Ang Lee's Shanghai-set World War II espionage thriller, Lust, Caution, won the Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival this weekend, beating out such weighty competition as Todd Haynes's I'm Not There, Brian De Palma's Redacted, Paul Haggis's In the Valley of Elah, and Abdellatif Kechiche's The Secret of the Grain. Lee's win was something of a surprise, given that the helmer had won just two years before for Brokeback Mountain … and given the extremely lousy reviews that Lust, Caution received at the festival.
Both Variety and the Hollywood Reporter wrote dismissive pans of the slow-paced Chinese-language film. We've seen the movie, and though we'll leave the reviewing to our estimable colleagues in the magazine, we will say that the trades' reviewers — Derek Elley for Variety and Ray Bennett for HR — wildly misjudged the movie. Both reviewers focus on the steamy sex scenes, which have gotten the film a lot of press (and an NC-17 rating), viewing the wide stretches of plot and character development preceding them as boring. And both reviews seem to be written from the standpoint of judging Lust, Caution as an espionage thriller, which to our mind is the most boring possible way to view it. It's actually a close cousin to Brokeback Mountain — an Old Hollywood melodrama updated to contemporary times.
Lust, Caution won't be a box-office hit — its rating, and its foreignness, more or less preclude that possibility — but look for it to be this year's Marie Antoinette: a bitterly dividing film among critics, some of whom will hail it as a masterpiece, some of whom will find it overblown and turgid. Both groups will think the other group is full of morons. Let the critical sniping begin!