Cecilia Cheung is among my favourite actresses—and in Dangerous Liaisons, she portrays the role of cunning, shrewd businesswoman Mo Jieyu, who plots to use one of her friends, Xie Yifan (played by Jang Dong-gun), to ruin the reputation of her business rival. Dangerous Liaisons also comes from the director of one of my favourite films, A Season of Good Rain. It was indeed a pleasure to watch another one of Hur Jin-ho’s films, especially one that follows his tradition of building strong character dramas that extract experiences, struggles and tragedy from everyday life.
The movie beautifully captures the splendour and opulence of pre-war Shanghai, the Paris of the East. From the scenes of Nanjing Road to the Tiffany lamps, costumes and party scenes, Hur has created a world only rivaled by the glitzy Great Gatsby. The camera is rarely stationary, and panning and zooming shots render a feeling of constant motion and action in the movie despite the relatively banal nature of the plot: a businesswoman who conspires to cause a man to steal the virginity of her business rival and ex-boyfriend’s young fiancee-to-be. In scenes of distress, the camera sways as if the characters in the film were losing their stable grasp on reality.
Cecilia Cheung steps into the role of Lady Mo with amazing accuracy, as if that was her personality off-screen. Her eyes yield the cutting vision of a self-serving woman who will stop at no lengths to achieve her goals—even her smile and bodily motions reveal the demeanor of a Greek siren.
The performance of Zhang Ziyi (indeed, making this film’s cast truly an all-star team) as Du Fenyu, the young widow and cousin of playboy Xie Yifan, is noteworthy as well. Zhang plays the role of a demure widow whose simple “good girl” personality would normally be insignificant in most dramas; however, in Dangerous Liaisons, her initial reluctance to get involved with Xie develops from cold deflection to a boiling point when she finally allows herself to be enveloped by her hidden affection for Xie. Zhang carries out Du’s child-like affection for Xie as if it was drawn from her own personal life; the way Du looks at Xie when she first kisses him to the childish look of joy when she prepares lunch for him make her character’s personality as an innocent victim of the power struggle between Mo and her ex-boyfriend.
Jang Dong-gun, perhaps most well-known for his role in the blockbuster Korean film Taegukgi, plays the role of a playboy heir who changes over the course of the film from sleeping around between multiple beautiful women to developing genuine affection for one woman, one who is neither as young nor beautiful as his previous exploits; in that sense, his character demonstrates significant development, albeit to the credit of the screenwriters rather than Jang himself. Though Jang performance is superb, his role is almost left undervalued throughout the film, as Dangerous Liaisons appears to feature a mostly female-driven plot. It would have been great to have seen Jang’s portrayal of Xie given a greater weight.
Perhaps the most stunning part of this movie is indeed the excellent cinematography; from the colours of summer in the movie’s beginning, filled with joy and merriment, to the dull colours of winter as the movie’s plot becomes darker and more tragic, to the final scenes when snow first begins to fall in Shanghai, Dangerous Liaisons is a sumptuous visual treat.
Overall, Dangerous Liaisons features an all-star cast with some of Asian cinema’s most famous actors, as well as a leading Asian director. It is hard to go wrong with such a team, and the film lives up to its expectations by presenting a beautifully tragic story of how one woman’s scheming ends up costing the people who surround her dearly.
Dangerous Liaisons (Chinese: 危险关系)—China. Directed by Hur Jin-ho. Debuted May 2012 in Cannes, released in China in September 2012. Running time 1hr and 50min. Starring Cecilia Cheung, Zhang Ziyi, and Jang Dong-gun.