Jean Jacques Annaud's adaptation of Marguerite Duras' autobiographical novel is a highly attractive, though basically insipid piece of soft-core porn. Based on Duras' recollection of an affair she conducted as a teenage girl and starring Jane March with a wealthy Chinese businessman (Tony Leung) in the Indochina of the 1920s, the film traces the relationship from the couple's electric first meeting on a cruise ship to a final assignation years later. Much of the lovers' attraction for each other is based on their transgression of the taboos of the time and place: she is white, he is Asian, she is middle-class, he has inherited wealth, she is 15, he is 32. Duras explored the barriers to love, cultural and otherwise, with far greater depth in Alain Renais' classic Hiroshima Mon Amour (1959), which suggested that the individual's past is a more formidable obstacle to love than more obvious differences. Here the filmmakers make much more of these distinctions of class and race without ever examining the character of the lovers, and the film degenerates into a series of meaningless couplings in the businessman's drab apartment. Still, both actors are capable performers both in and out of the clothes, and it's very clear exactly what they see in each other.
by Michael Costello review