Viewing your Watchlist and recommended content requires Javascript

  • 18
  • Drama, Romance
  • 2007
  • 158 mins

Lust, Caution

Lust, Caution


A would-be Mata Hari gets more than she bargains for in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon director Ang Lee's erotic espionage thriller


Be it the prim Jane Austen heroines of Sense And Sensibility, the taciturn cowboys of Brokeback Mountain or the tongue-tied adolescents of The Ice Storm, filmmaker Ang Lee's specialty has been characters too constricted by decorum and social convention to express themselves either romantically and sexually. That trend ends in Lust, Caution, a WWII saga about two people whose entire relationship is defined by their lustful desire, no-holds-barred intercourse and sadomasochistic leanings.

It is these sequences that have earned Lee's film a restrictive NC-17 rating in the US, generally regarded as the kiss of box-office death. Those expecting a raunchy, X-rated bonkathon, however, will be either surprised or disappointed that these admittedly explicit sex scenes are only one element in this languorous adaptation of a story by celebrated Chinese author Eileen Chang.

Indeed, you have to wait around an hour-and-a-half before the simmering attraction between young resistance fighter Wong Chia Chi (Wei) and Japanese collaborator Mr Yee (Leung Chiu-Wai) finally comes to the boil.

Up to that point Lust, Caution's scriptwriters James Schamus and Wang Hui-Ling have other fish to fry: a nostalgic recreation of 1930s Hong Kong where Wei's earnest student first discovers her passion for acting by performing in patriotic agitprop; her first fumbling inroads into espionage which see her assume a false identity and gamely sacrifice her virginity for the cause (wooing Mr Yee in order to engineer his assassination); and the prolonged murder of a blackmailing traitor by her fellow conspirators that recalls the infamous kitchen scene from Hitchcock's Torn Curtain.

All the above, though, is merely preamble to the main event - the point where Wong Chia Chi's seduction of Mr Yee finally gets serious. It's only here that Lee's film starts to generate real heat and the conflicting impulses driving his heroine come into focus.

Even here, though, there's a chilly remoteness to the saucy action that stops the viewer becoming emotionally involved - so much so that, by the time the Taiwanese director springs his final dramatic surprise, we're simply too distanced to care. We're left with the feeling that whatever message the film hoped to convey has been buried beneath too much period finery and distracting plot detail.

Cast & Connections

  • Actor: Wei Tang, Tony Leung Chiu Wai, Joan Chen, Fan Kuang Yao, Anupam Kher, Kar Lok Chin, Yu-Lin Ko, Wang Lee-Hom
  • Director: Ang Lee
  • Writer: James Schamus, Wang Hui-Ling
  • Writer (Story): Eileen Chang
  • Producer: William Kong, James Schamus, Ang Lee
  • Photographer: Rodrigo Prieto
  • Composer: Alexandre Desplat

In a nutshell

Isolated moments of high drama and some startlingly intimate sex scenes sadly fail to galvanise a turgid and overlong whole.

by Neil Smith

Latest from Film4...

  • Film4


    AnnaLynne McCord stars as a teenager with an unhealthy fascination with gore and surgery.

  • Film4

    100 Bloody Acres

    A gloriously gory, side-splittingly funny horror from Down Under.

  • Film4

    FilmFear on Film4

    This Halloween, Film4 becomes FilmFear. Join us for seven nights of petrifying premieres and classics from the crypt.

  • Film4

    Black Mountain Poets on Film4

    Alice Lowe and Dolly Wells star in writer-director Jamie Adams' hilarious improvised comedy-drama

  • Channel 4 Blog

    TIFF 2016: Top Ten Editor Michael Leader runs through ten standouts from the Toronto International Film Festival...   The Oath I'd already seen three of the four Film4-backed films screening in Toronto (inc

  • Channel 4 Blog

    Baltasar Kormakur on The Oath

    As his Film4-backed Icelandic thriller The Oath premieres in Toronto, director/writer/actor Baltasar Kormakur speaks with editor Michael Leader about making films in Hollywood, returning to

Register with

Personalise your Film4 experience

  • Set film reminders
  • Build your watchlist
  • Get film suggestions

or Register