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On men and women

Animal brutality.

That’s the first reaction I had to the first physical encounter between Mrs Mak (pronounced “mai” as in “maidangnao” (MacDonald in mandarin)) and Mr Yee in the course of their illicit affair.

Without going into details that would put this blog into the porn circle, I’d say that Lust, Caution (2007) got me thinking once again about the relationship between man and woman by throwing some hard, honest realities back in my face.

Perhaps it was merely a matter of style or preference that while she wanted to build up with more foreplay, he just rushed in and took her. Or perhaps a reflection of his power (in both the physical and political sense). Maybe it was the rekindling of that banter they had 3 years before which he had turned down due to caution, that he so wanted to consumate.

But its the… ‘uncivility‘ of the whole act which unsettles me. Almost like some excretory function. Unhappy me. You almost feel bad to have to subject your other half to such, impalement, for want of a better word. I’m sure there’s a better way to do it.

So much for the tryst. But Mrs Mak goes in for the kill. To establish that emotional ‘oneness’ between a man and a woman where they transcend beyond the “your money is yours, my money is mine” kind of mentality. At the meeting in the Japanese district she announces her intent to move into his life by challenging, in that all so powerful demure way that only a lady can, to regard her as more than a whore. Which he probably treated her as, up till now.

And she sings for him a beautiful song, appealing to his sense and need for a woman in his life. And he finally succumbs. A hard, cautious man, broken.

He reiterates that again some part later in the movie as he recounts “… my superiors say my mind is not in my work… I am somewhere else…. and I am…. all my thoughts… are with you…”

A darker note surfaces as he recounts how he tortures a suspected spy “… as I tortured him… I imagined him… on top of you…” Probably a reflection of possessiveness.

But what of the director’s claims of giving more insight into what sex is to women?

Only a hint of it in her angry words to the spy-master when asked to prolong her whoring to him so that they could get more information. As she describes…. the experience…. in rather cruel words and punctuates it with how, after climaxing they are supposed to turn up and blow his brains off while he’s still on top of her. Maybe her side would have come out more vividly in the uncensored version.

But as it stands, she just keeps being portrayed as something to be used.

The question at the end when the plot is uncovered and they fail to assassinate Yee is, did Mrs Mak fall for him, as he did for her? Behind that innocently seductive smile, that gentle, helpless demeanour, and quiet, consistent face, I can’t tell.

Neither do the way things unfold at the end give a conclusive answer as well. We know quite certainly Yee did. Men are simple, readable creatures mostly.

But as for her, she remained the Mona Lisa with regards to him all the way. Who could tell what the woman was feeling behind that pretty face?

The movie is a classic spy plot, quite generic in its execution and unfolding techniques, but its explorations into the relationship between a man and a woman are brave.

Alas, still, the mystery that is woman.

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