Lust, Caution (Se, jie) (2007)

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Released 15-May-2008

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Drama Featurette-Making Of-Tiles of Deception, Lurid Affection
Rating Rated R
Year Of Production 2007
Running Time 152:00
RSDL / Flipper RSDL (70:13) Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region Coding 2,4 Directed By Ang Lee
Studio
Distributor

Universal Pictures Home Video
Starring Tony Leung Chiu Wai
Wei Tang
Joan Chen
Lee-Hom Wang
Chung Hua Tou
Chih-ying Chu
Ying-hsien Kao
Yue-Lin Ko
Johnson Yuen
Kar Lok Chin
Su Yan
Case Amaray-Opaque
RPI ? Music Alexandre Desplat


Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None Mandarin Dolby Digital 5.1 (384Kb/s)
Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1 (384Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 1.85:1
16x9 Enhancement
16x9 Enhanced
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 1.85:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles English
English Alternate Subtitles
Spanish
Smoking Yes
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

NOTE: The Profanity Filter is ON. Turn it off here.

Plot Synopsis

If there is one director who knows the curious shape of the human heart then it has to be Ang Lee. Amazingly, the director has examined the power and the denial of love in a variety of contexts, genres and even languages. Alright, Hulk may not quite fit within that encapsulation but Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, Sense and Sensibility and Brokeback Mountain certainly do. Lee's skill is to bring home the universality of love and human desire to all manner of situations, bringing it to light under sometimes extreme circumstances.

His latest film, Lust, Caution (Sei, Je) is another breathtaking descent into the deepest chambers of the heart. Released in 2007, it was his first Mandarin language film since Eat Drink, Man Woman (Crouching Tiger being spoken in an ancient dialect). The film was slapped with a NC-17 rating in the US, commonly known as the "kiss of death" at the box office, and despite becoming the fifth highest earner bearing that rating, deserved to draw a much larger audience. The hoo-hah over the rating all relates to the fairly intense sex scenes in the film, which saw it receive an R rating here. As usual, youngsters the world over are welcome to sit through hours of sadistic bloodletting but woe betide they should see non-violent erotica. (Actually, to be fair at least at the start of their affair there is some rough sex.)

That was not the only controversy surrounding the film. After winning the Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival last year it went on to be nominated for a Golden Globe and was submitted by Taiwan as its Oscar entry. The Academy determined that there just weren't enough Taiwanese involved and refused it entry.

All this is a way of saying that Ang Lee's film is a brilliant, underrated piece of cinema which makes demands on its audience but rewards those demands handsomely.

It is 1942 in Japanese occupied Shanghai. A beautiful woman Mai Tai Tai (newcomer Wei Tang) is sat with a group of woman playing Mah-jong. Conversation turns around the role that their husbands have under the new regime. Mrs Yee (Joan Chen) is married to a beaureaucrat within the collaborationist government played by Tony Leung Chiu Wai. There is tension in the air. Just before 3.00pm Mai excuses herself and goes to a cafe in Shanghai. She places a call to a man who declares that "it's on" and a gang of men gather armaments for some violent confrontation.

The scene shifts to 1939 in Hong Kong and the glamorous Mai doesn't exist. Instead, young student Wong Chia Chi (also Wei Tang) is galvanized into political consciousness through stirring theatrical productions in which she is the unlikely star. One night the acting troupe leader (Mandopop superstar Lee-Hom Wang) calls for unity in a plan - they are to put their radicalism into action and travel to Shanghai to assassinate the collaborationist Mr Yee. Wong must become Mai Tai Tai to insinuate herself with the Yees. Wong finds herself a natural at the game of espionage. She quickly inveigles her way into the Yee household, becoming a friend of Mrs Yee and catching the eye of the terse and diffident Mr Yee.

Like all good cobbled-together assassination plots this one hit a major snag when Yee and his wife moved back to Hong Kong. Wong settles back into a life of continuing study, her wild days behind her.

Three years later she is visited by her drama troupe leader, now a fully fledged member of the resistance, who urges her to become involved again - Mr Yee is now the feared head of the secret service, responsible for the torture and death of many resistance fighters. As if she had never left, Wong slips back into the Yee household and well and truly into the clutches of Mr Yee. What follows is the exquisite agony of Wong gradually falling in love with the evil Yee and his dark demeanour gradually softening in the face of real emotion. The film is a deadly game of lies, love and deception. From the opening scenes we know how it is about to end but not what will happen in the last crucial moments.

Lust, Caution is amongst Ang Lee's best films. The pacing is slow and deliberate, allowing the emotion of the film to creep up on you then hit home in the final minutes. Leung is always good although he says in the featurette on this DVD that he had misgivings about the part, which cast him in his first "bad guy" role. In fact, it is his ability to convey volumes of emotion with his eyes that makes him the perfect person to show the humanity buried deep inside Mr Yee. Wei Tang gives an astonishing first major performance. Apparently she was cast from over 10,000 auditionees which suggests that Lee found the needle in the haystack. She is equally impressive as the earnest student, the calculating spy and finally the love-struck woman caught between a rock and a hard place. The script is based on a short story by Eileen Chang and is a neat affair emphasising the gap between the words as much as the words themselves. The title is an almost untranslatable Chinese pun that I wont reveal as it has relevance to a key point in the film.

The cinematography is beautiful and the music a perfect accompaniment.

The idea of the hunter falling in love with the hunted is certainly not new and many viewers may find similarities between this film and the recent Paul Verhoeven film Black Book. That film is far more highly geared to action than Lust, Caution and in many ways the dilemma was easier to process - he was a nazi and she a Jewish resistance fighter. Mr Yee is a traitor to China although it is never clear whether he does what he does to save his own skin or whether he believes that eventually a new China will emerge from the Occupation.

Lust, Caution wont be everyone's cup of tea. It confounded some US critics with its long running time and explicit (though always tasteful) sex scenes and it can't be denied that the pace is slow. However, that is in many ways the key to the film. It allows all the viewers thoughts and feelings to percolate. A film for those who appreciate quality, thoughtful cinema.

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Transfer Quality

Video

Lust, Caution is presented on DVD in a 1.85:1 transfer which is consistent with its cinematic aspect ratio. It is 16x9 enhanced.

The film was shot by cinematographer Rodrigo Prieto whose work on Alexander, Brokeback Mountain and Babel was perfect preparation for capturing both the intimacy of the love affair and the epic sweep of the drama. This work has been expertly conveyed to DVD and fans of the film will rejoice that the film looks so good on the small screen. It is crisp and clear.

Although a long film I did not notice any compression problems. This is perhaps due to the lack of any sizeable extra material and the slightly lower than expected bitrate of the soundtrack.

The print itself is clear of any defects or artefacts. There is a filmic level of grain that suits the movie.

Costuming is superb and the transfer does justice to the array of colours on show - it is very stable. The only improvement to the transfer would be a high definition version although none is currently on the slate.

The film is subtitled in English and Spanish and has alternate subtitles which can be read at the top of the screen.

Video Ratings Summary
Sharpness
Shadow Detail
Colour
Grain/Pixelization
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts
Overall

Audio

Lust, Caution comes with a Mandarin Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack running at 384 Kb/s. This is also a Region 2 release which perhaps accounts for the fact that it also includes a dubbed Spanish version.

Given the high quality of the visuals it is perhaps a pity that the bitrate of the soundtrack falls below the usual 448 Kb/s but, to be honest, I could not notice any difference. I cannot say whether the versions in other Regions feature a higher bitrate soundtrack (although one would expect the DTS track in China to be 768 Kb/s or thereabouts).

The sound is excellent throughout. This is a subtle soundtrack and the surrounds and subwoofer are rarely involved. The dialogue is clear and seems to be in audio sync. The score by Alexandre Desplat is another moving example of his skills. It is both period appropriate and timeless conveying the depth of sorrow at the heart of this doomed love affair.

Audio Ratings Summary
Dialogue
Audio Sync
Clicks/Pops/Dropouts
Surround Channel Use
Subwoofer
Overall

Extras

Featurette-Making Of: Tiles of Deceit, Lurid Affection (17.01)

This DVD has only one extra.

This fairly lengthy feature includes on-set material and interviews with key cast members and also director Lee and cinematographer Rodrigo Prieto. Tony Leung perfectly describes his character as a "figure on the edge of a nihilistic abyss". Some time is also spent looking at the detailed set design which included recreating old Shanghai. Although fans of the film could hope for more extras (when will Ang Lee do a commentary track?) the featurette is not a bad watch and is reasonably comprehensive.

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

Lust, Caution has been released in numerous regions. The local release is the best buy for English speakers in Region 4. The Chinese release has a DTS soundtrack but also features the massive cuts that were made to the film theatrically in that country - keeping most of the "caution" but none of the "lust". The only sizeable extra offered in all the "uncut" regions is the same feature on offer in Region 4.

Summary

Lust, Caution is an exquisitely acted and directed film that deserves a place amongst your DVD collection if so long as your love of spy movies doesn't begin and end with the Bourne films.

The picture quality is particularly good and, despite the lower than expected bitrate, the sound is pretty good too.

Ratings (out of 5)

Video
Audio
Extras
Plot
Overall

© Trevor Darge (read my bio)
Monday, June 23, 2008
Review Equipment
DVDPioneer BDP-LX70A Blu-ray Player, using HDMI output
DisplayPioneer PDP-5000EX. This display device has not been calibrated. This display device is 16x9 capable. This display device has a maximum native resolution of 1080p.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to amplifier/receiver. Calibrated with Ultimate DVD Platinum.
AmplificationOnkyo TX-SR605
SpeakersJBL 5.1 Surround and Subwoofer

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