Ang Lee returned to Chinese themes for 2007’s “Lust, Caution,” an intense tale about sex, love, and gender during wartime. Based on a story by Eileen Chang, the film follows a young Chinese woman named Chia Chi (Tang Wei), who is tasked with seducing Mr. Yee (Tony Leung Chiu-wai), an agent of Japan’s puppet government during World War II, so that her allies can assassinate him. As their relationship becomes more affectionate, she develops feelings for Yee. Ultimately, she warns him at the moment before the planned assassination, leading to her death and the deaths of her allies.
The film explores Chia Chi’s relationship with her sexuality and her conflicted feelings about using sex in the service of her country. Archaic male attitudes toward sex are also on display, and Yee’s first sexual encounter with Chia Chi is rape. That the story progresses from there to Chia Chi falling for him has made the movie controversial among some viewers, and the rape scene itself can be hard to watch regardless. The movie was much more controversial because the explicit scenes are largely absent in Chang’s original story.
However, Ang Lee certainly isn’t an exploitation filmmaker, and even if you don’t like what the film has to say about sex and gender (or if you find the message muddled), there’s no doubt that Lee came to the project with something to say.
If you or anyone you know has been a victim of sexual assault, help is available. Visit the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network website or contact RAINN’s National Helpline at 1-800-656-HOPE (4673).