Another remake in yet another foreign location and in different time period, the latest adaptation of Chloderlos de Laclos' 18th century work proves just how powerful, adaptable and universal its sentiments remain, even if this one doesn't particularly have anything new to add to distinguish it from some more adventurous reworkings. At the very least however, Shanghai in the 1930s is a suitably glamorous setting for the decadent affairs of a couple of rich aristocrats and Hur Jin-ho successfully delivers the necessary emotional punch in what is nonetheless an effective, beautiful and stylish version of Dangerous Liaisons.
Korean director Hur Jin-ho's films - April Snow, One Fine Spring Day, Happiness - are well-known for their elements of romance with a bittersweet twist or even a cruel streak, and as such he's a perfect choice for this kind of material. In some respects, with an emphasis on close-ups and in the similarity of choices for certain scenes, the film is quite reminiscent of Stephen Frears' version of Dangerous Liaisons, which has to be the reference point to aspire towards. Hur's Dangerous Liaisons doesn't quite get there, but it is a very stylish adaptation nonetheless, beautifully photographed by Kim Byung-seo (Hur's cinematographer on A Good Rain Knows), every frame suffused in warm golden light. It perhaps owes just as much to Wong Kar-Wai's 2046 (which in a way is a variation on the themes of Dangerous Liaisons), in the period detail, in the music cues that imitate Michael Galasso, and - most evidently - in the pairing of Zhang Ziyi with Jang Dong-gun doing his best Tony Leung impersonation, with slicked back hair and pencil moustache.
Hur Jin-ho's Dangerous Liaisons is a little too glossy and smooth to match the cruelty and tragic circumstances of 2046 or Frears' Dangerous Liaisons. Even though it tries to inject some local period detail into the film through the growing threat of the presence of the Japanese in Shanghai, it's a bit half-hearted and lacks the necessary 'danger' that you'll find in Ang Lee's Lust/Caution. The film nonetheless delivers where it counts, with a strong emotional charge particularly in the crucial, cruel rejection scene of Du Fenyu/Mme de Tourvel by Xie Yifan/Valmont and in head-to-head when Xie Yifan claims his prize from Miss Mo/Merteuil. The performances from the leads are fine throughout, but only Zhang Ziyi is really successful in imprinting her own personality onto these familiar roles, bringing something of the character of her revelatory role in 2046 to the film, and her touching performance makes all the difference.