the 1930’s, Japan was gobbling up Manchuria, but Shanghai’s privileged class
refused to let it spoil the party.
Violence and foreboding hang in the air, but the cruel emotional games
played by a merry widow and her dissolute ex will be more treacherous in the
short term. This is indeed Pierre Choderlos
de Laclos’ scandalous Eighteenth Century novel adapted to Republican era
China. It makes the transition rather
well in Hur Jin-ho’s Dangerous Liaisons (trailer here), which opens this
Friday in New York.
time around, the Marquise de Merteuil is Mo Jieyu, the widowed chairwoman of a
major banking concern and all around hedonist.
She is slightly out of sorts after reading in the newspaper her
industrialist lover has dropped her in favor of his new sixteen year old fiancée,
Beibei (the Cécile de Volanges). Seeking
revenge, she turns to her former lover turned torch-carrying friend, playboy
Xie Yifan, to corrupt her innocent rival.
However, he has become preoccupied with the virtuous widow Du Fenyu
(a.k.a. Madame de Tourvel). As most
viewers will know, this leads to a fateful bet.
If Xie cannot seduce and discard Du in reasonable period of time, he
will do Mo’s bidding, whereas if he meets his challenge, she will finally yield
to his advances.
the French tale of scandal has been told and retold many times in the past, but
probably never with such an attractive ensemble cast (sure they are good
actors, but Malkovich and Close as predatory seducers?). The chemistry between Xie/Valmont and Mo/Merteuil
has rarely been as scorching either. Whenever
Dong-gun Jang and Cecilia Cheung are on-screen together, it seems like they can
barely resist ripping off each others’ clothes.
It almost throws off the necessary dramatic dynamic between them, but it
is certainly entertaining to watch. In
contrast, Zhang Ziyi, somewhat playing against type, plays the indrawn Du/Tourvel
with subtle power and genuine sensitivity.
Not all the supporters players fare as well, but most eyes will squarely
focused on Cheung and Zhang.
fact, resetting Liaisons in Shanghai
works quite well, because it establishes a fittingly dangerous backdrop,
thereby raising the stakes. It also
gives rise to an enjoyably era appropriate big band jazz soundtrack, somewhat following
in the tradition of Roger Vadim’s 1960 film adaptation, which featured the
music of Thelonius Monk and Art Blakey.
There is truly nothing new under the sun. Hur Jin-ho’s Korean and Chinese cast and crew
were not the first to produce an Asian Dangerous
Liaisons. That distinction probably belongs
to Lee Je-yong’s Untold Scandal. The real story of this Liaison is Cheung’s diva turn as the scheming but endlessly complex
Mo/Merteuil. She is worth the price of
admission in Manhattan by herself.
Unapologetically melodramatic, Hur Jin-ho’s Dangerous Liaisons is recommended for fans of tragic Chinese and
Korean period cinema when it opens this Friday (11/9) at the AMC Empire in New
York and the AMC Metreon in San Francisco.
Labels: Cecilia Cheung, Les Liaisons Dangereuses, Zhang Ziyi