1938, Shanghai is occupied by Japan. A group of University students in Hong Kong wants to contribute to the war for their mother land and stages a drama, which is successful. Then Kuang, the leader decide to take their support to another level, by killing Mr. Yee, a special agent for the Japan government. As per their plan, young and beautiful Wong Chia Chi will play Mrs. Mak. Mrs. Mak gets into the social circle of Mr. Yee's wife and earns their company. Very gently she does lure Mr. Yee as well. Chia Chi is successful in luring him, but is sure that Mr. Yee cant be fooled that easily. She tells her group, who are all staying in the supposed residence of Mrs. Mak, that it has reached a stage where she will have to show her bed for Mr. Yee to clear any doubts. Chia Chi, a virgin, has to reluctantly agree to share the bed with a boy in the group, who has been to a whore house, to know something about sex. This she has to do in front of Kuang, both of them sharing some mutual likeness for each other. But all of a sudden Mr. Yee leaves to Shanghai and the plan has to be dropped. When they are ready to clear out their apartment, a subordinate of Mr. Yee turns up and the group, have no other option, but to kill him.
After three years, Chia Chi meets Kuang again in Shanghai. Kuang is now an active member of an organisation working against the Japaneese and Chia Chi too wants to do something for China. Just that, now she will not be working for a group of University students, but for a prominent organisation who are more ruthless. She reintroduces herself as Mrs. Mak and cheks in as a guest in Mr. Yee's home. Soon Mr. Yee organise to meet her in a hotel room. But here he brutally rapes her to her utter shock. She is still compelled to continue their sexual relationship. She breaks down in front of Kuang and her superior, that each and every time she has sex with Mr. Yee, she hopes for her friends to arrive and kill him, that she cannot take it anymore. Mr. Yee sends her to an Indian jeweller to select a special diamond for a ring for her. Chia Chi informs her friends about this place as a possible place to kill Mr. Yee, if she manages to take him there as he wont have much security. She takes him there and can see many of her group members, strategically located around. But, when she finally sees the exquisite diamond ring, which is ready, and when Mr. Yee insists her to wear it, she is torn between her duty and her love and in a tender moment whispers him to leave immediately. Mr. Yee understands this clue and rushes towards his car and saves himself. Soon all the group members inlcuding Chia Chi are arrested and Mr. Yee, who by now is the head of Secret Police, signs their execution order. All of them are executed in a quarry. Mr. Yee is emotionally affected, and is looking at the vacant bed in his guest room.
This movie is an Espionage thriller, but for me it is more of a love story between a man and a woman. The man have doubts on the woman , about her identity and her intentions, but is still drawn to her. The woman is in a plan to kill the man, but is reluctantly drawn to him because of their long sexual affair. In fact, it is a triangular love story, because we know that Kuang and Chia Chi liked each other during the first part of their plan, in '38 but they never did anything about it, as they were busy with their plans. When she breaks down in front of her superior about the difficulty of having sex with Mr. Yee and later Kuang tries to kiss her, she clearly tells him, he should have tried this 3 years earlier. If so, they would have been in love and may be Kuang might not have pushed her to the second part of their plan, ie in '42. Or if they were in love Chia Chi, would have still continued her physical relations in wooing Mr. Yee, but she might not have lost her mind and heart in doing so. Chia Chi falls into the University drama project quite accidentally, but she turns out to be the best actress even in the drama outside the stage. She is so successful in luring a strong and shrewd guy like Mr. Yee, quite easily. Inspite of him brutally raping her in their first meet, she still manages to seduce him and act out as if she likes him very much. Just that the repeated sexual meetings slowly draws her mind closer to Mr. Yee and she even sings a song for him, in private, in the Whore house. That scene I thought was really beautiful. This was also only the first scene where we felt the humaneness of Mr. Yee. It is here, I first felt that Mr. Yee is in love with Chia Chi and he is not seeing her as just another woman for sex. And then when he offers the diamond ring, Chia Chi might have strongly felt the same that she deceives her duty.
The character of Mr. Yee looks so one diamensional for most of the movie, but by the restaurant scene it changes and he grows further. I also felt a lot of pity for Kuang who has to see his love, at this point he is definitely thinking about Chia chi as his future love, taking another group member to her bed, and later has to listen to the painful description of Chia Chi about serving her body for Mr. Yee.
The movie has a pace which is slightly slow, I am afraid. The script takes its own time in getting into the characters and the plot, but boldy, it sticks to this pace until the end. And this has helped in going into a lot of detailing which is of course nice. But this would deter at least a few from appreciating this movie (length and pace). And this detailing nature goes even into the relationship between Mr. Yee and Chia Chi. May it be their conversations or their sex. In fact, the first rape scene was a shock and horrifying. I simply didnt understand why Mr. Yee was so sadistic in their first meet, especially since he is not the same thereafter. In the later sex scenes, which are detailed too, he is just a normal man. There were scenes in this movie which I thought could have been shortened, but I must say, I didnt think so about the sex scenes and it was important as it was lust which slowly paved way for their love. Good sex will always strengthen a relation. To see that Chia Chi was pushed into a kind of learning about sex, to have sex with Mr. Yee is the strange but shocking point. And I am sure there was strong love between Mr. Yee and Chia Chi, by the time she tries the new diamond ring.
Great performances by Tony Leung, Mr. Yee, and Tang Wei as Chia Chi. I especially liked the way she subtly lured and seduced Mr. Yee with a very light smile, but with a bigger invitation in the eyes. Some people might consider Mr. Yee has the same expression through out, but I think there is much more in his eyes. And at that final moment, when she ask her to leave now immediately, his face was brilliant.
Three major factors, for this movie being what it is, are music, Cinematography and of course the director. I would rate this even better than Crouching Tiger.. from Ang Lee.
A Brilliant movie but hard, must watch may I say.