Dangerous Liaisons

The least one should hope for from another adaptation of Pierre Choderlos de Laclos's Dangerous Liaisons is savory, salacious trash, but nothing in Hur Jin-ho's tony new version approaches the dizzying depths of Sarah Michelle Gellar spelling out the conditions of her sex bet with Ryan Phillippe ("You can put it anywhere . . .") in 1999's Cruel Intentions. Here, de Laclos's story is transposed from the ancien régime of the French aristocracy to the ancien régime capitalist aristocracy of Shanghai, 1931. "Is anyone in Shanghai a friend?" businessman Xie Yifan (Jang Dong-gun) knowingly asks his jaded female counterpart, bank head Mo Jieyu (Cecilia Cheung). Private enterprise is inherently corrupting in the movie's wicked old world—a world whose opulent artifacts the camera nevertheless loves to ogle—and everything in both love and life is reduced to the acquisitive impulse by the leads, who amuse themselves by gambling on commodities of flesh, placing a wager on Xie's ability to breach the chastity of Du Fenyu (Zhang Ziyi), a pious widow much involved with the cause of war orphans. Sexual and political morality are inextricably tied together, as Korean-born director Jin-ho imports a scene of patriotic pamphleteering at La Scala from Visconti's magnificent 1954 melodrama Senso to the Peking opera. There is, however, little of Visconti's throbbing cadence in Dangerous Liaisons' tissue of slinky camera work and antique clutter, and if Dong-gun's conversion to something nobler registers as sincere, it's not through any fine shading in performance, but only because he stops shooting insinuating smirks at the camera. Nick Pinkerton

 
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