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Saturday, February 07, 2009

Dan Romascanu - Se, Jie (2007)

(video by AL)

Ang Lee's characters in his last movies are doomed to live intense and unhappy stories that defy the social conventions and cannot end but in tragedy. After Brokeback Mountain, Se, jie whose English translation (don't know how accurate) is Lust, Caution deals with a love story that is born out of revenge, or more exactly politically motivated. She is a Chinese student, amateur actress and patriot, involved with the resistance movement against the Japanese invaders and their Chinese collaborators during the second World War. He is a Chinese collaborator dignitary, a tortionist and a criminal that the group of students she belongs to decide to kill, first as a spontaneous mean of expressing their patriotism, later after the first tentative fails as part of the national fight against the enemy. In order to attract the well guarded collaborationist in the trap, she enters a relationship that will consume both of them.

A few words about the cinematography of this film. Ang Lee is a master of beautiful cinema and of directing actors to the very last detail of their emotions. Every scene he is creating is beautiful esthetically, is true historically and makes justice to the story telling and to the actors. It is obvious that he enjoyed bringing to screen the world of Shanghai and Hong Kong of the 1940s, a world which almost completely disappeared physically in the many decades of wars and revolutions that stormed China since, a world which can exist today only in books or works of art as this one. From this perspective Ang Lee fully succeeded with this film, he may have created the equivalent of what Casablanca is for the Western audiences when relating to the cinematographic image of the world in war. The city of Shanghai at war, its streets, people, rain, lights at night and at day come to life at screen as a beautiful and expressive kaleidoscope.

Tony Leung and Wei Tang are fantastic actors, but here we encounter the emotional limits of the story, which I felt are the weaker part of the film. Wei Tang's character starts as an innocent girl, attracted to revolution first by the charismatic figure of one of her fellows, and then starting to live a double life as revolutionary and bourgeois coquette. Slowly her relationship with the monstrous Mr. Yee becomes more true than her real life. From an inexperienced girl she becomes a woman involved in and intense relationship, which is a combination of love and hate, sex and attraction between two people that have little reason to be anything but enemies. This is where the story lacks emotional credibility. He has all reasons to suspect her, and yet seems to fall into believing in the sincerity of her feelings, despite behaving as evil even in some of his private moments. If I could somehow understand this, I completely failed to believe her reasons of fascination, that lead her to the ultimate betrayal. Director Ang Lee and actor Tony Leung fail to explain the motives of her fascination and betrayal. The sordid end where she prefers to share the fate of her comrades adds a beautiful dimension to the character, but yet there is something pathetic and unresolved in the way we are driven as viewers to that end. Maybe the English title (not sure if also the Chinese one) can answer the riddle, maybe it was just a story of lust, one of these stories we as mortals should be cautious about.

Dan Romascanu

(Cronici semnate Dan)

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