In another installment of Ang Lee's powerful style of filmmaking ("Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon," "Brokeback Mountain"), we now have the treat of "Lust, Caution," a two-and-a-half hour of exercise in reading subtitles (unless your Mandarin Chinese is up to par).
1942, Japanese occupied Shanghai. Shanghai residents are active in the resistance, and Wong gives the "go" command to members of the resistance to kill someone. Flashback to 1938, when naive college girl Wong joins the resistance, at the urging of the dashing young Kuang; he starts a drama group that presents patriotism plays (resistance against the Japanese).
The resistance/drama group form a plan to infiltrate Yee's group (he's seen as a traitor to his people for working with the Japanese). The trick of luring Yee into an affair is successful in that he's intrigued with Wong as she works under the cover name of Mrs. Mak, wife of an export-importer, but a guy who helped introduce the group to Yee becomes suspicious, is stabbed to death and the group falls apart.
Then we leap back to 1941 to pick up toward the point of where were at the opening titles.
"Lust, Caution" is a dichotomy of opposing forces... that, or Ang Lee seems to like separating such things with a comma in his titles. Yee seems to sit on the fence between his lust for Wong and his caution in life (knowing he's a marked man, refusing to go into dark places or travel without his guards). He struggles with his desires for Wong at the cost of his cautious approach, which propels the story line along.
Admittedly, it doesn't propel is quickly, and at 148 minutes in the seat, more than a few people were flicking their phones open to see the time. The graphic nature of the physical relationship between Yee and Wong toward the last few months of the relationship earned it the NC-17 movie rating (and why a theatre attendant was hanging out at the door to guard against wee ones drifting inside).
A good film? Yes. Something that's going to earn Lee another Oscar? Hard to say without knowing who he's up against. Newcomer to movies Wei Tang plays Wong may also see a courtesy nomination for a winning performance without an apparent background in acting; Mr. Yee (Tony Leung Chiu Wai) is a seasoned vet to the screen.
A worthwhile film to take in if it's in your neighborhood.
And if you're really paying attention, it could be Wong or Wang -- IMDB lists her one way, and the subtitles the other. Pick your favorite, but either way she's spot on in the role.