Dangerous Liaisons (危險關係)
Synopsis: Set in Shanghai, China in 1939. Madam Mo Jieyu has wealth and power, but she doesn’t have love. Wealthy playboy Xie Yifan pursues Madam Mo Jieyu among many other ladies. At a party, Madam Mo Jieyu notices Xie Yifan eyeing widow Madam Du Fenyu. Madam Mo Jieyu then challenges playboy Xie Yifan to a high stake bet. If Xie Yifan can seduce Madam Du Fenyu, then he can also have Madam Mo Jieyu. If he is unable to seduce Madam Du Fenyu then a waterfront property owned by Xie Yifan will belong to Madam Mo Jieyu. The game begins …
Country: China, South Korea
Director/scriptwriter: Hur Jin Ho
Casting: Jang Dong Gun, Cecilia Cheung, Zhang Ziyi…
Dangerous Liaisons was presented at the Director’s Fortnight in 2012 in Cannes. This new adaptation of Choderlos de Laclos’s novel was unfortunately not well received by the audience. It is not always good to have a high-level casting (Jang Dong Gun, Cecilia Cheung, Zhang Ziyi), a meticulous realization with somptuous staging and a (melo) dramatic story where seduction and heartache compete against each other. If it has the power to attract the audience it also has the default of giving an impression of artificiality. Some hate it while other like it. I would tend to say that I belong to the second camp.
Dangerous Liaisons was adapted more than one time in cinema (for my part I’ve only seen two other adaptations: the ones of Stephen Frears (Dangerous Liaison 1988) and Roger Kumble (Cruel Intentions 1999). It was therefore not really surprising to see a Korean director -Hur Jin Ho- threw himself in the adventure in his turn. This was a risky gamble nonetheless! Make a new version of a story that have been revisited so many time, it’s not easy. Besides he wasn’t the first Asian director to show some interest to that French monument (the Korean movie of Lee Jae Young, Untold Scandal was released in 2003). Hur Jin Ho proved that even though it was a risky gamble, it wasn’t an insurmountable one.
An adaptation must be faithful but also original. In this version, the plot takes place in the 30’s and Shanghai- a boisterous and appealing town known under the name of “the Paris of the West”. We are immersed in this elegant and luxurious world with amazement. The setting lends itself perfectly to the story without causing any damage to the original work. The director chose a social and political context -the rise of the Japanese imperialism- that remained anecdotal to the plot but nonetheless original. Those kind of little elements helped this new adaptation to distinguish itself from its predecessor or even the novel itself. It brought a personal input to the French novel. But it’s before anything else, by its way of filming scenes that this movie differs from the other works. Dangerous Liaisons is pleasant to watch in term of aestheticism. Everything is conscientious, smooth. This characteristic is typical of numerous Chinese and Hong Kong (and others) movies. And that’s what is interesting. The director brought a certain touch of exoticism to the original works while preserving the broad line of the original plot. The use of those specific setting and artificial lighting effect helped setting the appropriate mood. The discrepancy between this beautiful making and the character’s actions is what makes this movie even more appealing to my eyes, actually. For my part that allowed me a better and easier immersion in the story. We witness to the destruction of this world of appearance, of this aristocratic world where everything is nothing else than a game. Choderlos De Laclos showed this aspect through his plume and Hur Jin Ho throught his camera. That’s the power of cinema.
As for the casting I have nothing to say about it. Zhang Ziyi has always been, and will always be, an actress that I appreciate and Cecilia Cheung and Jang Dong Gun (with a mustache!) were also really believable in their respective role.
Many people found this version plain and dull because of the constant comparison they made with the previous adaptation -and specially the one of Stephen Frears that many, like to qualify as the “one and only true version of Dangerous Liaison”. I think it’s necessary to forget about the other adaptations in order to fully enjoy this one. We have to accept the fact that everyone has his own vision of it and not only judge “the front cover of the book”. Some of you will be charmed while other won’t be. For my part, I really liked this version and can only recommand it to you.
Note de Whoovy: 8.5/10
Note de Dushbadou: 9.5/10
Note finale: 9/10