Dangerous Liaisons in 1930’s Shanghai

The Jang Dong-gun Seduction Games: China’s Adaptation of Dangerous Liaisons

Re-routed to 1930’s Shanghai, the latest adaptation of the romantic thriller Dangerous Liaisons stars Zhang Ziyi, Cecelia Cheung, and Korea’s Jang Dong-gun as the serial womanizer.

by Ada Tseng

Jazz music plays in the background as the debonair Xie Yifan (played by Jang Dong-gun) gets his hair done in his lavish apartment. He admires his chiseled good looks in a multiple-planed mirror that conveniently showcases the many angles of his hotness. He’s calm as a cucumber when a girlfriend surprises him with a morning visit, only to find another naked lady in his bed. He quietly slips out with his coffee when an inevitable catfight breaks out: it’s just a typical part of his normal day.

Outside, he meets Du Fenyu (Zhang Ziyi, often sporting a deer-in-headlights expression to convey fear and innocence), who he assumes is another one of his girls he has already forgotten. She is the type of woman who feels the need to adjust her too-open cardigan, even though she’s already covered from neck to toe by her qipao — her traditional Chinese dress is white, the ultimate color of purity. Du Fenyu seems horrified just by his attempt at conversation, let alone by any hint of flirtation or advances, which of course makes her an attractive challenge for this veteran seduction artist.

The Dangerous Liaisons story has been adapted many times; most famous in the US is either the 1988 Academy Award-nominated film of the same name starring John Malkovich, Glenn Close, and Michelle Pfieffer or the Sarah Michelle Gellar/Ryan Phillippe/Reese Witherspoon love triangle in Cruel Intentions, depending on your generation.

Those familiar with the story know that this game of seduction has an integral third player, the instigator of a high-stakes bet against love that could lead to all of their downfalls. In the Chinese-language version, Mo Jieyu (Cecelia Cheung) is Xie Yifan’s female match in terms of their similar views of victims as pawns for their play. Cheung expertly plays off what has become an inherant assumption (fair or not) of both her public and on-screen personas — the bad girl who can’t be trusted — in a scene-stealing performance that is equal parts menacing and thrilling to watch.

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