good Points:

Acting. Wei Tang does amazingly well for a débutante, giving a really understated performance that makes her look like an accomplished actor. All of the main actors did brilliantly, Joan Chen and Lee Hom-Wong being the pick of the supporting cast, but I thought that the stand out performance was Tony Leung as Mr. Yee. The character shifts almost schizophrenically between extremes, depending on the situation, and yet Leung manages to still make it feel like two sides of the same person. Also, despite the obvious cruelty and ruthlessness of the character, we grow to almost pity him by the end of the film.

Plot. I didn't know the story beforehand, so I found the process of actually finding out the storyline to be very enjoyable. The plot itself is dark and ambiguous, all of the characters have their strengths and weaknesses, with no real focus on 'good' and 'bad'.

Design. I have no idea what second world war era Shanghai and Hong Kong looked like, but I'm willing to believe that it was close to the efforts made in this film. The setting goes from high class mansions to the food handouts on the streets of Shanghai, and remains both realistic and restrained. The street life around the actors seemed authentic and not once did I find myself distracted by the surroundings.

Violence. There is a threat of violence throughout the film (the setting is that of a military occupation, after all), but there's really very little on screen. What there is, however, is done extremely well and manages to be shocking without being gruesome.

Comedy. The subject and story are all fairly bleak, but there are some excellent moments of dark humour scattered throughout as well.

Bad Points
Pacing. It was probably just about the right length in the end, but the plot development comes in bursts, and in between the sections of exposition, there are occasional lulls, where the tension drops, and the story seems to falter a little. There was also a bit of repetition of some of the central plot points, which was presumably intentional, but got a little annoying.

Setting. I would liked to have known more about Mr Yee's role in the country, and the general situation of the Japanese occupation. It's a minor point, since the actual wartime setting wasn't a major point in the story, but I still felt slightly like I'd missed an introduction somewhere. It's easy to pick up what's going on, but I fear I might have missed any more subtle plot points or devices by my lack of knowledge of the period.

Relationship. The central relationship, between Ms. Mak and Mr Yee is the most important one in the film, and I didn't feel as if it quite worked. Maybe I didn't really get some of the subtext, but there seemed to be a lot of implied interaction that the audience never saw. The relationship (especially in the second half of the film) seemed to grow very quickly with little prompting, and despite all of the opposition it should have faced. Again, maybe I didn't really take in what was going on, but it seemed like the huge depth of feeling that is implied to have existed between the two of them was only half-built during the film.

Similarly, maybe I didn't fully get the relationship, but I'm not sure that the much discussed sex scenes needed to be as graphic or extensive as they were. I agree that they were important in context, but I think that they could have served equally well in a more restrained style.

Language. I've not got anything against the fact that it was subtitled (an option vastly preferable to dubbing), but the first ten minutes or so are very difficult to follow, with four or five characters you don't know talking to one another about a situation you aren't aware of while playing a game you don't understand. Like the setting point above, it's a minor thing that quickly resolves itself, but I did feel a little bit lost to start with.

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