Admittedly not for all tastes, this deliberately paced meditation on what, if anything, distinguishes love from desire requires the sort of work from the viewer that many modern viewers are uninterested or unable to practice–patience during a screening and thought after it.
Lust, Caution‘s plot centers around the task of a young woman (Joan Chen) to seduce a powerful and dangerous political figure (Tony Leung) in Shanghai during World War II.
Things happen in Lust, Caution, it’s just that director Ang Lee doesn’t feel the need to explicate each thing that happens as it happens. Perhaps she is awakened sexually and falls in love with the man she is supposed to seduce. Perhaps he falls in love with the woman he suspects is a spy, but can’t help himself. Even after the characters make their final decisions, we still aren’t sure, because like much of the best poetic ambiguity, there are hints that support both interpretations.
I don’t necessarily value ambiguity for ambiguity’s sake, though. What makes the film’s ending so sad and tragic is that I’m not sure that the characters themselves know. One can only spend so much time trying to keep truth hidden before one begins to lose the ability to recognize what it is.