Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Zhang Ziyi and Cecilia Cheung in “Dangerous Liaisons”

Setting Dangerous Liaisons in Shanghai during the 1930s and opening it out slightly to include glimpses of the social and political unrest of the time and place was an interesting and not altogether successful decision by its creators. One of the reasons that the 330 year old French novel remains such a rich source for cautionary tales of amorality, libertinage and emotional cruelty is the confined hothouse atmosphere the characters inhabit in Paris and in various chateaux. While Les Liaisons dangereuses was set seven short years before the storming of the Bastille, Choderlos de Laclos, its author, was secretary to Louis XVI’s cousin and hardly one to bring the Paris mob into his account of aristocratic licentiousness.

So making Du Fenyu the widow of a hero of the struggle against the Japanese and the warlords, including having her make an impassioned fundraising pitch at an haute-bourgeois party was a distraction—it also telegraphed to the audience that she would still be around when the closing credits rolled. Zhang Ziyi was excellent as Du Fenyu, gliding through most of the movie on a cloud of moral superiority while helping activists who were her husband’s students escape the police and rebuffing the advances of the cad Xie Yifan until she finally succumbs to him.

Zhang Ziyi as the too good to be true Du Fenyu

I feel that Jang Dong-Gun played Xie Yifan much too broadly with constant smirks and knowing leers as he stalked his prey, planning to seduce Du Fenyu to win a bet with the imperious and beautiful Mo Jieyu. Du Fenyu neither knows nor understands the level of his duplicity although he underlines his amoral behavior whenever given a chance.

One would not want to be on the wrong side of Mo Jieyu, perfectly portrayed by Cecilia Cheung. She is more than a match for any of the men around her is obviously the strongest although most repellent character onscreen. One hated Madame Mo while marveling at Cecilia Cheung’s pure talent and screen presence. In on short, memorable scene she essentially seduces the lingerie clad Beibei when convincing her to model for Dai, setting in motion her plan to use the innocent, convent raised Beibei to hit back at Beibei’s new fiancé, a wealthy businessman formerly Madame Mo’s suitor.

Cecelia Cheung as the formidably evil Mo Jieyu

The opulent interiors and elegant costumes were very well designed and rendered as was the evocation of Shanghai in the late 1930s. There are a lot of notable parts to” Dangerous Liaisons” but they don’t really add up to a compelling film.

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