Untold Scandal

2002, Movie, NR, 124 mins

Review

UNTOLD SCANDAL
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Les Liaisons Dangereuses, novelist Choderlos de Laclos' much-adapted chronicle of love among the vipers, is relocated to 18th-century Korea, and while the result looks significantly different from other versions, its icy heart is unchanged. The year is 1792, and cultured reprobate Sir Cho-Won (Bae Yong-jun) is summoned by his cousin, Lady Cho (Lee Mi-sook). Lady Cho's husband, Lord Yu, is about to take on a new courtesan, 16-year-old So-Oak (Lee Soh-yeon), because his wife has failed to produce an heir. While Lady Cho plays the dutiful wife in public, welcoming the girl into her home and teaching her the appropriate manners for her new station in life, she's secretly plotting a revenge for which she will need a man's help. She wants Cho-Won to seduce and impregnate the virginal So-Oak so that the unsuspecting Lord Yu will unwittingly raise another man's child as his own. Cho-Won isn't interested — seducing inexperienced teenagers is hardly a worthy challenge — but Lady Cho sweetens the offer with a bet: If Cho-Won can seduce the notoriously virtuous Lady Jung (Jeon Do-yeon), Lady Cho will reward him with the taste of her charms for which he has longed since they were teenagers. If he fails, he'll have to forsake all pleasures of the flesh for a monk's austere existence. Cho-Won accepts and begins his assault on the "Gate of Chastity," as Lady Jung is known. He makes "anonymous" contributions to the Catholic church she attends, lets it be known that her piety and devotion to serving the poor have inspired him to repudiate his life of indolence and indulgence, and even arranges to save her from a band of hired ruffians. Cho-Won also finds time to thoroughly debauch So-Oak, while Lady Cho maneuvers the teenager's innocent crush on well-born young Master Kwon (Cho Hyeon-jae) to her own devious ends. But as the game grows more complicated, the master manipulators find that they've unleashed forces beyond even their formidable control. Writer-director E. Je-Yong's sumptuous vision of hothouse beauty and sickly-sweet corruption is strikingly faithful to de Laclos' book, even echoing the novel's epistolary structure by bracketing the narrative between the covers of a scandalous illustrated novel. The result is a beguiling mix of the familiar and the exotic, vivid proof that a good story can withstand endless variations without losing its fundamental vitality. leave a comment --Maitland McDonagh

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