Initially, the idea of retelling Choderlos De Laclos' 1982 novel Les Liaisons Dangereuses from a Korean point of view seems like nothing more than a publicity stunt. After all, the story has recently been played to death. There were Dangerous Liaisons and Valmont, two sumptuous period pieces, and Cruel Intentions, a trashy teen take on the story. Yet, after watching Untold Scandal, it's surprising that this has not been tried before. Director Lee Je-Yong (Asako in Ruby Shoes, An Affair) essentially transferred the setting while keeping the time about right. This puts Korea near the end of the Chosun Dynasty, an extremely aristocratic period in time. This makes it an ideal setting for the machinations of the idle rich.
By now, the story is extremely familiar. Lady Cho (Lee Mi-Suk, Kiss Me Much, Gingko Bed 2) bets her cousin Jo-Won (Bae Yong-Jin, Bilgu) first that she cannot bed So-Oak (Lee So-yeon), her husband's soon-to-be new concubine. The stakes become much more interesting when the bet shifts to Lady Suk (Jeon Do-Yeon, No Blood No Tears, I Wish I Had a Wife), a beautiful widower. Her husband died before they consummated their wedding, making her even more delectable to Jo-Won, a notorious womanizer. He wants to deflower her, and Cho challenges him to the task. Suk immediately rebuffs any attempts by Jo-Won at flirting, which intrigues him all the more.
Screenwriters Lee, Kim Dae-Woo (Rainbow Trout, An Affair) and Kim Hyeon-jeong play up with artificial airs of importance that the aristocracy feel to much effect. Life is structured, men and women who do not know each other cannot speak to each other, and the most important thing is order and tradition. Suk is steeped in this, and is horrified that Jo-Won is so direct. Even more shocking is the nudity, which isn't that bad, but not the norm in Asian cinema. The characters within the film are shocked when they learn about what is going on, except for Jo-Won and Cho, who are essentially amoral monsters. Remember, if Jo-Won wins the bet, he gets to sleep with Cho, who is his cousin.
One does not need to be overtly familiar with the underlying story; everything is abundantly clear. And Lee does an amazing job with the costuming and production design. Untold Scandal is a gorgeous film to watch. Cho and Jo-Won celebrate their decadence with fine clothes, furnishings and food. But it seems that he bypassed anything new and exciting in favor of the look of the film. The film is interesting because it is an old story in a new setting, but aside from a basic translation into Korean elements, Lee doesn't try to do anything new. The utter vileness of Cho and Jo-Won never seems to come to the surface, and worse, seems almost dull at times.
|Mongoose Rates It: Okay.|
|2 hours, Korean with English subtitles, Not Rated but contains nudity, sexual situations, and some violence, an easy R.|
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