The 10th screen iteration of Les Liaisons Dangereuses moves the action to the lacquered mansions and flowering pleasure grounds of Korea’s late-Chosun period. Though the baroque soundtrack has a plus ça change ostentation, E J-Yong’s transposition illuminates, with satisfying crispness, the hyper-Confucian high society of the time, as well as the underground Catholic movement. “Koreans are too fond of sex,” opines a character in Hong Sang-soo’s latest film, and this holds true here—active loins and erotic paintings jar this chafingly formal universe at every turn. Lust is put in the service of revenge, itself set in motion by thwarted lust. “The world is so full of vice and men are beasts,” Jo-won (Bae Yong-jun), our jaded antihero, fully immersed in vice and beastliness himself, notes to a pious virgin. In a neat twist, China—source of Confucianism, and in Korea’s case, of Catholicism—is invoked as an earthly paradise, where lovers can escape into anonymity.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on October 5, 2004