Untold Scandal

Film

Drama

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Time Out says

Ennui and overexposure in the sexual arena are key stimuli for the libertines in Choderlos de Laclos’ ‘Les Liaisons Dangereuses’, and after ‘Dangerous Liaisons’, ‘Valmont’, ‘Cruel Intentions’ and more, any filmmaker attempting another adaptation runs the risk of incurring similar sensations in the audience. This Korean remake re-spins the story in the late-nineteenth century twilight of the country’s Chosun dynasty, and arranges the tale’s erotic strife as a contest not only between the precepts of official high-Confucian morality and its trustees’ decadence, but also between that local-grown hypocrisy and the threat of religious puritanism imported from abroad. Thus Laclos’ chaste Madame de Tourvel becomes the persecuted Catholic Lady Chong (Jeon Do-Yeon), and her would-be corruptor Cho-Won (Korean TV star Bae Yong-Jun, genially rakish) must feign theological dissidence as well as personal virtue to conquer her.
Not that the film pushes such points. A prologue alerts us not to take it as historical gospel: ‘The men and women who appear here are lecherous and immoral beyond belief,’ it promises. ‘One is led to doubt whether they indeed existed.’ In the event, it’s a shame that the film takes itself increasingly seriously as it proceeds. Rarely outright salacious, it unfolds its intrigue with a certain dramatic equanimity and visual period splendour – it’s richly shot by Kim Byeong-Il, Park Chan-Wook’s cinematographer on ‘Sympathy for Mr Vengeance’. But that much good work done, the film runs out of ideas, and the endgame plays out as doggedly prosaic. It’s hard not to pine for the nudie-painting, virgin-breaking Cho-Won in the full flower of his pre-comeuppance mischief.
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