DANGEROUS LIAISONS (Hur Jin-ho). 111 minutes. Subtitled. Opens Friday (November 9). For venues and times, see Movies. Rating: NNN
This sixth screen version of Choderlos de Laclos's 18th-century epistolary novel transplants the action to 1930s Shanghai, though if there are interesting parallels between the source material's indictment of pre-Revolutionary French decadence and the toxic pre-Communist China shown here, they're obscured by director Hur Jin-ho's predilection for insistent camera flourishes and dizzying opulence.
That's not an entirely bad thing. The glowing fabrics, the gold and amber hues of the interiors and the creamy obsidian undulations of the stunning hairdos are all visually delicious. It's just that after a while you'd rather be seduced by the characters. Seduction, after all, is a big part of what this tale is all about.
Seduction and, of course, power. Affluent rake Xie Yifan (Jang Dong-gun) bets master manipulator and defiantly independent woman Mo Jieyu (Cecilia Cheung) that he can bed the chaste, morally unimpeachable widow Du Fenyu (Zhang Ziyi). The stakes? She wants his property; he wants Mo to be his property.
The complicating factor is love, which creeps up on Yifan as he closes in on Du, much to his dismay.
But there's not enough genuine heat generated between any of these characters to raise this Dangerous Liaisons above the level of haute soap.