Untold Scandal


Reviewed by: sukting

May 15, 2004

Rating: four

Year produced
2003

Foreword
Wish to see how Bae Yong Jun sheds his signature glasses and his inhibitions in this movie? This movie is the adaptation of the French novel 'Les Liaisons Dangereuses’. Surprisingly, it fits into the Korean setting of the Chosun dynasty well. Since it is an R(A) movie, those below 21 years old may not be able to watch it, so I will relate the story below.

Story

I missed the front part – it is said that the North Koreans follows Confucian values strictly. Men must be honourable while women must remain faithful to their husbands. The ‘Jo untold scandal history’ is written in Chinese that there should not be a sharing of sex partners. There are also calligraphy and drawings that show the strong influence by the Chinese. Yet, what do we see later?

Lord Jo Won (Bae Yong Jun) is a spoilt, rich libertine who whiles away his time seducing women and recording his conquests in elegant water colours in his drawings. He is uninterested to be an official and prefers to be a scholar – or rather a woman chaser. His match is his first love and elder cousin, Lady Cho (Lee Mi Sook). She is a respectable society matron, but takes pleasure in subverting the strict Confucian values through various licentious schemes.

She wants him to seduce the young and innocent Soh Ok (Lee Soh Yeon), who is going to be her husband’s concubine. When she marries in, she will lose favour. But he sets his eyes on the virtuous Lady Sook (Jeon Do Yeon). The thrill of the chase lies in the chaste reputation of the beautiful widow. She is a Catholic and has maintained her distance from men for 9 long years. Her brother-in-law is interested in her, but she shuts him out. When men come to see her, she will release a bamboo curtain and talk to them from her room. When she is out of home, she uses a cloak to cover her hair – just like a nun.

Lady Cho hates men for having more rights and thus has lovers to vent her frustrations. She is flirtatious and wants to destroy Lady Sook’s good reputation out of jealousy. Jo Won uses romantic Eastern man’s strategies to woo women. He is daring and also knows how to create chances for himself. He lets the other party knows his ‘sincerity’ and also wins their sympathy. I will relate some below.

Jo Won happens to see Lady Sook’s maid (Yin Sun Nul) having an affair with his servant (Cui Cheng Jun). Jo Won wants her to reveal what the common places Lady Sook goes. The maid leaves her mistress alone in the bookshop. Jo Won pretends to be interested in books. He later picks a book that she wants and gets the chance to touch her hand. He then sends it to her later. The earlier scene in the bookshop is really hilarious when he tries to corner her. The bookshop owner happens to see it and shakes his head.

Lady Cho arranges a boating invitation and Jo Won meets Lady Sook. Lady Sook is uneasy to see a man around and declines the boating invitation. Lady Cho insists that she comes along. Jo Won gives her a packet of tea leaves, but she declines. He is annoyed when she still asks her maid to transfer messages to him although he is right in front of her! Still, he gives the tea leaves to her maid. With other women, he is quick to end the process quickly. But with Lady Sook, he is slow and becomes gentle. He uses his widower identity to relate how ‘chaste’ he is – to explain why he is unmarried for years.

Soh Ok is interested in Jae Pyo, Lady Sook’s husband’s cousin and they have secret meetings together. They are discovered by Lady Cho who hides him in a sedan. He is close to her in the limited space and tries hard to suppress his sexual needs although she is much older than him. Lady Cho also discovers that the two write love letters to each other so she agrees to keep it as a secret for them.

Jo Won tails Lady Sook to the place she worships. It is hilarious when someone is grateful to him for donating a sum of money to assist the poor. He tells the man to talk softly but he talks aloud so that Lady Sook can hear it! He later bribes some men to get fresh with her and he comes to her rescue. (Bae’s fans will drool at how manly he is in here.) Upon seeing her still shaken after the incident, he offers to send her home. Lady Sook’s brother-in-law is unhappy to see this and demands to know why Jo Won escorts her back.

She gets so confused over her feelings later. Jo Won writes her letters. She begs him to stop in her letters to him as she feels guilty and yet she continues writing to him. She even combs her hair thrice by the window to show him that she agrees to it.

Jo Won decides to climb over the wall to see Lady Sook. This is sure a classic scene when he meets Jae Pyo on the roof! Jae Pyo is so embarrassed while Jo Won is still very composed to say that he can reach the other side first. When Jae Pyo declines, he can still bow to him to encourage him.

Jo Won is rejected as he sneaks into her room to talk to her. Later, he is angry with Soh Ok’s mother for spreading negative news about him to Lady Sook from Lady Cho. Lady Cho is determined to make him work for her to ruin Soh Ok. Thus he decides to seek revenge on her daughter. With Sok Oh, he tells her that he knows of her relationship with Jae Byo by writing his name on her hand. He tells her that he will teach her how to write love letters. He tells her to bring her shoes into his room so that no one will know it.

She lies on the floor to write what he tells her. He then removes her clothes from behind and touches her butt. This act is not fast but slow and he does it tenderly although he is very eager. She is terrified but he threatens to tell others about it since her shoes are with him. People will think that she seduced him first. He rapes her and she tells Lady Cho about it. Lady Cho pretends to sympathize her but encourages her to have another lover, telling her that this is what happens to other ladies too. She decides to heed her advice.

Soon, she is enjoying herself as his mistress. He tells her that her mother is his ex-lover and she is shockd (So are we.) And sure indeed, when her mother comes to see Lady Cho, she tries to avoid looking at Cho Won. I also wonder whether there was really something between them. You will be amused that Soh Ok still writes love letters to Jae Byo. Jo Won gets his payment from Lady Cho.

Lady Sook moves to her hometown to avoid him, but Jo Won follows suit. Her parents discourage her from accepting Jo Won. But he waits for her in the rain. Her heart feels a pinch when she knows that he has travelled fast on horseback in the rain just to see her. He manages to melt her. He manages to steal her kiss and hugs her when she comes to see him in the temple to beg him to stop. Lady Sook is so shocked that she falls to the ground.

Here comes the famous bed scene when it is very steamy and hot to see both struggling and yearning for more.

Both take a walk and she tells him about her dream of doing voluntary work in China. Soh Ok is now at a loss as she is having Jo Won’s child. Jo Won sends a message to Lady Cho to claim his success. But Lady Cho knows that he has fallen for Lady Sook. She is jealous and accuses Jo Won of giving her fake virgin blood on a handkerchief to show that Lady Sook is no longer a virgin. She even says that he got it from an animal, which makes him angry. Lady Cho also spreads the news that Lady Sook is a slut.

Jo Won is angry over the act. He refuses to accept the money that he deserves. Later, he sneaks into Lady Cho’s home and is angry to discover that her latest lover is the younger Jae Byo. This scene is hot too as Jae Byo slips his hand under her dress as she lies on the floor!

He is confused over his feelings for Lady Sook. He has fallen for her, but is firm to entertain other women. She comes to look for him and sees him with another woman. All along, she is in dull coloured clothes. But later, she changes her dressing and even has a red scarf to indicate the change in her feelings. She accuses him of hurting her and leaves to help the poor in a village. There is plague here and she falls critically ill.

Lady Cho is determined to ruin Jo Won. She secretly writes the letter to Jae Byo in Soh Ok’s name and states that she can never be together with him as this is the last time she will write to him. She is now pregnant with Jo Won’s child and is too ashamed to face him.

Jae Byo is furious and informs Lady Sook’s brother-in-law. He confronts Jo Won and is no match for him. He then gives him a fatal stab from the back. He wants his servant to send him to Lady Sook before dying. On the way, he dies at the beach, falling from the horse and landing his face on the mud. This is sure sad.

Lady Sook recovers and happens to read his last love letter to her. She quietly goes to the middle of the lake. The ice is still thin and she is frozen to death upon falling into the water, leaving her scarf floating on the water surface. They can’t be a pair of lovers in the natural world and she hopes to be with him in the netherland. This is really a tragic scene to watch her walking alone in the snow and killing herself.

Jo Won’s servant is determined not to let his master die in vain. He spreads the news and writers write the stories – or rather draw the pictures of Jo Won and Lady Cho naked. Lady Cho is angry but she can do nothing. Her husband banishes her and Soh Ok. So both of them flee on a boat with other strangers. She is now a commoner and tries to hide from the rest. She looks at the flower petals that Jo Won once gave her and recalls the past. The petals fly in the wind, signaling the point of no return.

Most favourite character
Jo Won. I will never approve his act in seducing women but he can be lonely being a widower. Many will remember his words ‘seduction and revenge are two things that always give us great joy.’ That shows his true face. He likes women, but can be revengeful too upon knowing that Soh Ok’s mother speaks ill of him. Women who lose favour with their men seem to look happy with him and don’t mind being ditched. We can’t really blame him for bringing joy to them. Only Lady Sook is the unfortunate prey to be devoted to him.

Most hated character
Lady Cho. She has a very colourful wardrobe. That not only shows her wealth, but also hints at her seductive nature. This is so different from Lady Sook, who has a very simple wardrobe with dull colours. She gets pleasure in setting others up to prove that other women aren’t chaste after all. Her best achievement is to ruin Lady Sook completely. Her mannerisms are ladylike, but her act is sure despicable. I feel appalled upon seeing her trying hard to put up with her grand image. Even though she is jealous, revengeful, loving or cruel, she will seldom raise an eyebrow. She conceals all her ambitions and only changes her sitting position slightly. She releases a mighty air to seduce the men around her.

Interesting facts

It shook S.E.A. even before it was shown. China even came up with its own pirated vcds. Even though male viewers aren’t familiar with him, they watch it because of the bed scenes. Many are still not used to him having a goatee, but strangely, I don’t. This film was banned in Malaysia and our friends there who purchased the vcds grumbled that the nude scenes were cut.

Bae has wanted to study in America for 1 year. He even booked the ticket and found lodging. But due to this movie, he received many offers from overseas countries. Many award ceremonies invited him to appear and thus he had to postpone his plan. Anyway, he should be contented winning the best newcomer and most popular awards at Korean film festival in 2003.

Many had expected to watch steamy scenes from the premiere trailer movie shots, but they were cut to a minimal. The premiere alone in Korea attracted 2 million people and was the top for 2 weeks. It was shown on 260 screens. Bae claimed that he had forgotten the minor details of it. He was used to memorize the serial script for 100 times. But he found himself stony using the same method for a movie. So he tried to forget everything before acting since the director was unsatisfied with his delivery.

Bae made a special appearance in Singapore for 2 days. Although Chu Sang Mi and Park Yong He were here before him, many were still excited over his coming. Fans were mostly female – ranging from 3 to 82 years old. I didn’t attend the 1000 fan meeting session which lasted 1.5h because I needed to work and I found it very pricy at S$60. But those who read my reviews will know that I am an international fan star chaser – how can I miss the chance of seeing the famous Korean drama prince in person???

I went to the charity premiere session on 25.3.2004. It started at 7pm but I was there 2h beforehand. This is the only place where I can see him for free. Thanks to his other fans who were still with him at the fan session which was stopped at 4.30pm, the rest of us could have the chance to get a close viewing spot to see him. During the wait, I happened to talk to a 50 year old fan who rushed here after the session.

We envy her for having a large beautiful poster given by his fan club. But we had to console ourselves that she had paid S$60 to meet him. We also heard that the crowd was so large that 100 fans had to take the group photo in turns. She also informed us that Bae told them he had quit smoking for good for health’s sake. So we finally have one more ‘complete healthy image’ idol now.

I must confess that he was worth the wait. I was so close to him despite the barrier – only about 3 arm lengths away although that only lasted for a minute. I was luckier than many of the fans who met him earlier in the fan session or from the airport because many could only watch him from far. I just can’t believe my luck! He was having a warm smile on his face all the time. That made him so attractive looking. I was asking myself – how can such a handsome man exist in real person???

I envied one fan who picked up a premiere ticket from the ground and ran in to watch the movie for free. However, this act could be selfish. I couldn’t bring myself to buy the charity ticket which cost S$35. The affair was to help to raise funds for children who had no money for recess. Later, from a further distance, I saw Bae walking in and out of the 3 cinemas to thank his fans for their support.

After he left, I really wished to watch this R(A) movie for free. I would be busy due to work for the next 2 weeks and would not be able to find time to watch it. Moreover it would be shown in cinemas in town and not somewhere near my living area. It would be spending me 2 whole hours to and fro just for travelling. The following incident might only happen once in a lifetime. It was truly like a dream.

Another unexpected incident happened. 3 Korean fans walked out from the cinema and asked who were interested to watch the movie. They had already watched it in Korea and only bought the tickets to see him in person. These people were sure rich to send so much money just to enjoy the few minutes with him.

I and 2 other fans were so taken aback by their generosity. To tell the truth, I nearly wanted to hug the women to express my gratitude. The 3 of us practically GRABBED the tickets and rushed in. That is why I missed the first 10 minutes of the movie – only in time to see the part where Jo Won was bargaining his price with Lady Cho on how much he should get for seducing Sok Oh.

I took a photo with the movie poster after watching the movie. It was a pity that the cinema had decided not to place the autographed poster instead. It would be perfect then – I wondered where it went – did the staff keep it for themselves??? It was really a very exciting and unforgettable experience for me.

This movie was only released in Singapore’s 10 cinemas for a month. Within 4 days, the earnings were S$210,000. It showed that the presence of Bae to promote the movie helped. In the end, it became the first Korean film which brought the most earnings so far.

He went to Taiwan, Singapore, Hong Kong and also Japan to promote the movie. He stayed for 2 days in each, but 6 days in Japan. Taiwanese fans even wanted to collect the items that he used in the hotel – the pen he uses and even the unfinished mineral water in a bottle!

This film became the top Korean R(A) movie. Many were curious to see him in the butt and how he acted in the nude scene. Others were attracted by his fair skin and also limited martial arts skills scenes.

Bae’s headdress cost him to wait for 2 hours. He only ate vegetables and chicken meat to shed the pounds. As a result, he had ailment in the joints. Many will find themselves influenced by the character after filming. So was he – he found himself resembling a Casanova now.

What is the cost of his dressing? The hat uses the horse tail so it cost 150 000 won, the fan cost 500 000 won. The hat ribbon is made from black bamboo, so it is pricy at 150 000 won. The jade ornament on his wig cost 500 000 won. Together with his clothes that cost between 200 000 and 300 000 won, he spent a total of 1500 000 won.

The bed scenes of Lady Cho and Lady Sook really took viewers by storm. His scene with Jeon took 17 hours to complete. The working crew really laughed when they both worked so hard till the fake goatee and the headdress were loosened. Only female workers were allowed to be present – even Bae’s manager was not allowed to be there. It is said that Bae was unsatisfied that his butt was not shot beautifully and he requested retakes. But one other thing viewers noticed was his legs are really hairy as reputed.

The director has wanted to cast Li Zheng Zai as Jo Won. He was interested but his managing company refused to let him do it. They found it risky and most artistes get their income from commercials. But the movie image didn’t fit the commercial image.

When Bae told the director that he was interested, the director was doubtful on how he could act well. After they met a few times to discuss the script, the director tested his makeup on him. He found Bae quite suitable so he chose him for the job. 5 years ago, the director already had Lee in mind as the best candidate for Lady Cho. Lee was already 44 and retired in 1987. She came out of retreat to act in ‘Empress Ming Cheng’. It was not easy to find a Lady Sook. Many will find Lady Cho more interesting.

Another unexpected case is Bae is closer to Lee than Jeon during the filming. He has treated her as his senior and respects her. As for Jeon, he knows her since they have acted in dramas, but I guess he keeps a certain distance as he doesn’t wish rumours to affect them.

Conclusion

The adaptation for the novel lacks the west’s wildness, but has more of the traditional flavour. It blends into the history well. Although it is a traditional wife vs. mistress story to frame the other, it manages to make the affairs look interesting and exciting. The leads lure you to watch on. This movie can be comical with its witty dialogues and can be sadistic in creating tragedies.

Bae lends credence and charisma to the role. I find his image suitable for the 18th century. He uses his boyish charm so that Jo Won’s eventual conquest by Lady Sook is believable. With the lascivious glint in his eyes, he is a real playboy. Jo Won is witty, humorous and also highly skilled. Some say that Bae is still inexperienced. The man is not despicable enough and he is too gentle to show the vigour in Jo Won. I am very impressed by the way that Jo Won woos women.

Still, I praise him for his hard work. Bae admits that he finds a portion of him like a playboy in real life – that is only restricted to telling females jokes and giving them assistance when they need. Maybe the producer feels that if he is too lustful, all his supporters may not be able to take it. Still, he is like a strong bee to suck honey without leaving a drip. He forwards and retracts when it is the time to do it. He knows to use his strategies well. The cunning smiles and small beady eyes really send the women wobbly and unable to resist his charms.

I wonder if any other actor takes up the role, will he get the same attention? Maybe the director is smart to give him a try. Let’s imagine if the actor is Yam Tak Wah or Wong Chau Sang. Even though they are accomplished actors, they might not be able to stir a topic to become the talk of the town. So probably it’s better to focus on how a goody guy turns naughty for a while.

But still, we can see that the director doesn’t wish Bae's reputation to be tarnished in here. So he becomes a devoted lover in the end. The ending is like ‘Winter Sonata’ or ‘Hotelier’ where he is back to his loving image again. What a pity.

Lee is icy and attractive as his co-conspirator. She is not just a depraved man-eater. She has wits and also her fury is understandable to have affairs because she is forced to marry a man against her will. She doesn’t show her emotions easily. She may look like a rich heiress, but she enjoys making fun of or torturing men. Her performance is sure chilly as she is a veteran Korean Critics Award best actress.

Jeon is credible as a person who has been suppressing her passion all along. When moved, she will not stop her desires. When hurt, she will be despaired, but she still devote her attention to do something else worthwhile. But upon knowing that her lover dies and he truly loves her, she has no hesitation to kill herself in order to be with him.

Lee Soh Yeon is convincing as the innocent 16 year old. Seeing the change in Soh Ok and Jae Byo can be alarming. They can act as if they are faithful to each other but each has a separate lover. How unexpected!

The setting is set close to the era. The clothes, housing and minor items like the ink and brush are definitely of superior quality to suit the upper class. The scenery is well shot. To me, it has the trappings of a period blockbuster. The superlative cast deserves your support for doing well. They make the evil schemers preserve their manners. Even though it winds towards tragedy, it ravishes the eyes and crushes the heart.

Sukting’s ratings :

On acting : ****1/2 (Scale of 5)

On story : **** (Scale of 5) (If not for the traditional and predictable ending that slows the pace at the end and to please Bae’s fans, it could have scored ½* more.)


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