Korean director Hur Jin-ho transplants the French story seamlessly to 1930s Shanghai. The sophistication and decadence of the pre-revolutionary period form a glittering backdrop for the machinations and sexual games of the main characters.
Mo Jieyu is a successful and prominent businesswoman. She is incensed to discover that a lover has discarded her in favour of an innocent 16-year old girl. Determined to despoil the virginity that he prizes so much, she tries to enlist the help of an infamous dilettante and playboy, Xie Yifan. Xie initially turns her down as he already has his mind set on seducing his virtuous distant cousin, Du Yufen. Mo and Xie have a long and complicated relationship and she scoffs at his ability to charm Du. They set a wager; if he fails, he will give a prized piece of property to her but if he wins, he will become her lover.
For those familiar with the Stephen Frears Hollywood adaptation, comparisons are inevitable. There are many similarities but there are also some notable differences. Hur's version skews towards melodrama and, although the actors are not necessarily younger than their Hollywood counterparts were at the time of their film, the characters are played as younger.
Zhang Ziyi had her pick of the roles and chose Du, whom she plays with sweetness and restraint. Cecilia Cheung is the manipulative and conniving Mo. Korean actor Jang Dong-gun is dashing and magnetic as Xie; that he keeps the character from descending into caricature seems all the more impressive when it is revealed that he does not really speak Mandarin and had to learn his lines by rote.
The transfer of the story to Shanghai offers a fresh and interesting perspective on a familiar tale. It is an enjoyable diversion and a sumptuous feast for the eyes.
Director: Hur Jin-Ho
Principal Cast: Shawn Dou, Lisa Lu, Ziyi Zhang, Dong-gun Jang, Cecilia Cheung
Saturday September 15th
TIFF Bell Lightbox 1, 6:45pm
Written by Pauline Dong
A native Torontonian, Pauline enjoys much that the city has to offer, especially in the areas of food and drink. She is also an enthusiastic traveller and explorer of other cultures. A self-described film geek, her interest in movies was first piqued by the early works of Steven Soderbergh, Quentin Tarantino and Wong Kar-Wai. More a fan than a critic, she invites your thoughts on the films in her articles.