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Dangerous Liaisons

Dangerous Liasons     Dangerous Liaisons

(left) Zhang Ziyi and Jang Dong-Gun, and (right) Candy Wang and Cecilia Cheung get involved in Dangerous Liaisons.

Chinese: 危險關係
Year: 2012  
Director: Hur Jin-Ho
Producer: Chen Weiming
Writer: Yan Geling
Cast: Jang Dong-Gun, Zhang Ziyi, Cecilia Cheung Pak-Chi, Shawn Dou, Lisa Lu Yan, Rong Rong, Candy Wang, Ye Xiangming, Xiao Shuli, Zhang Yun, Wu Fang, Chen Guodong, Zhang Han, Zhang Zichen
The Skinny: Entertaining, well-mounted adaptation of Les Liaisons dangereuses set in 1930s Shanghai. The solid star performances and seductive story help compensate for minor missteps. Not as good as other adaptations but still worth the time.
by Kozo:

Hur Jin-Ho’s Dangerous Liaisons handsomely adapts 18th century French novel Les Liaisons dangereuses to 1930s China, making full use of its transplanted setting to spin an entertaining and wicked yarn. Initially, that is. Yan Geling’s script takes liberties and omits scenes key to the original text, ultimately reducing what could have been an exemplary film into just a solid one. Dangerous Liaisons places a notch below other cinematic adaptations of Les Liaisons dangersueses but it’s still quite watchable thanks to the opulent production, seductive narrative and enjoyable performances.

In the turmoil of 1931 Shanghai, wealthy businessman Xie Yifan (Jang Dong-Gun) and independent businesswoman Mo Jieyu (Cecilia Cheung) begin a sordid game. The scorned Jieyu wants to see virgin Beibei (Candy Wang) deflowered to exact revenge on her ex-lover, and enlists playboy Yifan to do the deed. Yifan refuses, instead targeting for seduction his second cousin Du Fenyu (Zhang Ziyi), a chaste widow who wants nothing to do with the notorious womanizer. However, Yifan also wants Jieyu, and with their amoral gamesmanship firmly established, the two strike a deal. If Yifan fails to bed Fenyu, Jieyu receives a key waterfront property. If Yifan succeeds in his conquest of Fenyu, then Yifan can do with Jieyu as he pleases.

This set-up is direct from Choderlos de Laclo’s original epistolary novel, establishing both Yifan and Jieyu as self-absorbed and despicable individuals who are obviously made for each other. Yifan eventually accepts Jieyu‘s request to deflower Beibei for his own selfish purposes, and uses Beibei’s crush, young art teacher Wenzhou (Shawn Dou), as a tool to reach his goal. Meanwhile, Fenyu continues to resist Yifan, strengthening his resolve and eventually softening his heart. However, by then emotions and alliances have frayed so irreparably that things can only end badly. If you’ve seen Stephen Frears’ Dangerous Liaisons (1988), E J-Yong’s Untold Scandal (2003) or even Roger Kumble’s Cruel Intentions (1999) then you know how this story ends.

Dangerous Liaisons is immediately engaging due to its well-traveled and very adaptable source material. This is a story of wicked narcissists engaging in gleeful manipulation, with plot twists fit for decadent dramas or trashy soaps. Hur Jin-Ho’s version leans towards the former with its classy production design and fine costuming, but trends towards the latter with its bodice-bursting passions and twitchy camerawork. This is a quality production that’s rich and immersive, but some of the artifice is gratuitous. Notably, the aerial views of period Shanghai are so obviously CGI that they reduce the film’s ability to convince. Also, some cultural references may grate (i.e., the details referencing Chinese patriotism), but only those inclined to care will notice.

The lead actors make enjoying Dangerous Liaisons quite easy, as each turns in strong if quite obvious performances. Jang Dong-Gun plays the debonair and cocksure Yifan with delightful smarm, while Cecilia Cheung is entertainingly evil as the duplicitous Jieyu. The performances are occasionally lurid or overplayed, which is bad for awards but delicious for audiences that enjoy showy star performances. Even Zhang Ziyi’s Fenyu is overdone, though instead of charismatic gazes or evil eyebrow-arching, Zhang offers breathy, barely-restrained passion. Everyone is beautiful, their acting is set-to-boil-over emotive — if you’re an ardent fan of superstars Jang Dong-Gun, Cecilia Cheung or Zhang Ziyi then Dangerous Liaisons is surefire entertainment.

Unfortunately, one key scene is missing at the film’s close, bringing Dangerous Liaisons in beneath expectations. Besides its melodrama tropes, Les Liaisons dangereuses is known for its scathing schadenfreude, so it’s unfortunate that Hur Jin-Ho and company limit matters to those of the heart. Broken hearts are perfectly cinema-worthy, but it’s the darker and more conflicted passions of the original text that make this tragedy so resonant and relevant. As is, Dangerous Liaisons is never a waste of time and can be recommended for many reasons, especially the strong collaboration by the Pan-Asian crew and cast. It’s not one for the ages but this Dangerous Liaisons can be enjoyed and even relished. (Kozo, reviewed at the Hong Kong Asian Film Festival, 11/2012)

Availability: DVD (Hong Kong)
Region 3 NTSC
Kam & Ronson Enterprises Co., Ltd.
16x9 Anamorphic Widescreen
Mandarin and Cantonese Language Tracks
Dolby Digital 5.1
Removable Chinese and English Subtitles
*Also Available on Blu-ray Disc
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