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Music Review: Alexandre Desplat – Lust, Caution: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack

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Last year, composer Alexander Desplat won a Golden Globe and was nominated for an Oscar, for his work on The Painted Veil. This year, Desplat returns with another score for a film set in China. This time it is actually in the Chinese language. The film is Ang Lee’s Lust, Caution. I have not yet seen the film, but the score is very good. It is a score that has a haunting beauty to it. It’s simplity is striking when compared to the bigger movie scores such as, Spider-Man 3 and Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End. Both good scores, however there is something to be said about music that is not as busy and a little less concerned with character themes and repeating sequences. The Lust, Caution score gets me excited to see the film. I want to see how it all ties together with Ang Lee’s visuals.

Lust, Caution is set during World War II in Shanghai. The story concerns a young woman, Wong Chia Chi (Tang Wei), and how she becomes involved in a plot to assassinate a Japanese collaborator, Mr. Yee (Tony Leung). Wong is an actress and it is these skills that come into play when she becomes a part of the resistance against Japanese occupation. She becomes Mrs. Mak, a sophisticated woman who befriends Mr. Yee’s wife (Joan Chen) in her efforts to lead Mr. Yee into an affair. Of course, not all goes as planned and Wong finds herself outside of the plan living her life until a few years later the plan comes back into focus.

From what I have seen, and now heard, of the film, I anxiously look forward to seeing it. The trailer just radiates beauty. Ang Lee knows how to paint the screen, whether he is doing quieter fare like Brokeback Mountatin, action like Hulk, or a combination like Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. Here he takes on the period drama, and his directorial skills combined with the musical talents of Alexandre Desplat appear to be a perfect match.

I do not have much experience with Desplat’s work, aside from The Painted Veil and The Queen but his work strikes as minimalism at its best. The commercial release of the Lust, Caution score contains 55 minutes of his work, and I have found that it works very well as a standalone album. It is filled with a combination of piano and strings that will haunt you long after the last note plays.

There are a few cues that stood out to me. “Streets of Shanghai” is an interesting piece that plays up mystery through the use of the string section. “Moonlight Drive” brings up feelings of longing with its sad and sorrowful flow. “Nanjing Road” also stands up as a powerful cue. The strongest theme appears towards the end of the CD, “Wong Chia Chi’s Theme.” It is built with a delicate balance of strings and piano with epicly romantic touches. It is probably the strongest cue on the disk.

All this said, I can only comment on the soundtrack as a stand alone, not having seen the film to see how it all blends into a larger work. Still, a soundtrack album that works well on its own is a great start! As I listen, I can see images from the trailer in my mind. I suspect that it will also be true of the film as a whole when I get to see it. In the end this is one of the finer soundtracks I have heard this year.

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