I like film adaptations. We all, I suppose, love great faithful ones, such as Gone With the Wind, Sense and Sensibility, Love and Friendship (from Lady Susan), Dangerous Liaisons (Stephen Frears version), The Godfather, The Silence of the Lambs…, but I have a particular fondness for loose adaptations, creative adaptations, especially those with a changed setting. Like Ran, loosely adapted from King Lear. Or Clueless, a modern adaptation of Emma.
Recently I’ve watched 2 excellent South Korean adaptations of Western texts, E J-yong’s Untold Scandal from 18th-century French novel Dangerous Liaisons by Pierre Choderlos de Laclos, and Park Chan-wook’s The Handmaiden from Sarah Waters’s neo-Victorian novel Fingersmith.
Both are beautifully shot and engaging, with fine performances; Untold Scandal especially has exquisite production design. Both have some sexy scenes, with a frank depiction of, and attitude about, sex. Both have elaborate plots, and even though Untold Scandal is about sex, sexual promiscuity (or infidelity), game, and ego, and The Handmaiden focuses on money, lesbians, and kink, both films tackle the same themes of love, lust, seduction plot, innocence, deception, betrayal, cruelty, and revenge. In Untold Scandal, a womaniser places a bet with a woman who was once his lover that he would seduce a young virgin and a moral and pious woman. In The Handmaiden, 2 Korean con-artists concoct a plan to seduce an innocent Japanese woman for her money. With the deceiver being deceived, the player being played, both films suggest the unpredictability of life and the irony of fate, and we can say, the power of love and how it makes everyone vulnerable.
Some stills from Untold Scandal: