Lust, Caution

The first words Ang Lee says in the documentary on the DVD are pretty much the key into this film -- the courage to reveal yourself to someone else. And he places these moments of exposure in a deeply secretive, oppressive environment. Both lovers risk death if they let one brief spark of who they are out from underneath.

Are they in love? I don’t see their relationship as particularly loving. Love is about exposure, baring your all to someone else. When they fuck, these two want to hurt one another -- have their partner’s head shot off upon reaching climax -- lust used as a weapon of rage. And yet, and yet... the singing scene in the Japanese brothel. Singing can be seen as an exposure of yourself in an indirect way, through art. And Tony Leung’s character reacts with an exposure of his own. He has become comfortable revealing himself and his secrets to his new mistress. So much so that she cannot bear to deceive him any longer. She slips out, and betrays her mission. But her lover isn’t brave enough to follow her example. He destroys her, and retreats to the shadows he has made for himself. Both characters are being pulled by libidinal lust and rational caution, Tang Wei's character choses the former and Tony Leung's the latter. I am only very slightly peeved that these gender conventions weren’t challenged. I guess this wasn’t the film for it...

Ang Lee obviously has an interest in relationships in extremely hostile environments, and I want to watch Brokeback Mountain again with this in mind (the first time round I was pretty unmoved). Another point to be aware of: there’s the interesting conclusion to Ang Lee’s opening words -- that the courage to reveal your inner self to another is what constitutes true art. Beneath the tortured love stories, it seems, Lee is ultimately exploring the way he feels about his craft.

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