Untold Scandal (2003) is an adaptation of the novel "Les Liaisons Dangereuses" which had the very literal film adaptations of Dangerous Liaisons and Valmont, as well as the yuppie teen, pop culture version Cruel Intentions. Proof that a good story is infinitely translatable, Untold Scandal nimbly transports Choderlos De Laclo's tale of upper class deception and sexual games to 19th century Korea.
Cousins Lord Cho Wan (Yong-jun Bae) and Lady Cho (Mik-suk Lee) share a respected cunning, each delighting in engaging various power games, particular those of a sexual and social nature. Lady Cho proposes a new game, wanting her scholar cousin to seduce her hubby's new virgin concubine, impregnating the innocent before she is given over, thus shaming her husband. Lord Cho already has his sights set on his own conquest, that of a notoriously devout Catholic widow (she was married but her husband died before they consummated, and she has remained a virgin), Lady Jung (Do-yeon Jeon), also known as "The Gate of Chastity." So, the two make a wager, if he can bed the chaste widow, Lady Cho will give him what he has always wanted, herself.
And so the game begins. But, the result is not what Lord Cho expected. He tries the usual avenues to charm Lady Jung, getting close to her relatives, donating to her church, all the while trying to act as innocent and noble with his intentions. He even uses his sour reputation as a womanizer to his favor, saying that her charitable ways have won him over and the fact that she cannot accept him, makes him the lowest of all animals. But, then actually he falls for her. This sets about a new game because Lady and Lord Cho's wickedness is too deeply ingrained within them, and the last thing Lady Cho wanted was for her cousin to fall in love.
If anything, Untold Scandal's largest fault may be the stories familiarity. Not much about the story has been changed, only culturalized, so it has to bear the weight of being measured against the other film adaptations as well as the original source. It does quite well, though cinematically, it doesn't have the classic status that the well-rounded and dramatically superior Dangerous Liaisons carries. Still, the themes remain strong, the social structure of the classes, the gossip, reputations, and the slant that females must be more protective of their image in order to secretly maintain the upper hand.
It is a very fine film with eye-popping production design and exquisite direction. The performances are all quite good. Lord and Lady Cho are given the proper amount of venom and sneaky cheshire cat grins as they play out their debauched competition. They are tricky roles to be sure, especially Lord Cho being unable to be happy, how he still succumbs to his old ways and must reject Lady Jung. Mik-suk Lee doesn't quite give Lady Cho the gravity that Glenn Close managed with the character in Liasons but she still creates a deep, layered character. The real standout in the film is Do-yeon Jeon as Lady Jung. Behind her plain look she carves out a great performance of a very reserved woman who slowly gets broken down by matters of the heart- a heart that she has kept stifled, making her eventual heartbreak very deeply felt.
The DVD: Kino
Picture: Anamorphic Widescreen. The film boasts some great sets with sumptuous decor and a strong vivid primary color scheme. Luckily this is well-represented by the sharp print that also has deep contrast and good color details. On the negative side there is some spotting and compression present. In terms of the spotting, it is nothing more than minor white fleck or two, though they are large and frequent enough to be noticeable. The compression is ever present and shouldn't be that bothersome on smaller screens, however those with larger systems may want to be wary.
Sound: DD 2.0 Stereo, Korean language, optional English subtitles. Sound quality is fine. Dialogue is clear and centered. Atmospherics are limited but good. The light score, built around lilting string arrangements, is very pretty and a perfect match for the film.
Extras: Image gallery— Trailer, plus more Kino released Korean film trailers.
Conclusion: Very good film, providing a different cultures take on some very translatable material. Very worth checking out. The DVD isn't much to do flips over, though certainly worth a casual purchase or a rental.