Sunday, November 25, 2012

Dangerous Liaisons

I saw the Chinese version of Dangerous Liaisons at the AMC Metreon earlier this month.  I don't know if I have mentioned it before but the AMC Metreon reserves one screen for Asian films (typically Chinese or Korean).  That's not necessarily true every week (such as last week) but most weeks there is an Asian film screening.

Dangerous Liaisons starring Cecilia Cheung, Dong-gun Jang & Ziyi Zhang; directed by Jin-ho Hur; Mandarin with subtitles; (2012) - Official Website

Dangerous Liaisons is based on the novel Les Liaisons dangereuses by Pierre Choderlos de Laclos.  Seemingly one of the most adapted works outside Shakespeare, the novel has been turned into a play as well as three film previous films which I have seen - Dangerous Liaisons (1988), Valmont (1989) and Cruel Intentions (1999)

This Dangerous Liaisons is set in 1930s Shanghai which is much more appropriate than a 1990s American high school (Cruel Intentions).  It hews closely to its namesake predecessor which is the version with John Malkovich.  Cecilia Cheung has the Glenn Close role, Ziyi Zhang has the Michelle Pfeiffer role and South Korean actor Dong-gun Jang as the Malkovich role.  There are actors who are clearly playing the roles played by Uma Thurman, Keanu Reeves (the actor even has facial expressions reminiscent of Keanu) and Swoosie Kurtz.

In the interest of time, I won't bother to recount the plot since the tale of deceit and seduction is so well known.  Although 1930s Shanghai was an interesting choice, I wonder if a Three Kingdoms era setting wouldn't have been better.  Much of the film takes place in a French-style château presumably within driving distance of Shanghai.  That seemed out of place.  The characters frequently spoke in English which also seemed odd.  My companion at the screening told me that in 1930s Shanghai, it was considered chic for wealthy Chinese to speak English and assume Western customs of dress and behavior.  Perhaps...but when Jang utters "Wowwww" in response to Cecilia Cheung's request to seduce the virgin, it seemed ridiculous.

Cecelia Cheung cuts loose with an, at times, unrestrained performance.  Dong-gun Jang is more even as the debaucher.  Ziyi Zhang didn't quite have the range to go from repressed to passionate to hearbreak.  The actress Rong Rong was effectively clueless and annoying in the Swoosie Kurtz role.

Even if the individual performances were less than extraordinary, the film was more than the sum of its parts.  Cheung gets to wear some nice costumes and has a nice chemistry with Jang.  Although Zhang might not have had quite the range necessary, she acquits herself adequately.

I'd like to watch the two versions of Dangerous Liaisons back-to-back to compare the plot and actors' performance.  One main difference is that Glenn Close's deceit is revealed and causes her nervous breakdown.  Cecilia Cheung seems to go mad because she loved the man she destroyed.  Another significant plot difference is that Michelle Pfeiffer's character died whereas Ziyi Zhang goes on to become a schoolteacher.  However, these differences are in the last 5 minutes of the film.  Up until then, I was surprised by how much the two films were in simpatico.

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