Posted in: Disc Reviews by David Annandale on June 10th, 2008
Tang Wei plays a student who is a member of a radical theatre troupe during the Sino-Japanese War. She and her cohorts determine to assassinate a prominent collaborator (Tony Leung). In order to get create the opportunity for the killing, our heroine must infiltrate Leung’s household. She is on the threshold of becoming his mistress when he leaves Hong Kong for Shanghai. Three years later, now backed by the Resistance, she makes a new attempt. But she hasn’t counted on the entanglements of passion in the affair she has embarked on.
Ang Lee’s film was widely seen as both sumptuously beautiful but too leisurely for its own good, and there is something to that position. The story takes its sweet time, and the affair itself, along with its transgressive (by mainstream standards) sex scenes, doesn’t properly begin until over 90 minutes into the film. On the other hand, so much of the film is unspoken, left for the viewer to read between the lines (and Tony Leung is a master of conveying deeply repressed pain) that there is a lot going on, even when the images are still. And when the paroxysms of violence and sex do come, they are explosive.
Much of the film is low key and restrained, and this is reflected in the audio, arguably to a fault. The sound is certainly crystalline in its clarity, and there is no distortion whatsoever. Nor is there any hiss to disturb the frequent significant silences. But there is also not much by way of environmental effects, even in the bustling street scenes. Likewise, the music has comparatively little rear speaker presence. The film sounds fine, but it could be a lot more enveloping.
No complaints here, however. Ang Lee’s films have always been gorgeous, and this one is no exception. The colours are rich but natural, the contrasts are very strong, and the blacks and flesh tones are superb. The film is a visual feast, not in the sense of OTT eye candy, but in the sense that every moment has been carefully crafted, and the transfer preserves this care faithfully.
All we have is a making-of featurette here, which is woefully little. This is s film that cries out for a commentary track. Consider this release a candidate for double-dipping.
Great looking disc, is criminally thin on extras. The film is a pleasure to look at, but will certainly divide audiences when it comes to the issues of length and pacing.