Lust, Caution is a 2007 espionage thriller film directed by Ang Lee, based on the novella of the same name published in 1979 by Chinese author Eileen Chang. The story is mostly set in Hong Kong in 1938 and in Shanghai in 1942, when it was occupied by the Imperial Japanese Army and ruled by thepuppet government led by Wang Jingwei. It depicts a group of Chineseuniversity students from the Lingnan University who plot to assassinate a high-ranking special agent and recruiter of the puppet government using an attractive young woman to lure him into a trap.
With this film, Lee won the Golden Lion Award at the Venice Film Festival for the second time, the first being with Brokeback Mountain. The film adaptation and the story are loosely based on events that took place during the Japanese occupation of Shanghai. The film's explicit sex scenes resulted in the film being rated NC-17 in the United States.
In 1940s Japanese-occupied Shanghai, a well-dressed, attractive young Chinese woman, "Mrs. Mai", is sitting in a café in a posh neighborhood. When she makes a call to a man, her seemingly innocuous dialogue is a coded signal that prompts a cell of young resistance agents to load their weapons and spring into action.
- Hong Kong 1938
The film then flashes back in time to the events in 1938 that led up to the transformation of the shy, inexperienced university student Wong Chia Chi into the glamorously dressed and seemingly well-to-do Mrs. Mai, her cover role in the Chinese resistance against Japanese invasion. During the Second Sino-Japanese War, Chia Chi had been left behind in China by her father, who is going to re-marry in the United Kingdom. Chia Chi flees from Shanghai to Hong Kong and attends her first year at Lingnan University. A male student named Kuang Yu Min (Leehom Wang) invites her to join his patriotic drama club. Chia Chi becomes a lead actress in the club, inspiring both her audience and her new-found friend Kuang.
Fired up from the drama troupe's patriotic plays, Kuang urges the group to make a more concrete contribution to the war against Japan. He devises a plan to assassinate Mr. Yee, who is a special agent and recruiter of the puppet government set up by the Japanese Government in China. The beautiful Chia Chi is chosen to take on the undercover role of Mrs Mai, the elegant wife of the owner of a Hong Kong based trading company. She insinuates herself in the social circle of Mrs. Yee. She catches the eye of Mr. Yee and tries to lure him into a location where he can be assassinated. Yee is attracted to Chia Chi and once steps very close to the trap but withdraws at the last minute. It comes to light that Chia Chi is still a virgin, and she reluctantly consents to sleeping with Liang Jun-Sheng, another student involved in the plot to kill Mr. Yee, in order to play into her role as a married woman if she were to sleep with Mr. Yee. It is obvious that Kuang is upset by this, but nevertheless agrees to the two "practicing" every following night. But not long after that, Mr. and Mrs. Yee move back to Shanghai all of a sudden, leaving the students with no further chance to complete their assassination plan. With Yee gone, the university students believe there is no need to maintain the facade and therefore pack up and clean up the rented apartment. An armed subordinate of Yee turns up in their apartment unannounced and finds their sudden packing very suspicious. Spotting their university tank tops, the subordinate realises that "Mr. & Mrs. Mai" are not who they claim they are. The university students kill the subordinate and are forced to go into hiding afterward.
- Shanghai, 1942
- In Shanghai, three years later, Chia Chi again encounters Kuang, who is now an undercover agent of the KMT, which is seeking to overturn the Japanese occupation force and their puppet government. He enlists her into a renewed assassination plan to kill Yee. By this time, Mr. Yee has become the head of secret police department under the puppet government and is responsible for capturing and executing resistance agents who are working for the KMT. Eventually, Chia Chi becomes Mr. Yee's mistress. During their first encounter Yee has very rough sex with Chia Chi, throwing her down onto the bed and tying her up with his belt. However, over the weeks that follow their sexual relationship becomes very passionate and deeply emotional, but also very conflicted for both of them, especially for Chia Chi, who is setting her lover up for assassination.When Chia Chi reports to her superior officer in the KMT, she exhorts him to carry out the assassination soon, so that she will not have to continue her sexual liaisons with the brutal Yee, but the officer argues that the assassination needs to be delayed for strategic reasons. Chia Chi describes the inhuman emotional conflict she is in, on one hand sexually and emotionally bound to Mr. Yee and on the other hand part of a plot to kill him.
- When Mr. Yee sends Chia Chi to a jewellery store with a sealed envelope, she is surprised to discover that he has arranged for a large and extremely rare six carat pink diamond for her, to be mounted in a ring. This provides the Chinese resistance with a chance to get at Mr. Yee when he is not accompanied by his bodyguards.The next time Chia Chi and Mr. Yee meet, she asks him to go to the jewellery store with her to collect the diamond ring. As they enter the shop, she notices several resistance agents waiting to spring the trap. After first demurring, when she puts on the magnificent ring, and experiences Mr. Yee's love for her, she is overcome by emotion and breaks down and urges him to "Go, now." Mr. Yee realises her meaning, runs out of the shop and is rushed away by his driver, and escapes the assassination attempt.By the end of the day, most of the resistance group including Kuang and Chia Chi herself are captured. It is revealed that Mr. Yee's deputy has been aware of the resistance cell, but did not inform Mr. Yee, both because of Mr. Yee's relationship with Chia Chi and because the deputy had hoped to use this opportunity to catch the resistance cell leader. Mr. Yee, emotionally in turmoil, signs their death warrants and the resistance group members, including Chia Chi, are led out to a quarry and executed.
- In the last scene, Mr. Yee sits on Chia Chi's empty bed in the family guest room, and informs his wife that their house guest is gone, and that she should not ask any questions.