Opening 18 Oct 2007
Writing credits: Eileen Chang, James Schamus, Hui-Ling Wang
Principal actors: Tony Leung, Wei Tang, Joan Chen, Lee-Hom Wang, Chung Hua Tou
The versatile, ever-surprising director Ang Lee has delivered a cinematic masterpiece based on a classic story by Chinese author Eileen Chang. Whether or not the Academy will give Lee his third Oscar (after Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, 2000 and Brokeback Mountain, 2005) remains a question, but the film is a riveting journey through passion and obsession played with exquisite talent by Tony Leung (In the Mood for Love and 2046) as Mr. Yi (with longing and haunted eyes) and a newcomer, Tang Wei as the lovely Mrs. Mak. That it is also a fascinating look at China under Japanese occupation during World War II and a suspenseful tale of espionage, loyalty and betrayal doesn’t hurt.
The director decided early that to convince his viewers of how the attraction between the lovers becomes blinding passion, he would have to show realistic sexual encounters. And there is no doubt about it, the couplings are raw, explicit scenes which have won the film a well-deserved NC-17 rating. But I would argue along with Lee that the realism is pertinent and necessary to the story, and oddly, neither erotic nor tasteless soft porn.
Shanghai, 1941. Mr. Yi is a high-level Chinese bureaucrat in the collaborating puppet government, eventually, head of the anti-espionage unit, capturing and torturing members of the Chinese resistance. A student theater group joins the resistance and convinces their newest leading lady, the beautiful Wang Jiazhi (Wei) to play the role of Mrs. Mak, the young wife of a (non-existent) war profiteer. She is to ingratiate herself with the mahjong-playing wives of the collaborators, especially Mrs. Yi, seduce Mr. Yi and lead him to a rendezvous where he is to be killed. The first plan fails with dramatic consequences before the seduction can take place. But it is revived three years later after a chance encounter between the former student (Wang Leehom) and Jiazhi. I saw the film in Chinese with German subtitles. (Adele Riepe)