This paper investigates the ways in which Ang Lee provides new insights into subject formation in his film Lust, Caution (Se Jie, 2007). In the paradigm of structuralism, the subject is defined, as well as confined, by the symbolic order or the dominant ideology. The puzzle therefore rests on how to explain the subject’s negotiation with its normative identity, its denial thereof, or even its subversion of said identity. In a close reading of the female protagonist’s subject formation in Lust, Caution, this paper acknowledges the power of ideology, specifically the power of its interpellative operation, in constructing a subject. However, this paper takes a greater interest in examining the junctures wherein the female subject ignores or rejects the interpellation of the dominant ideology. It focuses on the dialectics suggested in the title of the film, namely, the interplay between “lust” (se, or 色) and “caution” (jie, or 戒). Drawing attention to the double-layered meanings of “se” (i.e., sexuality and visuality), this paper analyzes how Ang Lee uses “se” to confront “jie” (i.e., caution). This paper argues that “se” to which the female protagonist surrenders herself enables the subject to achieve an alternate subjectivity that contests the notion of “jie” and the symbolic order. In the same vein, Filmmaking/movie-going, seen by Ang Lee as another form of “se,” becomes his way of combating extant singular, absolute perceptions towards the human being, culture, and society. Lee’s filmmaking, a form that involves both sexuality and visuality, is his way of re-examining and re-defining the symbolic discipline. Thus, “lust” not only contends with “caution,” but also invokes an alternate conception of its meaning.
“Contention of Lust, Caution: Sexuality, Visuality and Female Subjectivity,” Situations: Cultural Studies in the East Asian Context, 4: 41-60.