Untold Scandal Review
When I reviewed the French DVD release of a new television adaptation of Les Liaisons Dangereuses set in the 1960s, I commented on the universality of Choderlos de Laclos’ scandalous 18th century tale of decadence and revenge and how it could successfully be adapted to almost any period. As if to prove that point, Korean director E J-Yong has taken the story back to the period in which it was written, transporting it to Korea’s Chosun Dynasty with magnificent results.
Two nobles, Lady Cho and her cousin Cho Won, dedicate their lives to the art of seduction and revenge. As her husband, Lord Yu, is about to take a new concubine, a young 16 year-old, So-oak, the enraged Lady Cho proposes that Cho Won not only deflower the young bride-to-be for revenge, but also make her pregnant. Cho Won doesn’t consider the seduction of a young innocent as much of a challenge and says he would prefer to focus his attention on Lady Jung as the target of his next conquest. Lady Jung, a lifelong virgin, a follower of the foreign Catholic church is moreover known as the Gate of Chastity – so Lady Cho considers this a worthy challenge and promises her cousin a prize should he succeed – herself. As Cho Won attempts his seduction of the virtuous lady through all manner of devious schemes, Lady Cho looks for another candidate to be the instrument of her revenge on her husband.
E J-Yong’s version of the tale relies heavily on the Stephen Frears/Christopher Hampton adaptation Dangerous Liaisons for much of its structure and the sequences. The use of western classical music is at times incongruous, but is perhaps a knowing acknowledgement to the influence of its predecessor. Rather like the earlier film, where Untold Scandal succeeds is in juxtaposing the stiffness and formality of the period setting with the eroticism of the sex scenes – the Korean film even more sexually explicit than any other version of the story I have seen. Untold Scandal truly has a charge and erotic frisson that more updated versions of the story have failed to generate.
The casting – crucial to convincingly carry the outrageous plot – is uniformly excellent. Everyone plays their role admirably, with restraint and subtlety where required and with gusto when the occasion demands. The characters are however perhaps a little too studied and conventional, not really adding to previous explorations of the roles. Without the explosive seduction scenes punctuating the plot development at key intervals, the elegantly paced and structured film would be rather dull. Where the film does make its own mark is in the elegant and striking set and costume design, the bold colour schemes and the exquisite framing of the photography. Untold Scandal also finds its own ending which is original, moving and quite beautiful. Watch out also for the post-credits coda.
The Korean Region 3 release of Untold Scandal is currently available as a Limited Edition Boxset. The 2-DVD set includes all the expected extra features, in Korean only without subtitles, but also includes a beautiful replica book of Cho Won’s erotic paintings of his conquests from the film and three postcard prints of poster designs for the film.
The 1.85:1 anamorphic image is sharp, colours are clear and bright and light balance is perfect, giving strong, solid blacks. There are lots of compression artefacts in the transfer, but these are generally not noticeable through normal playback on a screen of average size. There are however rather too many white dust-spots and other more intrusive marks on the print. They are not too frequent, but in a film where the frames are so carefully composed and balanced in terms of light and colour, they can be intrusive.
The DTS mix of the soundtrack is strong and very active on the surround speakers, particularly for music and ambient sounds of birds and rainfall. I personally found the Dolby Digital 5.1 mix a little more subtle and perhaps more suited to the film.
None of the extra features on the Korean 2-disc include English subtitles. Disc one contains a Director’s commentary for the film, while the second disc has Interviews with cast, crew, costume and set designer, composer and the director in a Q&A presentation of the film. You’ll also find a short Making of with behind the scenes footage, a Photo Gallery and 11 Deleted Scenes with optional director commentary, but no subtitles of any kind. Included among the promotional items are a fabulously tantalising Trailer, one TV Spot, a bizarre Music Video (Kinda’ Kinky) with completely nonsensical English lyrics, and footage of the film’s Premiere. The final Interview on the disc is with the painter of Cho Wun’s Kama Sutra-like erotic drawings. Clearly Korean DVD censorship doesn’t extend to drawings!
Untold Scandal doesn’t add any new or fresh interpretation onto a classic story, but its considerable success in Korea demonstrates that, regardless of the setting, period or culture, its themes are no less relevant and powerful to a modern audience. Despite the lack of subtitles on the extra features, the Special Edition for its fine presentation of the film and the DVD must certainly be recommended.