9 February 2010 | divemaster13
Vibrant Korean adaptation of "Les Liaisons Dangereuses"
"Revenge is sweetest when done secretly."
"Untold Scandal" is a lush adaptation of the novel "Les Liaisons Dangereuses" set in Chosun Dynasty Korea. I have not read the novel nor seen any of the other film adaptations (e.g., "Dangerous Liaisons"; "Cruel Intentions"), so my review is on the merits of the film itself rather than a comparison to other works.
Lady Cho is none too happy when her husband brings in 16-year-old So-OK to be his concubine. She is cute and virginal and of course Lady Cho can't stand it. So she turns to her cousin, Sir Cho Won, and makes a devious proposition--seduce this "innocent flower" and impregnate her. The thought of presenting her husband with a pregnant concubine makes Lady Cho's eyes sparkle. What would Cho Won get in return? What he has always wanted—to enjoy the carnal pleasures of Lady Cho.
But the idle rich are easily bored and this is hardly the test Cho Won was looking for. Seducing a naïve teenager is no challenge. A few flattering words and, well, what girl would *not* fall into bed with the dashing and charming Cho Won? He offers a counter-proposal. If he can bed the virginal Lady Chung, who belongs to a Catholic group and has made a vow of chastity, that would be a true accomplishment worthy of the reward Lady Cho offers. (Of course, being the Lothario that he is, he can't help making eyes at So-OK as well. Just a little something on the side to keep in practice.) Now the games begin. Cho Won finds it rough going, as Lady Chung wants nothing to do with him. She has heard of his reputation and she has no interest in anything but her Catholic service and charity work. She's rather a plain Jane and can't even conceive of why Cho Won would want to have anything to do with her anyway. In fact, she tells him straight out that she would rather live with the plague victims than even carry on a conversation with him. He's certainly got his work cut out for him.
Lady Cho gets a perverse pleasure out of this game of seduction and manipulation. And she's got her own devious games to play with the clueless So-OK.
The scheming escalates in intensity and nefariousness. Will Lady Chung crack? Will Lady Cho have to pay up on the bet? Will So-OK end up a pregnant bride? Will the Law of Unintended Consequences come back to bite Cho Won? The challenge for the actors is to make such characters engaging enough so that the viewer isn't completely turned off by them. Let's face it. Cho Won is a cad of the first degree, and Lady Cho is no better. Even when it appears that Cho Won is succumbing to actual feelings of affection and love, we are not sure if it is genuine or just a part of his merciless game.
Many films can offer up good villains, but they are usually played off against protagonists who have the audience's sympathy and interest. It is more of a task when the villains have to carry the film. I think "Untold Scandal" rises to the challenge admirably. The scheming cousins set about their plans with such style and panache that viewers may find themselves actually rooting for them. These are interesting characters who are surprisingly multi-dimensional (especially in the case of Cho Won).
My major issue with the film was that the ending seemed sort of slapped together. Up until then we've been treated to a very tight and contained piece, but then things start spinning all over the place. I'm not sure if this is true to the original story or if the director felt that after 2 hours he'd better just wrap things up.
If you like costume and period pieces, this is the movie for you. The look of the film is colorful and vibrant. The Hong Kong DVD version carries a Category III rating for some nudity, eroticism, and sensuality, but it is not some silly sex romp. The characters develop, and there are some surprises along the way.