In WWII-era Shanghai, former university student and actress turned resistance spy Wang Chia Chi (Tang Wei) infiltrates the house of Mr. Yee (Tony Leung) and his wife (Joan Chen). Yee works with the police arm of the occupying Japanese government, and the cell wants to honey-pot ensnare Yee with Wang--posing as Mak Tai Tai, the wife of a Hong Kong businessman--for an assassination attempt. The entire ploy occupies four years, which Eileen Chang's source short story effortlessly intertwined in breezy prose, tumbling back to Wang's Hong Kong student days, her first theater experience, and the student cell's initial play for Yee. Director Ang Lee and screenwriters James Schamus and Hui-Ling Wang greatly expand this backstory, drawing out peripheral characters to provide more conventional motivations. And it's just such extrapolations that mire Lust in the familiar. By trying to lend narrative weight to the central drama--Yee and Wang's sexual tango that never decides if it's a seduction or trap until it's too late--the movie literalizes the story's motivations, implications, and delicious subtleties. Chang used the spy story to explore the murky depths of being human; Ang Lee uses a story about being and becoming to tell a spy story. It's a sumptuous and exceptional spy story by all means--but nothing more.