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I saw Lust, Caution recently and it was excellent. The reviews that I saw beforehand were middling, but as the reviewers seemed for the most part to be focused too intently on thinking up endless variations on lines like ‘Too much caution, not enough lust’ or the reverse to actually say much about the film, I ignored them and went. Synopses of the plot are readily available so I won’t bother, but suffice it to say that Tony Leung and Tang Wei are marvelous (he gets top billing, but it’s her movie; she carries the story and is in almost every scene), the movie looks great, and the running time of almost three hours is not that big a deal and I don’t understand the many complaints. Ang Lee takes his time, we all know this, relax and watch. (I did think that three hours might have allowed for a little more political context than we get.) The plot is cousin to “Notorious,” only this time the Claude Rains character is a hot number. The sex, and there’s less of it than you might have been led to expect, is graphic but crucial; without it there’s almost no movie.

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I saw Lust, Caution recently and it was excellent. The reviews that I saw beforehand were middling, but as the reviewers seemed for the most part to be focused too intently on thinking up endless variations on lines like ‘Too much caution, not enough lust’ or the reverse to actually say much about the film, I ignored them and went. Synopses of the plot are readily available so I won’t bother, but suffice it to say that Tony Leung and Tang Wei are marvelous (he gets top billing, but it’s her movie; she carries the story and is in almost every scene), the movie looks great, and the running time of almost three hours is not that big a deal and I don’t understand the many complaints. Ang Lee takes his time, we all know this, relax and watch. (I did think that three hours might have allowed for a little more political context than we get.) The plot is cousin to “Notorious,” only this time the Claude Rains character is a hot number. The sex, and there’s less of it than you might have been led to expect, is graphic but crucial; without it there’s almost no movie.

Thank you for bringing this up. I saw the movie a few weeks ago and hardly a day goes by without me thinking about some aspect of the film. It's left quite an impression on me, and anyone who has the chance should go out to see it. I also think the sex scenes are crucial, although they will probably keep the film from receiving wider release. Tang Wei is excellent, and I'm glad this "unknown" was chosen over other leading Chinese actresses who reportedly coveted the role. Some people believed this movie would further explore the atrocities that occurred during the Japanese occupation of China during WWII but the film contains remarkably little political agenda in it. Ang Lee remains a master story teller who chooses to focus on the love story rather than a wider portrayal of the times.

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I also think the sex scenes are crucial, although they will probably keep the film from receiving wider release.

They move the story forward, and we learn things about the characters we wouldn’t know with a more discreet presentation -- and the presentation is not discreet; not hardcore by my definition, but as close as a major film is likely to get. (Lee’s previous movie, ‘Brokeback Mountain,’ is probably better, but I think it was hurt by the kind of discretion that ‘Lust, Caution’ rejects. We really did need to know more about Jack and Ennis in bed.)

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They move the story forward, and we learn things about the characters we wouldn’t know with a more discreet presentation -- and the presentation is not discreet; not hardcore by my definition, but as close as a major film is likely to get.

Have you seen Leos Carax's 'Pola X' from about 1999? This is Guillaume Depardieu, Deneuve as his mother (although she calls him 'my brother', rather playgirl-mom that, I guess),and Yakatarina Golubeva as his sister. That does go all the way in terms of explicit sex (and the characters are blood sister and brother, it is made even more powerfully extreme) in a mainstream film; this is the only time I've seen this, but it's probably happening more. And I think it's a brilliant film. baroque, flamboyant in many ways, very rich.

(Lee’s previous movie, ‘Brokeback Mountain,’ is probably better, but I think it was hurt by the kind of discretion that ‘Lust, Caution’ rejects. We really did need to know more about Jack and Ennis in bed.)

I haven't seen 'Lust, Caution', but I thought 'Jack and Ennis in bed' was clear enough--the first time was repeated. They even talked about it in explicit terms in their last meetings. And Jack's marriage and Ennis's were very different. There was also Jack's promiscuity in Mexico, which you wouldn't associate by any stretch of the imagination with Ennis; his homosexual activity was literally a form of fidelity within itself, and he also cared about his wife despite all. No matter what, Ennis was involved somewhat less with activities usually associated with decadence than Jack was. (Not that I'm sure this means anything.)

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I haven't seen 'Lust, Caution', but I thought 'Jack and Ennis in bed' was clear enough--the first time was repeated. They even talked about it in explicit terms in their last meetings.

I thought the brevity of the men’s sex scenes was in clear contrast to the relative candor with which the collapse of Ennis’ relationship with his wife is shown. (There are no equivalent scenes between Jack and his wife, but they’re clearly intended to be the lesser couple in terms of plot interest.) The point of the sex in ‘Lust, Caution’ is that merely having the characters talk about it (as the Tang Wei character does, late in the film) wouldn’t be enough – it has to be seen. Her speech has greater impact because we in the audience know exactly what she’s talking about.

Have you seen Leos Carax's 'Pola X' from about 1999?

I haven’t. I’ll have to look for it.

It’s venturing off topic, but what did Jack do that was so horribly decadent? (No, Ennis didn't do any cruising and it's impossible to imagine him doing so, but I couldn't decide if that was because he wasn't really all that gay or he was merely not that highly sexed - Jack was enough for him, as Ennis' wife would have been enough for him if he'd been genuinely straight. Whereas Jack you can imagine looking around a bit even if circumstances had been different and Ennis and he could have lived together.)

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I haven't seen 'Lust, Caution', but I thought 'Jack and Ennis in bed' was clear enough--the first time was repeated. They even talked about it in explicit terms in their last meetings.

I thought the brevity of the men’s sex scenes was in clear contrast to the relative candor with which the collapse of Ennis’ relationship with his wife is shown. (There are no equivalent scenes between Jack and his wife, but they’re clearly intended to be the lesser couple in terms of plot interest.) The point of the sex in ‘Lust, Caution’ is that merely having the characters talk about it (as the Tang Wei character does, late in the film) wouldn’t be enough – it has to be seen. Her speech has greater impact because we in the audience know exactly what she’s talking about.

Have you seen Leos Carax's 'Pola X' from about 1999?

I haven’t. I’ll have to look for it.

It’s venturing off topic, but what did Jack do that was so horribly decadent? (No, Ennis didn't do any cruising and it's impossible to imagine him doing so, but I couldn't decide if that was because he wasn't really all that gay or he was merely not that highly sexed - Jack was enough for him, as Ennis' wife would have been enough for him if he'd been genuinely straight. Whereas Jack you can imagine looking around a bit even if circumstances had been different and Ennis and he could have lived together.)

I don't personally find it so horribly decadent, but it is true that there were certain ways he seemed to demand the continuation of the relationship and meetings and depend on them more than Ennis, who was nevertheless the more 'faithful' one; so it's possible that his attachment to Ennis was more of an almost textbook sex + love thing, and Ennis's emphasized the strong affection. But cruising for hustlers in Mexico has not, for example, come into favour with the Establishment to the degree that, say, even gay marriage has, and Rosie O'Donnell being allowed absurd amounts of time to parade her opinions to a mass audience--THAT'S decadence for me (the latter, I mean)...I mean, I'm sure it came only too naturally, but it's slightly sad, that scene in the dark Mexican streets. Well, maybe one can imagine things about them if living together, but people were right to point out when the film was released that there was little in the way of role models in that period, it was pretty ad hoc--or they wouldn't have been so careless when they saw each other the second time. But I heard people coming out of the Arclight in Hollywood, where I saw it, even say things like 'well, why didn't he just get out of Dodge!...' which was a little too campy even for me. Also probably you're right that Ennis was 'less sexed', but this could also be only the attitude of the 'top', because it has to be shaped differently psychologically.

'Pola X' is based on Melville's 'Pierre, or the Ambiguities', and the 'pola' is initials for that title (in French), the 'x' is for draft 10 of the script. He had a nerve to use a title like that--very flamboyant. It also does occur that Flesh in the Devil('Diavolo in Corpo II') has Maruschka Detmers performing oral sex in it (1986!), and she was seen in highly compromising positions again in Godard's 'Prenom Carmen'--so this still doesn't happen a lot, but has already, and surely will again.

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Ang Lee remains a master story teller

Most of the story unfolds in flashback, a tricky thing to do if not handled with skill (there's a flash back after about fifteen minutes and you don’t get back to the starting place till the film is almost over, but you don’t feel confused or irritated).

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I recently saw "Black Book" on cable. It's kind of like "Lust, Caution" on steroids. If I got my history only from movies, I would assume that resistance movements are full of beautiful women going undercover and falling madly in love with the oppressor. Well, all I can say is that if joining the resistance involves romantic evenings with Sebastian Koch and a little roughhouse from Tony Leung, just tell me where to sign up.

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I recently saw "Black Book" on cable. It's kind of like "Lust, Caution" on steroids. If I got my history only from movies, I would assume that resistance movements are full of beautiful women going undercover and falling madly in love with the oppressor. Well, all I can say is that if joining the resistance involves romantic evenings with Sebastian Koch and a little roughhouse from Tony Leung, just tell me where to sign up.

Thanks for mentioning "Black Book," dirac. I'll have to look into that one, although I think I'm off Nazi/WWII themed movies for awhile.

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"Black Book" is very entertaining, on its own movie-movie terms. Paul Verhoeven and Ang Lee have very different artistic priorities. :( I'm sorry I missed it during its theatrical run.

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"Lust, Caution" is currently showing on Netflix, but I think only for the month of December. To date it hasn't shown up often for free on the cable or streaming services. It may go away for a long time again, or perhaps it will go into circulation from one streaming service to another as seems to happen with some titles.

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