Two wealthy socialites in 1931 Shanghai, Mo Jieyu (Cecilia Cheung), and Xie Yifan (Dong-gun Jang) make a bet. She wants revenge against an ex-lover who left her to wed a 16 year old schoolgirl, while Xie Yifan wants to bed his cousin, Du Fenyu (Ziyi Zhang). The stakes? If he beds his cousin before she gets revenge against her ex-lover by causing his schoolgirl bride to be to lose her virginity before the wedding, thus causing him to not want her anymore since he insists that his bride be a virgin, then she gets to build a port on some property that he owns. If he should bed his cousin first, then he’ll get what he always wanted…Mo Jieyu.
Even though Xie Yifan is a womanizer, there’s only one woman he’s ever truly loved or wanted, and that’s Mo Jieyu. Unfortunately, she’s a widow, and also very distrusting of men, choosing to control them and be in the power position rather than allowing them to use her and manipulate her feelings. As such, their past relationship is just a distant memory, though they have remained friends. As the events surrounding their bet progress throughout the film, and the manipulations continue to multiply, those involved suffer the consequences of it, and the pair eventually discover that their ill conceived bet will cost them more than they ever imagined.
"Oh what a tangled web we weave, when first we practice to deceive." – Sir Walter Scott (Marmion, 1808)
That’s a very famous quote, and no other could more perfectly describe this film. The film itself is an adaptation of the famous French novel, Les Liasons Dangereuses.
What happens when you take a brilliantly written story with a plot that weaves its way through like so many tentacles, and combine that with lush and beautifully designed sets and costume design, and then add a brilliant cast into the mix who really understood the characters and knew how to bring them to life? You get a film like this. That’s what happens.
The first thing that caught my eye about this film, was the fact that it had Cecilia Cheung in it. Fans of Stephen Chow’s films may recognize her, as she appeared in a couple of his films, as well as a laundry list of others, many of which are very notable. At some point in 2006, she took a five year break from films after The 601st Phone Call, and then resumed her career in 2011 with All’s Well Ends Well 2011, and has continued working steadily since. I believe the hiatus was because she had two children with her husband, Nicholas Tse (now divorced). She had one child in 2007, and the other in 2010, so it makes sense that she took some time off. Looking at her in this film, you’d never know she was gone, or had children. She looks absolutely amazing, as she always has, and the delicious duality she brings to the character, with her ability to appear sweet and classy, while at the same time using that appearance to maniuplate others to achieve her own ends is nothing short of brilliant. There are times when you want to like her character and see her come to her senses about how negatively her actions have affected others, while at the same time, her sinister machinations make you want to see her utterly fail in her plans. It’s a wonderful performance with a depth of character that is simply undeniable.
Dong-gun Jang was equally adept in his role as the rich playboy. What I enjoyed the most about his performance, oddly enough, was the way he would get this slight, knowing smile once in a while when something would amuse him, or when he knew his schemes were working. It’s funny how something as simple as an amused smile and the reason behind it can give you so much insight into the soul of a character, but that’s what we get in this film.
The entire cast of the film was absolutely stellar, to the point of being nearly flawless, with one exception. Ziyi Zhang’s portrayal of Du Fenyu, Xie Yifan’s cousin, was…, well, it was weird. You know how people rip on Kristen Stewart for her emotionless performances? Well it was kind of like that, only with this blank look and one emotion, which was mostly this unsure, blah, troubled, blank sort of a look. Through much of the film, she felt like a gray, cardboard cutout in a room full of colorful 3D figurines. In the times where she does show emotion, she fits in better with the rest of the cast, but because she spends so much time with this blah look on her face that the emotional times end up feeling out of place for the character.
The set design, locations and costuming are a feast for the eyes. Every detail pulls you right into 1931 Shanghai, and it looks as if no expense was spared. With an estimated budget of 31 million dollars, you can see in the result how wisely they used that money.
I’ll be honest. I wasn’t looking forward to seeing this film. Typically, I’m not big on dramas, but within a very short period of time, this film won me over. As I got sucked more and more into the story, I found myself engrossed in the plot’s many winding threads, so brilliantly written by Geling Yan, and fleshed out into an immersive experience by a talented cast who really understood the intricacies of their characters.
So in the end, a film that I wasn’t really wasn’t overly looking forward to watching or reviewing, totally won me over. The stunning visuals, wonderfully written story and the brilliant way the actors brought their characters to life, make this a film that I can, with great pleasure, highly recommend. Even if this type of a film isn’t normally your thing, you should really give it a chance. I think you’ll find that it’ll win you over as well.
This release is from Well Go USA, and as per usual with their releases, the video quality is stunning and the sound is excellent. For special features, it includes a making of featurette, a behind the scenes look at the film and trailers.
If you’d like to find out more about this film, you can check out its page on the Well Go USA website here, and if you’d like to get a copy for yourself, you can pick up the blu-ray or DVD releases from Amazon, or from any of the other usual outlets.