Archive for the ‘DIRECTED BY Ang Lee’ Category

Lust, Caution

28 May

Lust, Caution – directed by Ang Lee. Spy Drama. In the Japanese occupation of Japan a group of students become resistance workers determined to assassinate a high ranking collaborator. 157 minutes Color 2007.
After making Brokeback Mountain, the angel director Ang Lee returned to China to film this account of the late 30s occupation of Hong Kong and Shanghai. He avows it was to honor the history of the period, which was his parents’ time, and which would he feared be lost if some record of it was not made. But the movie is far more than ancestor worship.

As with all his films (The Life of Pi, et al.), it is an exposure of human nature under huge pressure, danger, and duress. I am loath to recount even the beginning of this story, because each episode is precious and unusual.

Rather let me speak for a minute about the cast, which, along with Joan Chen, boasts the highest ranking Chinese actors of our day.

Wang Leehom, the international Asian singer superstar, plays the young leader of the troupe. A beautiful young man, he captures the intensity of the boy, including his fatal lack of humor linked to a sexual restraint such as to make of them a plot device in and of themselves.

The great Chinese superstar Tony Leung Chiu Wai plays the collaborationist magistrate who is the target of the troupe. You would suppose you would respond to him as a villain. But the intensity, pain, love, perspicacity, fear, cruelty, and desire he evinces forbids any such condemnation as the full human being arises before our eyes.

The power and delicacy and sensuality of his playing take the story to excruciations of lust and fear – to a point almost inhuman where neither of them obtain. And with him rides Wei Tang as the femme fatale of the troupe, out to seduce and betray him. She is an entrancing female, subtle, lovely to behold, true, believable, and interesting in and of herself.

I say no more. I have said too much.

It is beautifully filmed by Rodrigo Prieto and has an infallible sense of period.

I saw it on DVD, which offers an uncensored version, It seems to me that the film would make no sense without the full bore sex scenes. Or at least insufficient sense. After all, the film is not a candy apple.

Highly recommended for grown-up viewing.


The Life Of Pi

25 Nov

The Life Of Pi – directed by Ang Lee. Survival Drama, Family Film. An adolescent boy is cast adrift in a lifeboat with a fully-grown Bengal Tiger. 127 minutes Color 2012.
The film begins in enchantment, from the credits and forward to the translucency and wonder of the images that follow. The story is framed by the telling of the grown man to whom it happened. There he sits recounting it to a writer, and there they are at the end, when the picture as a whole ends with a bourgeois maxim.

The events of the family zoo in Pondicherry in India, the man’s boyhood introduction to the tiger, and the family’s setting sail for Canada on a Japanese freighter which sinks in a typhoon, are well told, thrilling, and novel. The filmmaker’s attack on these episodes suffuses us with awe. We are ensorcelled. Never have we seen such things. We sit back agog, and we believe.

But the boy is adrift with a ravenous tiger, so some sort of truce must be struck before the boy himself is eaten. And also we await their rescue, which never seems to come. What does come is a slackening of tension which is more fatal than the tiger is. For we lose contact with the inner life of this starving castaway, and the grim process that finally seizes one’s mind after one is adrift for months on the open ocean. We have too many accounts of this stage of death at sea not to know what it is like.

One is covered with salt, one’s eyes are practically blind, one’s lips are bubbling with sores, one’s skin is dripping off one’s body, one is malnourished and athirst and burned alive. And just before surrender to death comes the phantasmagoria of magical rescue, with dancing girls and feasts and rest and reunion. At this point, any delirium is tempting, the temptation being to succumb to the delirium as real, and thus surrender to death, for The Gate Of Death is Pleasure. The alternative to it is to surrender to the delirium as delirium, yet not submit but stand away from it and exit it. Attention to that process provides a rest and recuperation from the bodily and mental torment, and the outcome of that rest is the energy to go on.

What needs to happen is that the boy is dying and the tiger is dying, and the delirium moment arrives, but, instead of that, instead of a working into and out of the perilous malaise of the dream of rescue, the author and the filmmaker give us a pretty, little cop-out, a phony island out of an old Maria Montez movie, where the boy and the tiger can feast and rest. The Special Effects execution of the island is a gross violation of style. And there is no drama. Without it, the movie sinks.

We immediately lose any interest in the tiger and the boy and their survival, not because we know they did survive, for the boy now grown is telling the tale to the writer, but because the director and the author have not done their job which is to take us into the worst crisis of all, A Vision Of False Paradise, and record his escape from it.

This film is still worth seeing. It is beautifully filmed in 3-D by Claudio Myranda and perfectly cast, right down to the four tigers that play the tiger here — one Richard Parker by name an unpredictable cat if there ever was one.

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