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'Lust, Caution'

There's a bit of fairly explicit lust and an awful lot of dramatic caution in this World War II epic.

The plot is faintly preposterous — a troupe of Chinese college thespians goes undercover in Hong Kong and Shanghai during the Japanese occupation, hoping their ingenue (Tang Wei) can get close enough to a well-guarded collaborator (Tony Leung) to let them attempt an assassination. The ingenue falls for her target, which rather complicates things.

Having dealt significantly less explicitly with a different sort of forbidden love in Brokeback Mountain, director Ang Lee conjures up a persuasively bustling version of 1940s China for his lovers to inhabit. But he's allowed the storytelling to stretch to 157 minutes, which gets to be a bit of a slog — copious nudity and an NC-17 rating notwithstanding.

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Bob Mondello, who jokes that he was a jinx at the beginning of his critical career — hired to write for every small paper that ever folded in Washington, just as it was about to collapse — saw that jinx broken in 1984 when he came to NPR.