Cultural nuances in the way of understanding
By Raymond Zhou (China Daily)
Ang Lee's Lust, Caution got a lot of negative reviews in the US. Iwas shocked. I always thought Lee, of all people, could convey thenuances of Chinese culture to a Western audience.
I admit I love this movie, as I do all his work, except The Hulk.And I'm not implying you have to give it the thumbs-up because itwon the Golden Lion. However, after reading dozens of reviews frommainstream media in North America, I have a strong feeling thatmost critics failed to understand the movie - not only thesubtleties, but even some of the plot. Of course, the two are ofteninterconnected.
Rex Reed of The New York Observer called Mrs Yee "silly" because heassumed she is oblivious to her husband's trysts with other women.This couldn't be further from the truth.
From how she reacts to her husband's emotional breakdown in thelast scene,it is obvious she is in the know. There are Chinesewives who feign ignorance of their husbands' affairs, and this isprobably something an American film critic cannot grasp. Shouldn'tshe be throwing a tantrum? They might ask.
Rex continues: "Neither of the two stars look like they're havingmuch fun." I wonder what movie he was watching. Of course they werenot having fun.This is not a romantic comedy. The lady is schemingto kill him, and he is figuring out whether she is anotherbeautiful assassin sent his way. They are both walking on razor'sedge, which is not a fun activity.
Most critics call the movie a spy thriller without realizing themultiple layers of the story. It is mostly psychological, with thetwo leads constantly testing each other and using a language richin undertones. Almost every line has so much texture it could takea few more lines to decipher.
Many see a resemblance with films of similar plots, such as PaulVerhoeven's Black Book and Hitchcock's Notorious. But they fail tosee the link to previous Lee masterpieces such as Sense andSensibility and Brokeback Mountain. Think of it. "Lust" is"sensibility" while "caution" is "sense". Both leads - and evensome of the supporting characters - have to maintain a life ofcaution for self-survival. When they succumb to lust orpassion,they pay the ultimate price.
The three sex scenes received such widespread misinterpretationthat trimming them might not be the terrible idea it should be.People got so
carried away with the S&M and acrobatic couplings thatthey forgot to detect the symbolic meanings. The scenes epitomizetheir relationship, from domination, to distortion, to harmony.That's something a simple head shot could not convey. And it doesnot necessarily imply the lady loves to be tortured. That would bethe same as saying she is a gold-digger who falls for a preciousdiamond.
The definite moment when she falls for him is at the Japanese clubwhen he reveals his weakness. (He has a hunch his future as acollaborator is
doomed.) She has a soft spot not for his power and money, butfor the latent humanity he finally lays bare. The big stone justconfirms his feelings for her, in her mind.
American critics are quick to pick up the clues of Hollywood moviesthat appear in the meticulously portrayed old Shanghai and havefound an allusion to Hitchcock's Notorious, but nobody seems tohave noticed that Mr Yee's every move is watched by his secretary,who knows his lover's secret identity and will probably bring abouthis downfall.
Human emotions writ large can transcend boundaries. It is theniceties that cause cultural misunderstandings.