Tony Leung Chiu-wai has been on an unusually cruel streak of late. Having played a ruthless lady-killer in Wong Kar Wai’s “2046,” the Hong Kong superstar with the iconic eyebrows gets even nastier in Ang Lee’s period drama “Lust, Caution,” in which he becomes Mr. Yee, a Chinese government official bent on crushing the resistance movement of his own people.
Few thesps radiate as much old-fashioned movie-star glamour as Leung (whose good looks and suave demeanor recall Clark Gable in his prime), and even fewer are capable of projecting Leung’s quiet, wounded dignity, whether as a disillusioned lover in Wong’s “Happy Together” or as a cop with a soul-killing secret in “Infernal Affairs.”
Working with Lee on “Lust, Caution” reps a very tentative step in the direction of Hollywood; whether or not he continues down that particular road should have little bearing on this actor’s legacy.
Leung’s established stardom is a contrast to a rising distaff talent from Korea. Few were surprised when South Korea’s Jeon Do-yeon won acting honors at Cannes for her lacerating performance in Lee Chang-dong’s “Secret Sunshine.”
Playing a grieving mother, Jeon takes viewers on an emotional odyssey that is at once psychologically plausible, wholly sympathetic and genuinely frightening. You’d have to go back to Lars von Trier’s work with Emily Watson and Bjork to see the depths of female spiritual agony plumbed so exhaustively.
If early pics like “My Mother the Mermaid” and “No Blood No Tears” established Jeon’s range, her emotionally ravaged turns in Lee Jae-yong’s “Untold Scandal” and now “Secret Sunshine” reveal a powerhouse talent for suffering, exquisitely. It helps that Jeon has one of the most malleable faces to grace the screen in years, the kind that can flood with hope one moment, then crumple into a hundred pieces the next.