Dangerous Liaisons (危險關係) is a 2012 Chinese film by Hur Jin-ho based on the novel with the same title by Pierre Choderlos de Laclos. It has been adapted five times to date, including the eponymous Hollywood film (1988) and Untold Scandal from South Korea (2003). The script was done by famous scriptwriter, Yan Ge Ling.
This version is set in 1930s Shanghai. It stars South Korean actor Jang Dong-gun and Chinese actresses Zhang Ziyi and Cheung Pak Chi. How do the three Zhangs fare in this movie? I won the premiere movie tickets and the poster so I got to watch the movie two days in advance. My first surprise was to see the theme song writer, Lee Wei Song at the cinema? Does the cast or story provide more excitement?
Story/Introduction on characters
In 1930s Shanghai, the city’s popular, charismatic libertine Xie Yifan (Jang Dong-gun) has just bedded a nude woman and two others fight over him. (Sorry fans, but he is also fully clothed.) He gets someone to trim his fingernails calmly and has hairclips on his hair to apply gel on it. Even his hairdresser gets seduced.
The city’s wealthy femme fatale businesswoman, Mo Jieyu (Cheung Pak Chi) is furious upon knowing that her Korean boyfriend, Kim has ditched her to be engaged with a 16 year old high school pupil, Bei Bei (Wang Yi Jing). Still she puts on a forced smile for a newspaper cover.
Yifan’s grandmother, Rui Xue (Lu Yan) brings a distant cousin, Du Fenyu (Zhang Ziyi) who runs a charity business. He gets interested in her, jokingly to ask if they have a date. She avoids him far. Feng Yu is the widow of a university professor who continues helping in charity. She appears at a ball with them to sell her necklace that is given by her late husband. Jieyu is Yifan’s ex. Yifan has lent his nightclub for the ball. Jieyu refuses to marry him although she is widowed at 20 years old after her banker husband dies. She doesn’t want to be controlled.
She wants him to seduce Bei Bei but he shakes his head after seeing her at the ball. She is too young for him and her mother, Mrs Wang (Rong Rong) guards her like a hawk. Mrs Wang has boasted how Kim wants a virgin as his wife. He doesn’t get a chance to exchange greetings wit her to touch her hand. Yifan makes a bet with Jieyu. If he beds Fenyu , Jieyu will give herself to Yifan again. But if he fails to achieve the goal, he must give her a piece of land.
Yifan accompanies Jieyu to try a dress. He shakes his head – blue doesn’t suit her. The baige colour is better but will only arrive the following month. displays his charm by changing a bulb in her room – oops – his late mother’s room. He frightens her by claiming that his mother sometimes visits there at all. She stands close to him to pass the new bulb to him and he takes the chance to hold her hand.
Bei Bei learns drawing from Dai Wen Zhou (Dou Xiao). Jieyu becomes her godmother and knows their romance as they exchange glances. She tries to create a chance for them to bed each other. She arranges both to go to her home, getting Bei Bei to pretend to be ill while watching an opera with Mrs Wang. She encourages Bei Bei to allow Wen Zhou to draw her in nude so as to be famous. It is a close shave when Mrs Wang nearly discovers Bei Bei is missing when she only goes to the resting place during the interval.
She is about to open the door when Yifan gets drinks for the women. He is also at the hall with Rui Xue and Fenyu. Jieyu has asked Yifan to check on Bei Bei since he knows TCM. Mrs Wang is frightened of him so she closes the door quickly without going in. Jieyu hopes that the two young people will bed each other. But alas, they do nothing except drawing. What a disappointment!
In the meantime, Yifan also deliberately wets the car seat so that he can sit close to Fenyu in the car. She is uneasy and gets off as quickly as she can when they reach the opera hall. Fenyu is touched when Yifan shields her husband’s pupil from being arrested by the Japanese when he distributes flyers in the opera hall. The third drink he buys supposedly for himself is passed to the guy who pretends to be his driver.
Infuriated that things do not work, Jieyu reveals the love between the young couple. Mrs Wang is mad upon seeing the nude drawings. She chases him away, citing that he is unfit to be with Bei Bei as the richshaw puller’s son. He storms and leaves.
Jieyu then coaxes Mrs Wang to bring Bei Bei to stay with Rui Xue for a while. She is hesitant as Yifan might be there but changes her mind after her persuasion. Yifan is offended when Mrs Wang refers him to a green fly over poo. He then decides to make Bei Bei ‘unchaste’.
Rui Xue sings opera with Mrs Wang while Bei Bei cries upon listening to Wen Zhou’s voice over the phone in Yifan’s room. Wen Zhou is at Jieyu’s home and they pour their woes to each other. Yifan deliberately hangs up on Wenzhou and starts removing Bei Bei’s clothes, claiming that Wen Zhou wants him to console her. Well, sure enough, we know what happens next. The Wangs rush home. Bei Bei then ends up staying in hospital.
Fenyu sleeps while writing books. Yifan sees her drawing a train and adds smoke to it. She smiles at it. Yifan peeps at her using a pair of binoculars when she is in the garden. He also starts writing love letters to Fenyu – on a naked woman’s back. She tears them but keeps them in the drawer. She reads her husband’s book by the swimming pool where she dips her feet in. Yifan is about to kiss her but stops. He throws the book into the pool, telling her not to suppress her feelings anymore. Fenyu moves out in the end.
Fenyu shares a passionate kiss with Yifan when he comes to look for her. He starts unbuttoning her and both are together. She decides to give up her rights to her husband’s asserts. She starts making dumplings for Yifan, waiting for him. Yifan is confused over his feelings now and goes to Jieyu to claim for his prize. She corrects him, saying that he is now in love with Fenyu. Yifan sees a shirt at her place and gets jealous, knowing that she has another man.
He goes to Fenyu and they confide liking each other. Fenyu cites that she will end her life if she loses him.
Yifan gets drunk and goes to Jieyu’s place. He tears her cheongsam and slaps her. He vows to destroy her if she rejects him. This time, he learns who Jieyu’s new man is. He is Wen Zhou but he doesn’t care. He sleeps over at her place and Jieyu is beside him. She is enraged when he calls Fenyu’s name in his sleep.
She deliberately calls Fenyu over and wakes Yifan over. Yifan has to tell the truth over their bet. She returns home sadly and throws the dumplings on the floor. She is about to cut her wrist but changes her mind. Jieyu is filled with hatred and tells Wen Zhou what exactly happens to Bei Bei. Wen Zhou goes to Kim to tell what happens and he truly loves Bei Bei.
Yifan is later guilty-stricken to look for Fenyu. He is shot by Wen Zhou on the way where demonstrations occur. He struggles to see her for the last time and dies. Jieyu tries on the dress that Yifan sends to her. It is now ready and he leaves a note, saying that he wishes to see her in it. She bursts into tears and cries on the bed. A year later, Fenyu uses the drawings to teach the orphans. She misses Yifan all this while (I thought she wants to die with him?! But well, since she survives after her husband’s death, she can still move on.)
The movie was supposedly to be shot 10 years ago. The director had Cheung Man Yuk and Cheung Kok Wing in mind. (For me, I might have chosen retired actress, Cheung Mun for the third Cheung as Jieyu and Man Yuk as Fenyu.) We knew what happened to Kok Wing so the plan was shelved till now.
The actresses acted with Jang (the extras) trembled with excitement when they got close to him, especially when he hugged them. They thought they were dreaming and Jang was patient to give them time to warm up to their roles. He left the director to write the script and was a little let down by it. He thought Yifan could be a worse cad. He was sick of goodie roles and was dying to be a baddie when the script came.
Dong Gun found it unnatural to read the lines in Korean. Thus, he worked hard in memorising the lines in Chinese. To his disappointment, his voice was dubbed in the end as the director wanted Shanghai accent. He had Chinese acting experience from the film "The Promise". The actresses found him brave not to use his mother tongue here. He could understand a little when others speak Mandarin slowly to him.
Pak Chi liked Mo Jieyu a lot. Mo Jieyu appears to be a bad woman, but not really is. She is just someone that needs love. She would explain to her two sons if they watch it. Jieyu had undergone lots of pressure and hardship. She was only pitiful in wanting true love – just like Yifan. Her method was wrong but she could learn from her mistake.
She praised Jang for having more charm after being a father. Talking about one bed scene, she pretended to feel upset. Why does Yifan only have intimate scenes with Fenyu and Bei Bei. But with Jieyu, he pushes her aside? Is this how he should treat his first love?
Ziyi wanted to be Jieyu once she got the script. She knew how to make dumplings as in the movie but had very little time to make that now for her family. The two actresses had never thought of switching roles. Both praised each other for the exciting performances.
When Dong Gun learned of the casting choices, he was a bit surprised. Because of the images all have, he would have thought Cheung would play Du Fenyu and Zhang would play Mo Jieyu. After finishing the movie though, he could not think of anyone else playing their respective roles.
Dong Gun watched "Untold Scandal" in the theater. Before filming this movie, he thought about whether to watch to watch the other films based on the novel. He initially decided not to as it might influence his character in certain ways. As production progressed, he watched the other films. He felt the pressure as the actors were great but tried his best.
He had worked with Pak Chi before. This was my first time with Ziyi. He could feel their strong wills during the filming set. They tried to not miss a single cut and he felt motivated by them. As for the actresses, Dong Gun’s were so attractive. When they saw his eyes, they knew what he was trying to say and reacted fast. Beginning in her teens, Yan was active in Chinese opera, or Kunqu, before emigrating to the United States. All were impressed when she sang her own pieces in the movie.
The competition between the actresses in acting went from the roles, acting fees and acting parts. Initially, the scene of them together was nil. But both requested to the director so he added the scenes. Even the poster was compared. Some said that Ziyi was the winner as it had her with Dong Gun at the top while Pak Chi and him were in the middle. Pak Chi had more acting scenes and Ziyi was considered a supporting role. But Ziyi had more inner scenes. So it was a draw. Wow – how observant these people were!
Most favourite character
Yifan, he breaks women’s hearts but he has the conscience in the end.
Most hated character
Jieyu, she ruins everyone’s happiness, including her own with her foolish decision.
It was sung by a Singaporean newcomer singer, Cai Ai Jia. The title was ‘Love came too late’. It is quite a touching song.
The cast is good and famous but somehow, I don’t find them as the right choice. Jang is charismatic but incomplete as he doesn’t bare his skin. He looks like Clark Gable at first glance. How can a playboy be one when he only tears women’s clothes but not his own? Ziyi as the virtuous and quiet widow looks a bit out of place as I am used to see her being a sex kitten in other movies. I even heard someone sitting behind me commenting that Zhou Xun will be a better choice. It takes me some time to get used to it.
Is age is not on Pak Chi’s side although she oozes her grace. Why must she be a godmother and not godsister?! She is attractive and seductive as a rose, bringing out the scheming side of Jieyu but why the director is so harsh on her?
Dou Xiao and Yi Jing do not need to act much in this movie. The focus is not on them. I found their presence wasted and not helping much in the development. No wonder they vanished nearer to the end.
It is shot by a Korean director and the scenery is perfect. However, we have seen this in many movies. There is nothing outstanding in particular. It is actually conservative – probably for the China audience. Many must be as disappointed as I am.
Sukting’s ratings :
On acting : ***1/2 (Scale of 5)
On story : *** (Scale of 5)
On song : *** (Scale of 5)