Tang Wei, Tony Leung Chiu-wai
In WW II-era Shanghai, former university student and actress turned resistance spy Wong Chia-Chi (Tang Wei) infiltrates the house of Mr. Yee (Tony Leung) and his wife (Joan Chen). Yee works with the police arm of the occupying Japanese government, and the cell wants to honey-pot ensnare Yee with Wong – posing as Mai Tai-tai, the wife of a Hong Kong businessman – for an assassination attempt. The entire ploy occupies four years, which Eileen Chang’s source short story intertwines in breezy prose, tumbling back to Wong’s Hong Kong student days, her first theater experience and the student cell’s initial play for Yee. Director Ang Lee and screenwriters James Schamus and Hui-Ling Wang greatly expand this back-story, drawing out peripheral characters to provide more conventional motivations for such resistance. And it’s just such extrapolations that mire Lust
in the familiar. By trying to lend narrative weight to the central drama – Yee and Wong’s sexual tango that never decides if it’s a seduction or trap until it’s too late – the movie literalizes the story’s motivations, implications and delicious subtleties. Chang used the spy story to explore the murky depths of being human; Ang Lee uses the story to tell a sumptuous and exceptional spy story – but nothing more.