Hope Abandoned


Beautiful. Suspenseful. Sensual. Psychologically acute. All these words apply to Lust, Caution. But one more must be added: desolating. Indeed, this latest production by the amazingly versatile Ang Lee (Brokeback Mountain; The Hulk; Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon) might be the feel-bad movie of the year. I urge you to steel yourself to see it.

The setting is World War II China suffering at the hands of Japanese invaders. In still-unconquered Hong Kong, a group of young people, under the charismatic leadership of a fiery patriot named Kuang, puts on a propaganda play urging the populace to overthrow their oppressors. After the play’s success, Kuang insists that direct action should be next: the assassination of the loathed Mr. Yee, a collaborator in charge of hunting and exterminating all resistance in the occupied city, Shanghai.

The company’s lead actress, Wang, volunteers for a pivotal role in the conspiracy. Since Yee is famously alert to the danger of assassination and takes all manner of precautions, Wang will seduce him, and make time and place available for his slaughter. His lust must batter down his caution. When Yee suddenly leaves Hong Kong for Shanghai, the plot appears to fizzle. But three years later, circumstances have shifted Wang to Shanghai, where her old comrades contact her. This time she succeeds in luring the collaborator to bed, and the conspirators close in. All the while,...

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About the Author

Richard Alleva has been reviewing movies for Commonweal since 1990.