Lust, Caution

This review may contain spoilers. I can handle the truth.

This review may contain spoilers.

The MPAA rating warned of explicit sex scenes and a scene of brutal violence. Imagine my surprise when, after the violent scene in question, there was another scene of brutal violence. But sexual assault apparently doesn’t qualify as brutal violence.

How easy, how great it must be to go through life as a man and see rape as morally ambiguous, to be able to depict and to read rape as "erotic" instead of a heinous crime that all women live in fear of and from. That there are debates about whether or not that scene even is rape is infuriating. Yee pulls Chia Chi by her hair, pushes her, beats her, and forces himself onto her, while she tries to push him away and fight him off. There is nothing ambiguous about that. And every subsequent sex scene is tainted; they aren’t erotic because this relationship is rooted in abuse.

I’ve been going back and forth on whether I think she develops feelings for Yee or not. I want to think she doesn’t, that she only pities him and her betrayal stems from the conflicting feelings she’s always had about the assassination, not from love. If this was the case, then the marketing and description of this film are wrong, as are most readings of it. The other, more common reading, that Chia Chi falls for Yee, would be problematic; Chia Chi would be falling for her rapist. This might be simplifying the complex emotions the film is depicting, but it doesn’t change that that narrative is wrong (and I don’t have to explain why a woman falling in love with her abuser is wrong).

There is only one scene in which Chia Chi describes the toll this role she must play takes on her, and I am still trying to unscramble it, to understand what she means and how she truly sees Yee.

There was so much to love about the movie though. The story itself—a group of students, with no life experience, take on a mission that is beyond them. For their country, for their honour, they see it through to the end. None allow themselves to experience what they truly want, what they truly desire; what ifs loom over every scene, every gaze. But there is no time for regret. At its core, it’s the story of a woman who puts her agency in the hands of men, on both sides of the conflict. And they all fail her, completely. There are no winners during wartime.

I don't know how to rate this. I’ve been hesitating to put a heart or not, but I’ll put a reluctant one for now.

Maria liked this review