Scandal knows no borders. So it follows that Choderlos de Laclos' 18th-century novel, "Les Liaisons Dangereuses," has been adapted for stage...
Scandal knows no borders. So it follows that Choderlos de Laclos’ 18th-century novel, “Les Liaisons Dangereuses,” has been adapted for stage, television and movies many times in Europe and America.
The story of a pair of amoral seducers and manipulators whose games are undone by love, “Les Liaisons Dangereuses” was the basis for a 1959 French film of the same name by Roger Vadim, starring Jeanne Moreau and Gerard Philipe. Two popular American versions include Stephen Frears’ 1988 “Dangerous Liaisons,” with Glenn Close and John Malkovich, and Roger Kumble’s 1999 youth-oriented update, “Cruel Intentions,” with Sarah Michelle Gellar and Ryan Phillippe.
Add to the international list the Korean drama “Untold Scandal,” an elegant yet unassuming variation by director E J-Yong. Set among the aristocracy of 18th-century Korea, the villains this time are two good-looking relatives who make a sport of sexual conquest.
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“Untold Scandal,” with Lee Mi-Suk, Bae Yong-Jun, Lee So-Yeon, Jeon Do-Yeon.Directed by E J-Yong, written by Yong, Kim Dae-Woo, Kim Hyun-Jung. 124 minutes. Not rated; for mature audiences. In Korean with English subtitles. Grand Illusion.
Lady Cho (Lee Mi-suk) is a conniving enchantress. Her younger cousin, Jo-won (Bae Yong-jun), is a relentless hound who keeps a sketchbook record of the women he beds. Their misadventure begins when Lady Cho asks Jo-won to sleep with the virgin Soh-ok (Lee So-yeon), tapped to become the reluctant concubine of Cho’s husband. Mildly interested, Jo-won actually has his eye on the older, more aloof Lady Sook (Jeon Do-yeon), who has remained celibate for years since the death of her husband. Lady Cho sweetens the Soh-ok deal by offering to reward Jo-won’s success by having sex with him.
Anyone familiar with the story knows what happens. Jo-won pressures his way into Soh-ok’s bed while Cho lures the latter’s would-be boyfriend into her boudoir. Cho dodges Jo-won when he comes to collect his debt, but in the meantime he launches a campaign to convince Lady Sook he is head over heels in love with her. When he ultimately succeeds, he realizes he has developed deep feelings for Sook, a situation that makes him see his own (possibly unredeemable) pathos and monstrousness.
Kim Byung-il’s cinematography is striking and pretty, and Yong brings a meditative deliberation to the film’s pace. Background detail about a ban on Catholicism (Sook is Catholic) makes interesting history. But “Untold Scandal” is not particularly rigorous in style, leaving it unremarkable yet fun just to sit with and enjoy.
As in earlier takes on “Les Liaisons Dangereuses,” performances really count. The major players offset their characters’ foolishness with dignity and wit. In the end, despite all cruel intentions, no one can deny that even the villains here are fully human.
Tom Keogh: email@example.com