(Capsule Arthouse Reviews are my attempt to better myself and practice movie snobbery by watching less mainstream movies and more independent films. Not a true review, they're mainly my thoughts on various small run films. I still give an opinion about whether the film is worth watching or not, but keep in mind my cinema taste is janky at best. You can also expect mild spoilers so beware.) The controversy over Lust, Caution (Se jie) which is rated NC-17 for hardcore sex scenes reminds me of the controversy over Manhunt 2. The media is hyping this up way more than the actual movie goers and gamers are. (I don't know anyone who is excited about Manhunt 2 in this crazy holiday season of AAA gold titles such as Halo 3, Rockband, Bioshock and the like.) At the matinée I went to the audience was easily made up of people over twice my age. They didn't seem to mind the sex scenes at all.
I find the whole brouhaha over the sex scenes interesting. I think we all know that if say, Uwe Boll put in such graphic scenes in one of his films there'd be no way he could get away with it. I suppose such is the power of being a "legit" filmmaker. I only wish Ang Lee could have convinced me that this film NEEDED these graphic sex scenes. The whole thing feels like a publicity stunt to me. People say Ang Lee sold out on the Hulk (or even Brokeback Mountain) but I'm convinced he sold out on this film.
Like every Ang Lee film I've seen, Lust, Caution is too long. It's over two and a half hours and the film drags in the middle. It's almost like the sex scenes are there just so you don't fall asleep (people in my theater did anyways). I'm also willing to ignore the fact that the plot is super hackneyed because great films have been made with hackneyed plots (Reservior Dogs and The Departed, both American remakes come to mind).
That being said I did enjoy some parts of Lust, Cuation. The costume and set design is top notch. There are parts of this film that play like a black comedy, one of my favorite genres. It's also one of those great, "Bitch got me again!" films (watch it and you'll see what I mean).
I'm not certain if all these positives can outweigh the one big negative in this film: the rampant misogyny. I'm not sure if this is just because something was lost in translation or if it's because I'm simply too Westernized, but I found the treatment of women, especially the main character really disturbing. Like Saving Private Ryan and Lions for Lambs the message of the film seems counter to what you would think. Apparently, raping a semi-willing woman is the way to her heart. Who knew this film would even up being like an Asian prono? (Remember, it's not rape, it's surprise sex!) Or perhaps I'm just too sensitive and prudish for an NC-17 arthouse film?
All this adds up to a throughly mediocre film. I expected better from Ang Lee and unfortunately I can't recommend seeing this film. Thumbs down indeed.