Ang Lee’s latest is certainly his most “foreign” film, more so than his other non-English films like Crouching Tiger, un-appologetically demanding a sensitivity to Shanghaisese culture during the Japanese occupation. I must admit to feeling a bit lost with much of the characterization early on the film being drawn out of subtle Mahjong plays, and the fast dialogue and circular camera movement made for following the quickly moving subtitles a chore. Still, these are my issues, not the film’s. Consider this simply as a notice to those already sensitive to such issues.

The film certainly takes a while to get off the ground, and the first hour and a half or so involves quite subtle shifts in tone and character. Once all the pieces are in place, the film does flow quite elegantly. The sex scenes are far from ribald, and while the rating will certainly keep many away, they are shot in provocative rather than titillating ways, and do serve the story very effectively. The violence and coercion of love is a central theme, as well as notions of loyalty and sense of country in a time of great turmoil.

Wei Tang is absolutely riveting, and the film rightly centres on her subtle performance. Tony Leung’s quite menace is downright chilling, almost unmoving with outbursts of violence and passion that are shocking in their intensity.

Still, in the end, the story seems a bit of a hit and miss, and the overlong running time mars the effectiveness of the fine performances and production values. It’s a film to admire, but not an easy one to fall in love with alas.