by Jim Ridley
on Wed, Oct 17, 2007 at 9:18 AM
A review of the new Ang Lee erotic drama, starting this weekend at Green Hills. After the jump.
For Notorious, Hitchcock picked a truly perverse scenario—a spy pushes his lover into the bed of his target—then elided the ugly question of what happened every night when the lights went out. Ang Lee's stately, slow-burning thriller, set almost contemporaneously during World War II in Japanese-occupied Shanghai, burrows stealthily into that creepy psychosexual dynamic, making explicit what Hitchcock coolly implied. The Ingrid Bergman figure is a stage actress (Tang Wei) enlisted in the resistance alongside dilettante student revolutionaries; her Claude Rains is a secret-police commander (Tony Leung Chiu-Wai), with whom she's ordered to snuggle under an assumed identity to set up his assassination.
In movies as seemingly disparate as The Wedding Banquet, Sense and Sensibility and Brokeback Mountain—even in The Hulk—Lee's characters must act to keep their true selves hidden from society's reprisals. Here, the acting continues even at the supposed moment of deepest intimacy, which gives the rough, ruthless NC-17 sex scenes a psychological intensity far beyond porn. The leads may be gorgeous, and Rodrigo Prieto's cinematography may look as ravishing as any golden-age Hollywood weepie. But as the movie explores the psychic damage of literally sleeping with the enemy, it builds toward an ending that dashes anyone's illusion we are watching a romance. In Mandarin with English subtitles.