Thursday, September 10, 2009

Untold Scandal (Korea, 2003)

There have been quite a few big screen versions of the novel Le Liaisons Dangereuses written in 1782 by French author Pierre Choderlos de Laclos.

Untold Scandal, directed by Je-yong Lee, takes the story that was set in 1780's France and places it in the end of the Chosun Dynasty in Korea, which would set it roughly in the same period, if not just a bit later. The most popular version of Le Liaisons Dangereuses was the 1988 version with Glenn Close and John Malkovich, and is in my opinion the best, with Untold Scandal almost neck and neck.

Korean superstar Yong-jun Bae, who has a very faithful following in Japan as well, plays Jo-won, the Valmont character portrayed by John Malkovich in the English movie. Jo-won is a bored nobleman hopping from bed to bed in a society more repressive than the one portrayed in the original novel. He is handsome, wealthy, and desirable. He, however, only has eyes for his beautiful cousin, Madam Jo, also a wealthy noble (the Marquise character played by Glenn Close in the 1988 version). Madam Jo, however, is feeling the bloom is coming off her rose, so to speak, and this is helped along by the word that her husband has taken a young virginal girl, daughter of a friend of Madam Jo's, to be his concubine. Furious, but with little to be done about it, she makes a bargain with Jo-won that if he can bed and disgrace the young So-Oak Lee (the Cecile character played by Uma Thurman in the 1988 version) before the ceremony takes place that will allow her husband to sleep with the girl, he will be allowed, at long last, to sleep with Madam Jo.

Jo-won has been in love with Madam Jo all of their lives, and agrees, although he confesses that he has an amusing plot of his own he must see to first: the seduction of a young woman known as the paragon of chastity. Lady Jeong (the Michelle Pfeifer character, Madame de Tourvel in the 1988 version) is perhaps the most different of all the characters in this version from any other version of the novel. Lady Jeong was married by contract to a young man. While she was enroute to him, to become his bride physically as well as legally, he died. Thus, Lady Jeong lives her life in pious chastity devoted to a man she never even met face to face. No man in 15 years has been able to turn her eye and even the gentle persuasion of her mother-in-law cannot make her remarry and have children and happiness.

Both plots are set into motion, controlled by the vengeful hand of Madam Jo. The ending, slightly more tragic than the Close-Malkovich version, comes after many hearts have been broken and many lives lost.

The costuming, which the 1988 version was best known for and won awards for, is just as breathtaking in this one. In the beginning of the movie, the dressing scene is stunning. The set design and score and costume design rival the other one in quality. I enjoy the dialog in the 1988 English version much better, but this one is far from mediocre. It lacks so much of what I felt was in-your-face about the viciousness of characters in the English one, but this has to do with the society in which it is set as much as anything. It is a more reserved time period. Even so, Untold Scandal is infinity more erotic and steamy than Dangerous Liaisons.

Untold Scandal was nominated for Best Adapted Screenplay, and Best Film in 2 different festivals, and won 5 awards including Best Director and Best Music.

Untold scandal is actually the 2nd Korean version of the movie that was made. The first was in 1970 and I've not been able to find a copy.

For anyone who is a die-hard fan of Dangerous Liaisons, like I am, there are also other forms of the novel, including a ballet produced in 2008; a sequel telling what happened to the Marquise after her scandal came out (A Factory of Cunning); 2 radio broadcasts, one starring Ciaran Hinds (who is fabulous and starred in the Mayor of Castorbridge, which I plan to review one day); 2 French television productions; and 8 or so movies.

The book is well worth the read, although the movies make it much easier to understand because the book was written as a series of letters, the letters written between the characters and sent to each other, rather than an actual novel (called epistolary, for those who like to know that sort of thing).

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