Lust, Caution (ii) East vs West

ESWN has a link which has made a very good comparative analysis of the perspectives between the East and the West with respect to movie and novel, taking "Lust, Caution" as an illustration. Well, to say East vs West is perhaps an overstatement, it is essential China vs US. But it is good enough for illustrative purpose. (I wish Roland will translate this as it would help to enhance the understanding between the two sides, which is, if I understand correctly, one of the objectives of his great blog)

The review made a few very good points, which I will try to elaborate further here
  • There is a very significant difference in the understanding of WWII. The West seems to have never really included the Sino-Japanese War pre-1941 as part of WWII. As a result, they failed to understand the fact that the scar of this war on the Chinese people runs parallel to that of WWII to the Jews. In fact, only few critics such as James Berardinelli made the connection between "Lust, Caution" and "the Black Book". Failing to understand this means failing to understand the conflict and significance of Wong Chia Chi's final betrayal, both in a social and personal context. As a result, the story of Wong was degraded into that of a Bond girl perspective for some critics!
  • Then even Berardinelli, who has always been very good at Asian movies, demonstrated his impatience at the attention to details and slow pacing. Of course, that is the part of "Red Chamber Dream" culture that is unique to Chinese, and Eileen Chang essentially made her name for her ability to write at the Red Chamber Dream style. The Chinese audience, inclusive of this blogger who is not a big fan of RCD or Chang, is well exposed to such a culture.
  • Roger Ebert, in his revised review, admitted he did not realize the theme of "forbidden love" across most Ang Lee movies until he received comments from his readers. This, I suppose, is related to what I have discussed above. (because, what is there to be forbidden for a girl falling for James Bond of the other side?)
  • It also surprised me that so many film critics (East and West) failed to realized the first love scene was about fear of assassination (body search) not S&M. I will just quote from the Chinese poster spanisheye "他知道她的身份,敌我关系,危险重重,对她这个已经是职业的色情军统特务非常不放心,怀疑她走那么远,要从腿下拿枪,当然坐不住,不能再忍受。摔到墙上,冲上去搜身.以我从男人角度对性行为的认识,这个撕旗袍的戏是搜身找枪,不信大家仔细看看他的动作,不是要暴露她的后面,是在翻看。后来却又在床上他才真正的拉下王的内部衣物。明显是搜枪,没有性的内涵,一般来说,胸部大概是要碰的,为什么不碰?熟练的抽打犯人,和其它女特务一样,惯例抓捕,王被捆绑(熟练的皮带操作,也表现了其专业特工的素养)。狗特务,香港没有处理你,居然追到上海了,他想。然后性虐待,不是偷情,是对女犯人欺凌。   
  • What really has castrated the mainland version as a full story, is the 2nd love scene with fellow student, IMO, not the 3 more explicit and controversial scenes afterwards "洁本剪掉了第二次,这就大大削弱了王佳芝的挫折感和她所感受的屈辱。"
The reviewer has not named the critics except Roger Ebert. But I suppose he was refering to Salon and a few others listed on the top of www.mrqe.com, which I frequents. As the Hong Kong movie critics are largely corrupted (either taking bribes or just being merely shallow and biased, see scoring of local movies in the Next/etc) and those in the mainland are censored nowadays I turn to www.douban.com's movie section and relies on Zacharak/Ebert/Berardinelli (I have skipped NYT's Dargis at all costs, ever since Oldboy. I fail to understand why he is still hired by NYT after so many disasters) for independent opinions and insights. I also have the luck of receiving free copie of LA Citybeat while I lived in Westwood, and got to read Andy Klein, who I regard as the critic who really understands Eastern movies in depth. In fact, Andy Klein is perhaps THE only US critic who understands Ang Lee and "Lust Caution". (perhaps there is sometime unique for being close to Hollywood)

p.s. It is also interesting to compare the behavior of Kwong Yu-man in "Lust, Caution", and that of Hans Akkerman in "the Black Book", before the girls were sent to the enemy.

Related: 色、戒- 杂谈

p.s.ii. (So i ventured into a few other western reviews down the mrqe.com list sorted by "popularity")
  • Slant : the critic would have thought that the Japanese propaganda filme that interrupted the movie Wong watched as "In a surprisingly funny scene, an American movie is interrupted by a newsreel that boasts of the country's resistance to Western influences, at which point Wong rolls her eyes and heads for the door" Well, Wong and everybody rolled their eyes because it was not "the country", it was the "enemy's country". -- Slant did make some interesting comparison with Brokeback Mountain about shelter from the danger zone though
  • For those who have watched Notorious, I would recommend this review as a compariosn with Lust Caution