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Untold Scandal

Reviewed By Elaine Perrone
Posted 07/19/04 05:36:12

"Simply breathtaking!"
5 stars (Awesome)

SCREENED AT SEATTLE INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL 2004: Writer-director Lee Jae-yong's exquisite retelling of Choderlos de Laclos' Les Liaisons Dangereuses, set in 18th century feudal Korea, far from simply being a remake of Dangerous Liaisons, is a visually stunning, elegantly told tragi-comedy of manners in its own right, sumptuously designed and costumed, beautifully acted, and highly erotic.

In the process of making the classic tale his own, Lee (with co-writers Kim Hyeon-jeong and and Kim Dae-woo) has crafted a sumptuous rendering of the goings-on amid the ruling class at the end of the Cho-sun dynasty, when rigid Confucianism clashed with individual expression:

Cho-won is a scholar, a painter, a martial artist, and a legendary seducer of beautiful women. His married cousin, Lady Cho, who was one of his first conquests, outwardly lives a life beyond reproach but secretly indulges in affairs of her own with a series of younger men.

Determined to humiliate her husband, who is about to take a new concubine, 16 year old So-ok, Lady Cho assigns Cho-won the task of seducing So-ok and impregnating her. Cho-won considers this far from a challenge and proposes instead to seduce Lady Chung, who is a strict Confucian, a devoted Catholic, and a widow who has remained chaste in the nine years since her husband's death -- a woman, in fact, so virtuous that she is known as "The Gate of Chastity."

The wager: If Cho-won triumphs in his seduction of Lady Chung, he will be allowed to bed Lady Cho.

The combination of Lee's impeccable attention to detail and the camera wizardry of cinematographer Kim Byung-il are breathtaking. The artistry at work is simply stunning to behold, whether focused on a meticulously recreated 18th century estate, colorful pots of makeup on a dressing table, or the same gorgeous colors juxtaposed on a dinner setting.

Likewise, the performances are uniformly stellar, from Lee Mi-sook as the icily conniving Madame Cho, to the very hunky Bae Yong-jun as the womanizing artist/scholar Cho-won, to the ethereally beautiful Jeon Do-yeon as the chaste, devout young widow Lady Chung on whom Cho-won has set his sights. Equally fine in smaller supporting roles are Lee So-yeon as the charming young concubine So-ok, and Jo Hyeon-jae as her smitten suitor Kwon In-ho, who also becomes entangled in Lady Chung's web.

A feast for the senses and the spirit, everything about Untold Scandal simply sings!

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