Let's get this bit of Captain Obvious out of the way first: Ang Lee does so much better with Chinese films.
I've had a celebrity crush on Tony Leung (梁朝偉) since 6th Grade. To see him again in a project that's successful the world over is just fantastic.
Yee's character felt very multidimensional and had a lot of depth. Even as a high level official with a pro-Japanese government, in his heart, he has an extreme dislike of the Japanese. Whether that absolves or exonerates him from some of the evil that he's being vilified for, I'm not sure. But it's something. He's very reserved, calm and collected on the outside, but is capable of both raw fire and incredible gentleness. It sounds like there's a lot of Tony, himself, in it.
And lest you think that Tony Leung is only capable of playing deep, dark and mysterious types, that's just not true.
He was one of the hosts of a children's babysitting TV program in 430 Space Shuttle. He was the bubbly, wild, trickster, gambling, incorrigible womanizer, rambunctious street urchin turned bubbly, wild, trickster, gambling, incorrigible womanizer, rambunctious royal advisor to the Emperor Kang Xi in The Duke of Mount Deer. He was a righteous, talented cop and all around hero in Police Cadet I (1984).
One of the things I found most intriguing of Lust, Caution were the mahjong plays. They really provided that much background and added that much to the richness of the context. It was almost as though the mahjong plays were a whole other set of subtitles. The cleverness just added to the experience for me.
One, in particular, close to the beginning was most memorable to me. It's the scene where Yee is playing with his wife, the apparent Mrs. Mak and one other lady.
Mr. and Mrs. Yee were sitting opposite with Mrs. Mak in between them.
Yee discarded a 7 of circles, which Mrs. Mak needed to make a consecutive three. Mrs. Yee calls pong and since a pong has precedence, Mrs. Yee took it instead. In his next turn, Mr. Yee purposely discards another one to allow Mrs. Mak to make her consecutive three.
Mrs. Yee, being the first wife, has precedence over the other woman.
The fact that Mrs. Yee could pong meant that she already had two of the 7 of circles tiles. It also means that Mr. Yee had two 7 circles tiles. This situation is what we call 對死 which is akin to a stalemate. Both are stuck with the pair, unknowingly waiting to draw the third, which would never happen because there are only four of them in play. Since there's a good chance a 7 of anything would give someone else a win, no one would discard it without seriously thinking over the risk. The stalemate felt pretty metaphoric of the Yees' relationship.
Mr. Yee is the one who breaks the stalemate, both in the game and in his life by taking a mistress. It's obviously not a coincidence that his second 7 of circles went to Mrs. Mak. But even though he did love and trust Mrs. Mak on some level, he always treated her like a prostitute in many ways.
There does seem to be a long-standing commitment of some sort between the Yees though. He's still very respectful to his wife. He doesn't fly off the handle at her even in incredible stressful times. In the scene at the end where he's reeling at the gravity of almost fatally letting his guard down and the inner turmoil of being betrayed by someone he loved and trusted, he calmly tells her to just "go back downstairs".
I also love the pun in the title.
色 is literally colour, but it could also be "lust" or "pornography".
戒 is "to guard against", "to give up" especially cold turkey. It also means "ring", as in the diamong ring that is the whirlwind unravelling demise of everything.