Tuesday 1 April 2008

Watch the body language

Ang Lee's Lust, Caution is definitely a film I will be trying to catch again over the next few days. It's much, much more than a carefully crafted period piece or even a highly polished thriller. It induced a physical reaction in me the first time I saw it. Felt really quite shaky - and it was an 11am performance.

I caught a riveting interview with Lee on BBC Radio 4's Front Row at New Year, when the film had its UK release. He pointed out that it covers a period in Chinese history - collaboration with the Japanese during WW2 - almost totally suppressed in both Taiwan and Mainland China. An interesting parallel with another film in the Festival, The Counterfeiters (a German/Austrian co-production) with its sidelong take on the concentration camps.

What struck me most was what Lee had to say about play-acting, a strong theme in the film. The moment of epiphany for the young heroine takes place on a student stage where her (acted) tears transfix and energise the audience. Lee described how he himself likes to sit and watch audiences watching his movies, to observe every flicker, every nuance on their faces. The nub of Lust, Caution has to do, of course, with body language, sex (3 scenes 100 minutes or so into the film) as the ultimate performance whereby we judge what's real and what's fake.

Lee also talked winningly about the strong feminine side to his work and the appeal of adapting stories by women, from Jane Austen (Sense and Sensibility) to E Annie Proulx (Brokeback Mountain) to the Chinese American writer Eileen Chang (Lust, Caution), for the cinema. It's something to do with a different, more slowly-paced outlook on life. And it goes hand-in-hand with his alleged genre-hopping; he likes to make the effort to adapt and borrow from different conventions in cinema, then twist or break expectations. Maybe it's not so surprising that he finds it easier to make films in a foreign language than in his Chinese; it gives him the freedom to stand back. And observe.

Postscript: Skin-care commercials featuring Lust, Caution actress Tang Wei have been banned by the Chinese authorities. No such broadcast ban has been applied to her co-star Tony Leung. Read more from The Guardian

1 comment:

James said...

I guess what's so compelling about Brokeback Mountain (which I first saw at Borderlines in Ludlow as I recall) is that it plays out the idea of when to live in a very real way and when to resort to a performance. What really hit home with that film was just how it played up the difficulty men have in saying what needs to be said.
PS : I enjoy this festival blog very much.