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    With a resume like Ang Lee’s, a new intrigue-laced war film promises to be much more than another humdrum roll in the cinematic hay. In the same vein as last blockbuster “Brokeback Mountain,” Lee’s latest showcases talented unknowns, graphic sex scenes and stunning cinematography. But here is where the similarity ends — the seasoned director leaves Montana behind for a war-threatened 1938 Hong Kong, and the Japanese-occupied Shanghai in 1942.

    “Lust, Caution” follows a group of six student actors as they resist the encroaching Japanese regime with an underground theater. Thrust to the forefront of these quiet rebels is the angelic Wang Jiazhi (Wei Tang, in her first-ever movie role), forced to become China’s serpent in the grass, slowly whittling away pieces of her identity to become the bourgeois adulteress of Mae Tai Tai.

    Lee’s contemporary creation is a visual triumph, weaving its way through wartime realities and the many sacrifices made on every behalf, as Wang slowly seduces the cruel and domineering Mr. Yee (Tony Leung), head of the ruthless, Japanese-collaborating security forces. But before we can write “Lust” off as a hackneyed wartime love story a la “Pearl Harbor,” the film throws us into an interpersonal loop of uninhibited passion and twisted affection. As Wang lures Yee closer to her body and mind, both characters become entangled in a web of love and hate.

    Lee uses disturbingly violent sex scenes to demonstrate the frustration between the two lovers as they tear each other apart emotionally. As in Nagisa Oshima’s “In the Realm of the Senses,” clothes are ripped in a lustful rage almost palpable in the characters’ eyes. Lee’s film is swept up and stolen by Wang and Yee as their relationship drives the plot forward, the war taking a backseat to steamy intrigue.

    At times, however, Lee slows up the pace to meander through the lives of the other characters that remain, for the most part, white noise. Aside from Wang and Yee, other insurgents, like Kuang Yu Min (Lee-Hom Wang) and Old Yu (Chung Hua Tou) fade into the background without making much of an impression. It’s almost as if Lee is trying to slow the roll of the film to simply peruse a twirl of cigarette smoke or capture the vivid red of Wang’s lips — perhaps to legitimize his scenes of vicious hate-making.

    But “Lust” keeps the story intact as it jumps from the lovers’ first meeting to their “serendipitous” encounter five years later. Where the plot lags in places, it makes up for with hand-held images of lust and the constant emotional mystery between Wang and her mark. She is the picture of elusive beauty, her body language all but nonexistent in the wake of such a heart-stopping gaze — in fact, every other scene sees her ignite emotional turmoil all in the bat of eye.

    The only faults of “Lust” might be found in the indulgent lengths to which Lee takes his sexual zeal and the amount of time he takes to get to the point. Like “Brokeback Mountain,” Lee’s newest is based on a short story, this time by Eileen Chang. Both take a simple tale of complicated affection and stretch it almost to the breaking point of pace — some two and half hours later.

    But moments of remarkable poignancy recline in even the most lethargic of scenes. Like the final clip, which features a simple play of shadows across a rumpled bedsheet, leaving the lasting breath of artistic awe that has lifted Lee to his revered reputation.

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