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Written by Funn Lim


"I am still shocked at the time of writing this review that I just saw Bae Yong-jun's bum."

SPOILERS! SPOILERS! SPOILERS!




Korean Title
Joseon namnyeo sangyeoljisa

Released In
2003

Language
Korean

Directed by
E J-Yong

Cast
Lee Mi-suk .... Lady Cho
Jeon Do-yeon .... Suk
Bae Yong-jun .... Sir Cho-won
Jo Hyeon-jae .... Kwon In-ho
Lee So-yeon .... So-ok


Summary
Taken from IMDB.com with some alteration and addition by me.

Bae Yong-jun (Winter Sonata, Hotelier) makes his movie debut in Untold Scandal, an erotic tale that invites viewers to controversial happenings in 18th century Korea during the Chosun dynasty.

Based on the French novel Dangerous Liaisons by Pierre Choderlos de Laclos, Untold Scandal revolves around talented playboy Cho Won & his efforts to seduce Madam Suk (Jeon Do-youn) who has been defending her chastity for 9 years (her fiance died even before they were married) whom he felt was a challenge to woo. At the meantime the woman he lusted after for years, his cousin Lady Cho (Lee Mi-sook) who is married to Lord Yu asked him for a favour; that he seduces and impregnates his husband's (Lord Yu) 16 year old virginal concubine named So-ok just to spite her husband. Cho Won flatly refuses and when Lady Cho heard of his target, she gave him a wager he could not refuse; that if he successfully seduced the pious Suk, he could bed her (that is Madam Cho) but if he fails, he will have to become a monk. Thereafter it was all lies and deceptions as he went along seducing the very hard to woo Suk who was determined to be moved by his efforts as she was well versed with his reputation. But after some time, her heart gave way as she saw within Cho a man capable to love and gave herself to him. Madam Cho in turn refuses to acknowledge Cho had won the wager and disputed the blood on the cloth that was sent to her. Angered, Cho stomped away only to be confronted with Lady Cho's evil deeds who has been spreading rumours about Suk's infidelity in a society that does not condone women to behave out of the rules dictated by Confucius. In order to save Suk's reputation, Cho broke up with Suk in the most painful way, much to the satisfaction of Lady Cho. Suk returned to her hometown to nurse the sick who was inflicted with the plague whilst Suk herself has lost confidence in life. It was during this time Cho realises he was in love with Suk and wrote a letter to Suk begging for forgiveness. And then Suk's brother in law appeared and challenged Cho to a duel to disastrous results.

Comments
If you watched this movie and thought it familiar, it is. It is based on the book and the movie of the same name, Dangerous Liaisons which was given a modern twist in Cruel Intentions. You can say this Korean version is an international twist to the book. I believe even the Chinese can adapt this book because the themes are universal, more so during the good old days when reputation is everything. There are jealousy, love, lust, betrayal, you name it this movie got it. The main protagonist is of course a heartless cold womaniser, Cho Won who has the looks, the breeding and the talent to make great contributions in the court of the olden days, instead he used his time to seduce women. He enjoyed painting them in the nude which he kept as memorabilia. He felt the challenge was getting lesser and lesser and then he stumbled upon Suk who came to his town to get away from the plague in her village. She is the ultimate challenge, the virginal bride, her fiance died even before marriage, a woman who lived and breathed her role as a chaste, scandal free pious woman. And yet she breaks the rule by joining the banned Christian group, which I believe is her only disobedience of the rules dictated to her.

As Cho Won went along to woo her, we can see what a bastard this man was. This being a man who is a widower, whom everybody assumed that he never remarried because of his love for his dead wife, a fact he didn't even try to deny although I suspect it more because he enjoyed the independence and because he lusted after his own cousin. In front of Suk he begged her for her heart and once his back is facing the emotionally conflicted Suk, he smiled that wily smile, knowing he would win her heart and her body in the end. And when he did, he discovered the joy of making love to a woman who gave him all and perhaps he didn't realise it then, he spent more time with her than he anticipated. In a way Suk humanised Cho and made him a mortal man, susceptible to love. He even entertained being with her for the rest of his life, if not for wanting to claim his prize; Lady Cho.

Lady Cho in itself is an interesting character. She married a man she didn't love, she was in love with a man she couldn't have, and yet she seduced him, played with his lust, ignited his passion, all without even letting him touch her. Cho Won wanted her badly and she knew it. And then when she realised Cho was spending much too much time with Suk, she knew she was losing him. When Cho came and told her he will not be coming to see her anymore, jealousy rears its ugly head and she went about destroying the reputation of Suk, instigating a jealous rage in her (as in Lady Cho) young lover, In-Ho who was actually in love with So-ok. In a way she masterminded the downfall of Cho, causing his ultimate demise.

The only character that I find a bit boring to watch is Suk herself, though I understood perfectly why Cho fell for her. For once he was having a decent conversation with a woman, when usually he would be seducing her, sleeping with her. Taking away all that, he revealed himself emotionally and Suk fell for that man. Her ending is shocking though. Definitely will induce a tear or two.

Now I must say something about the contents of this movie which has very interesting plot, and even more interesting acting. The problem with this movie is not the language barrier or even the outdated society norms (which is why Cruel Intentions failed because it couldn't be the case in modern context). The problem is also not because of all the sex (and I will elaborate on this later on). Rather the problem is the pacing. This movie is slow, it is very very slow and if you saw the edited version, I doubt you will find it remotely interesting. I must confess, I find this movie engaging because of 3 fold;

1. the characters and the performances, especially by Bae Yong-jun and Lee Mi-sook

2. the costume, scenery, rituals, a very beautifully shot movie

3. sex.

The 3rd point is the main reason. This is after all Bae Yong-jun's first movie, and why he chose this movie, I wonder. Fans of his will be shocked because this is not Winter Sonata. His character, Cho Won is despicable, you will hate him for the way he uses women, the way he seduces the innocent So-ok, the way he betrayed the heart of Suk, the way he smiled that cheeky smile of his quite arrogantly, the way he talked to the servants. There is nothing honourable about Cho Won and Bae Yong-jun gave a more than adequate performance. He uses his charm that we so often see in his tv series, only this time to a very negative effect. His performance will seduce you, lull you and then shock you as he went about wooing and breaking Suk's heart like it meant nothing. But the most shocking part is in the very first scene, you will see him painting a naked woman, beckoning her to come to him and proceeded to squeeze her breasts. There is no body double in here, it's all Bae Yong-jun and that I find shocking.

Eroticism and sex happens often in this movie. From full blown sex to nakedness to oral sex (both done to him or by him), almost every scene involves some form of such erotic act. Yes, I find them erotic, because they are beautifully shot, meant to seduce you and there are some meant to be funny. Like one scene Cho Won was reading a letter by Suk begging him to stop writing to her and he was smiling to himself because he knew he was almost there and suddenly he snapped at someone to "Don't be so hard!" and we see a woman's head bobbing up and down between his thighs. Ohhh, his Cho Won is despicable. We see him seducing a young innocent So-ok, in fact raping her in a very subtle way. She was writing a letter as she laid on her belly on the floor, and he moved to her, sat next to her, whilst dictating the letter to her (which she is writing to explain to In-ho why they can't continue their relationship) proceeded to part her skirt, exposing her buttocks, basically planted a kiss there and when she protested, he pushed onto her bed and trapped her under him and well, did what he set out to do. I am sure you get the picture what kind of man Cho-Won is, he won't take no for an answer.

Almost every woman in this series would have stripped once or will be involved in some sex scene at least once, except for Lee Mi-sook who by her stockinged feet could seduce the viewer of the possibility of it all.

And if you're expecting a full nude scene of Bae Yong-jun, I am afraid that will never happen. However you can get a good view of his rather toned upper body (looks way nicer than he was in that swimming pool scene in Hotelier) and yes, his bum, a very good view indeed. I am still shocked at the time of writing this review that I just saw Bae Yong-jun's bum. I admire his bravery in his choice for a movie debut; this role could either make or break him and I believe it made him.

Performances wise, Lee Mi-suk is outstanding as the cunning Lady Cho. I find her ending rather poignant. After all Lady Cho did tried her best to destroy Cho and yet the final scene as she was on a boat as a fugitive, she opened her handkerchief and we could see flower petals in it. They were the same petals that she discarded away when Cho gave it to her in the beginning of the series. We knew now in that scene she actually kept it. As the wind blew the petals away and she tried to reach out for them, in her mind she saw only one image; that is of Cho Won smiling at her. That ending scene is perhaps the best scene, it summarised the complicated feelings of every character in this series especially of Lady Cho; she really loved him but driven to do what she did because of anger and jealousy when she realised in his heart, she was no longer there. The only reason she stuck in a loveless marriage was because she knew Cho Won's heart always had her and that gave her an advantage. A very good ending.

Jeon Do-yeon as Suk is ok, but boring to watch because her character is supposed to be perfect in a way whilst Lee So-yeon as So-ok is quite interesting to watch as we see this young innocent virgin misguided by Lady Cho and learn to love sex when with Cho Won. When she told Lady Cho what Cho Won did to her, she was wrecked with guilt but darn Lady Cho told her it was alright, so she thought that kind of physical relationship with Cho Won was ok. Definitely misguided and a good performance.

All other guys are very boring to watch, except for Bae Yong-jun who gave his character all the charm, the cunningness, the seduction. Excellent performance if you ask me as I thought about it. And I doubt you can recognise him at first because he is without his signature fashion statement; his glasses.

And if there's one thing to look forward to in this movie, is learning things I thought I knew but didn't.

For one, I always thought Korean girls wear pants under the long flowing skirt but one scene as Cho Won parted So-ok's skirt, it was evident they don't wear pants, they wear underwear tied by the side. I didn't know that.

Another is official uniform for men in those days included a very big black hat, loads of layers of clothing that really doesn't show a man's good body and uniform includes also beard, nicely trimmed beard.

By the way, the soundtrack is worth buying.

Verdict
Whilst I may have over emphasised on the sex part (which is plenty), this movie uses sex as tool to the narration of the story. And there is a story. For those who has seen the original version, the updated version and read the book, I believe this movie will provide a fresh view. Slow as it may be, any person who is familiar with Bae Yong-jun and especially his fans will find this movie engrossing for many reasons. Watch it for Bae Yong-jun (now now don't be shocked, you have been warned) and for the fine performances, the sceneries, the costumes. Ohhhh just forget what I said. Just watch it for Bae Yong-jun. If you went gaga over that swimming pool scene in Hotelier, I am sure you will definitely get ready with your binoculars for this movie to get a really big view of your small TV screen. Seriously, it's an interesting adaptation, finely acted. Those who wants a tamer version might consider the censored version (VCD if pirated) and for those who wants the full act, try the DVD version (pirated).

Rating
4 out of 5

Quick Facts
This film attracted no less than 1.12 million viewers 5 days after its premier screening in Korea.

This is Bae Yong-jun's first movie, which is interesting because I always thought he had acted in movies before and then I realise I was thinking about Jang Dong-gun.

You can actually find reviews of this movie at Rottentomatoes.com, all of which are favourable.

Download Pictures
Some pictures (very clear copies) taken from various sources.


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