Quiet Desperation – Watching “Lust, Caution”

Lust, Caution
Director: Ang Lee
Writers: Eileen Chang (story)/James Schamus (screenplay)
Release Date: 2007
Genre: Drama / Romance / Thriller / War
Award: Golden Lion @Venice Film Festival, 2007

When I just started rock climbing outdoors, once at Castle Rock, my belay partner commented on the way i was climbing, “Quiet Desperation.” It still makes me laugh when i think of it now. If you have ever hung on to a tiny hold on a rock surface, your hands started sweating, and the ledge under your tip-toe started to become sharper and sharper, but you couldn’t find the next hold, you would understand how that feels like. Even though I can’t generalize how all climbers behave during a climb. But i would imagine many are like me, quiet desperation. Because usually the place you go to climb is really really quiet besides the breeze, rattle of leaves and occasional bird chirping. Just you and the rock, and the frustration or exhilaration that’s boiling inside you. It didn’t seem to go with the environment other than a quiet endurance.

The much commented on sex scenes in Ang Lee’s new movie felt very much like that: Quiet Desperation.

Otherwise, exquisite is the right word to describe the movie. From the set, the period architecture, street scenes, interior furniture, clothing, down to the lipstick print on a coffee cup or a wine glass. Flawless design. Ang Lee’s wish to reproduce Shanghai in 1930’s seemed to have been fulfilled.

The dialog is sparse. I have to agree with some of the critics out there that taking out the intense sex scenes, it does feel like a Kar Wai Wong movie, it reminded me of In the Mood for Love as well as the first two thirds of 2046. Both Tony Leung and Tang Wei are superb when it comes to acting. Everything is expressed in their eyes. The most intense love and hate are expressed with the touch of a hand or a quick turn of head.

But it is not really a Kar Wai Wong movie afterall, not just because the action packed sex scenes, but also because of the humorous dialog sprinkled throughout. They lightened up the mood, and made the 157 minutes seemed less lengthy than it sounds.

Ang Lee stayed very true to the original story by Eileen Chang. Some people commented on how he softened the cynicism in the story by changing the ending to be less cruel. Personally I liked Ang Lee’s version better. Maybe cuz I was never a big fan of Eileen Chang’s writing, which seemed too dark and suffocating for me.

Oh, I love Tang Wei’s hat in the movie, even though it didn’t look great on her because she has a round face. As i walked out of the theatre, the strongest images left on my mind were actually not the aerobic love making, but Tang Wei’s face. Everything that Ang Lee tried to convey seemed to exist on that very Shanghai 1930ish face: voluptuousness, beauty, desire, conflict, naive, fatigue, bewilderment, and finally confidence. That face said it all.

2 thoughts on “Quiet Desperation – Watching “Lust, Caution”

  1. jqz, good comments about the film. One thing that also stood out in the film was the one major purely violent scene, the stabbing of Yee’s underling. This was another stroke of genius on Lee’s part showing at once how easy and how difficult it is to kill someone, showing how the innocents lose their innocence, their awkwardness.

    Guess I hadn’t read anything about the film before, just saw the trailer so wasn’t aware that sex and violent sexuality were elements in this film. I assumed we would have some type of sanitized presentation as in most films. Refreshing to see that at least one filmmaker doesn’t forget that his audience is made up of humans. As I watched the film I was reminded of another brilliant presentation of sex onscreen – ‘Late Marriage’. But sex in this film is the antithesis of Lust, Caution. But still ingeniously presented.

    Enough rambling …

  2. Well said. The only thing I really don’t agree with is the comparison with “In the mood…” (let alone “2046”!). This is soooo much better! I don’t even find the dialog sparse. There is rhythm in the storytelling and there is always enough tension on screen that keeps my complete attention. Mood seems to be all there is in “In the mood…”, all that Wong Kar Wai was going for; whereas here it comes naturally, part of the whole package of story-telling. I went in the movie a bit skeptical — didn’t think the story/characters would interest me that much. But Ang Lee did it again…He’s a genius and almost all his movies are great, and unique. And the acting was superb. I even like Tony Leung again (I grew sick of watching him in 2046).

    Jean’s Reply:
    For some reason the scenes that left the strongest impression for me are the quiet ones. like when she sat at the cafe and have a sip of the coffee and left her lip print on the cup. similarly when she was having the first date with Leung, and left lip print on the wine glass. Even the chattering during majong playing seemed to fade into background noise for me, and all i remembered were the eye contact between he and she.

    BUt i do agree with you, this is much much better than In the Mood for love and 2046. and Ang Lee is a genius. yeah!

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