American Fable is ambitious, maybe too much so sometimes, but there's an intense pleasure in the boldness of the film's style.
Ang Lee's "Lust, Caution" is first languid, then passionate, as it tells the story of a young woman who joins a political murder plot and then becomes emotionally involved with her enemy. It begins at a 1942 Mah-Jongg game in Hong Kong, when erotic undertones become clearly audible to us, and then flashes back to Shanghai, 1938, during the Japanese occupation of China. One of the rich ladies at the game table is revealed to have been a college student, and not really the wife of a wealthy (but unseen) tycoon.
The underlying plot gradually reveals itself. Too gradually, some will believe, unless the languor is necessary to create the hothouse atmosphere that survives in the midst of war. The Mah-Jongg game is taking place in the home of Mr. Yee (Tony Leung), whose wife (Joan Chen) is the hostess. Since coming from Shanghai, he has moved up in the collaborationist government, handles interrogations and tortures, and is repaid by status and access to such restricted items as nylon stockings, cigarettes, even diamonds. When Mr. Yee comes home in the middle of the game, he exchanges a significant look with Mrs. Mak (Tang Wei), who first joined the circle in Shanghai.
It's clear to us there's something secret and intimate between them. But who is this wealthy Mrs. Mak, who travels in a chauffeured car but whose husband is always away on business? The flashback reveals her as Wong Chia Chi, a young student who on summer vacation falls in with a group of radical Chinese patriots and takes a key role in their hope of assassinating one of the Chinese who are working with the Japanese. Her assignment: become Mr. Yee's lover.
This she did in Shanghai, but the war separated them before she was able to bring about an opportunity for Yee's murder (she is not expected to do it herself). A natural actress, she took easily to the roles of lover and rich woman. But she had some difficulty in sacrificing her virginity, which was necessary for her to play a married woman convincingly.