Monday, February 11, 2008

More on "Lust, Caution"

I am not a fan of Eileen Chang, nor am I a student with strong Chinese literary base, but Lust, Caution gave me a feeling that Chang was trying to play down, not to say 'hide', some parts of the content deliberately, particularly the sentiments between Chia-chih and Mr. Yee. The original story was largely narrated from the perspective of the heroine Chia-chih and basically only about an assassination. Other events within the story were part of Chia-chih's memory. We can hardly know the breast of the hero Mr. Yee, except the later fraction which contributed the only hint of his emotions towards Chia-chih. We were told that the two got two meetings before this last one but what has been done besides sex? And what has constituted to their intimacy in the very last scene that even hindered Chia-chih from her long awaited plan? How come such an old hand like Mr. Yee would fall into this trap of femme fatale? What has Chia-chih done to win over his trust? And above all why did Chang choose to omit these episodes? Obviously Ang Lee has tried to fill up the gaps with his own propositions, from which I would say most of them were reasonable and had in turn enriched the original story.

I agree with what Robert Stam mentioned at last in Beyond Fidelity: The Dialogics of Adaptation that as critics 'our statements about films based on novels or other sources need to be less moralistic, less panicked, less implicated in unacknowledged hierarchies,' but 'more rooted in contextual and intertextual history,' and above all 'less concerned with inchoate notions of fidelity.' (75) There could always be accuses for being unfaithful to a source text if one has to be picky on every single difference found under direct comparison, not to mention the two mediums are intrinsically different in nature. In fact, I found the cinematic version a more thorough reading and interpretation to Chang's story from the focalization of Ang Lee, which has added more ingredients to the text but of course certain kinds of ideological transformations were suggested at the same time constituting the major difference between the two.

Mr. Yee has been a more humanistic person in the film, at least from the way he reminisced Chia-chih in the final scene. She certainly was not the one and only femme fatale in his life. We did not have such a bad feeling towards traitors–primarily with Tony Leung's long established positive image–which might probably not be the initial idea of Chang. The most controversial of all for sure is the three 'extra' sex scenes supplemented by Lee. They had amplified the fear of Mr. Yee as a traitor, which made the violence of the first sex scene perfectly sensible. He could trust nobody because everyone wants his head off for patriotism. The fear of death has tortured him to such an extent that only through sex could he find his true self, his own existence. Whether the sex scenes were a must is beyond our discussion because it was by and large a personal decision of Lee and what we as audiences have been confronted with is this text–already presented publicly and is now the only base for our criticism.

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