Thursday, January 13, 2011
Written by James Schamus, Hui-Lang Wang, Eileen Chang (story)
Directed by Ang Lee
Starring Tony Leung Chiu Wai, Wei Tang
In occupied China, a student joins a resistance organization and becomes entangled with the object of her mission.
finally! a good movie. we were in a slump for awhile there. good plot, good acting, good directing. it's asian so, of course it was good. why do i always hesitate to watch these movies? is it because i'm lazy and make a little bit of a bigger deal about reading the subtitles in my brain? most likely. i was going to write more about how i enjoyed this, but, like previously stated i am lazy.
Alright. This is a solid four and very much recommended.
This is a movie which had all the elements necessary to make it great, along with the twin bonuses of extremely attractive leads and quite steamy, NC-17-worthy sex. Told slightly out of order the way a Pulitzer-winning novel might be, everything ties together beautifully. The story might appear simple or predictable at first, but even though it drives us to a point which can only end in so many ways we have no idea which exit will be taken.
Wei Tang owns the film as the girl who would be woman. It's thrilling to watch her become embroiled with a man who she tries--but almost constantly fails--to control. Her plight is utterly believable, and a character arc which could so easily have fallen into the trap of melodrama takes the path of high art. The chemistry is so thick that for once we don't need a ton of dialog to analyze the attraction (of course, it doesn't hurt that we never really see them doing anything other than fucking or making eyes at each other).
Showing the character on two sides of what are probably the four most critical years of a young woman's physical development, the film showcases supreme craft in makeup and costuming. (I particularly appreciated the difficulty of showing on film a closeup of someone in stage makeup, but Leila doesn't agree that this is such an achievement). Characterizations of the leads and key supporters are perfect down to Mr. Leung, who's equally critical to the story but with not nearly as much screen time.
Exemplified by short, simple mah jongg scenes which feel long because they're relaxed rather than boring, this film is filled with the kind of direction which makes quality filmmaking look easy. The movie fits a style from the period of the story without being kitchy or full of callbacks, and it builds a series of immersive environments with exactly the right amount of room or tension. Lighting is used extremely well, and neither lights nor camera shy away from balletic erotica which, while often implausible, ever comes across as gratuitous.
Ang Lee films don't always succeed, but it's not for lack of direction. Here he's found a story worthy of his talents and built a beautiful facade upon its foundation.