Movie Review 色戒

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Tang Wei 汤唯

色戒 is a 2007 movie by Taiwanese director Li An, starring Tony Leung and Tang Wei. The story is most engaging and we can see some amazing acting from a very talented newcomer. The video below is an excellent review that covers the complex emotional transformation of an innocent female spy sent to kill a Chinese agent working for the Japanese, only to end up falling in love with him, betraying the organisation that is really just using her. Director Li An had taken almost forever to search for someone to play the female lead, almost settling for Zhang Ziyi whom he thought was huge compromise. Incredibly, newcomer Tang Wei got the part and she turned out to be an excellent choice. Ni Kuang, Chua Lam and the late Jin Yong all agreed that she was absolutely adorable.

For her sterling performance, Tang Wei won the Golden Horse Award for Best New Performer and was nominated for the Independent Spirit Award.

Despite the rave reviews, Tang Wei and the film 色戒 were banned in China in when it was first shown in 2007. The reason – “obscenity”. As the excellent review above tells us, the 3 contrasting styles and attitudes in the sex scenes are crucial in demonstrating how the emotions of the two main characters are transformed from suspicion and hatred to trust and affection. The movie is officially translated as Lust & Caution, but while the word 戒 actually means abstinence, it also means ring and the part that the ring played in this movie is also very significant. It symbolises the affections that the character has for the man she is supposed to kill. A more appropriate title would be Lust & The Ring.

Of course, there could be another reason for banning the movie. Tang Wei’s character was a Chinese patriot who fell in love with a traitor and went against the anti-Japanese organisation. This might have been seen as something unhealthy or politically incorrect. One thing which puzzled many members of the public was neither Tony Leung nor Li An were banned. Was it only a warning to young actors not to take similar roles in movies with similar storylines?

Interestingly, Li An was expecting an unpleasant reaction from the mainland authorities and took Tang Wei under his wing as his goddaughter. Sponsored by Li An, Tang Wei took the opportunity to further her studies in the UK during that hiatus, returning to the screen in Hong Kong in 2010. Below is an excellent MV created from a contemporary drama also starring Tang Wei.


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