Not content to be tied down to one specific genre or style, Ang Lee has mastered the art of switching it up from project to project—a Jane Austen adaptation here, a superhero flick there. But two constants remain: a fascination with social mechanics and a kilometer-wide romantic streak. Like much of Lee’s work, this espionage thriller provides dramatic friction by playing these elements off each other, delving into the divided factions of WWII-era occupied Shanghai through matters of the heart. But once the Mata Hari–like revolutionary (Wei) starts sleeping with the enemy— a Chinese businessman (Leung) fingered as a Japanese collaborator—a southern region of the anatomy takes center stage.
Yes, Lust, Caution lets its leads’ more erogenous zones log extended, explicit “face” time (if not full-frontal exposure). It’s startling to see both a director and a male star renowned for demonstrating muted passion invoke a Kama Sutra’s worth of creative coitus (not even Brokeback Mountain’s lovers got around to “splitting the bamboo”) that would make Nagisa Oshima proud. The fact that the film’s rough, pretzelish couplings provide the narrative’s most effective form of communication isn’t as surprising as the dead patches that pop up before and after the provocative sequences. Though the intimate sexual encounters inform every transaction between the characters, Lee seems slightly off his A-game everywhere else. These types of torrid melodramas are tailor-made for his strengths; so why does this hot-and-heavy love story feel so cold and clipped overall?
Cast and crew