A scene from "Dangerous Liaisons." (Handout )
It speaks to the storytelling heft of Choderlos de Laclos' 18th-century French novel "Les Liaisons Dangereuses" that there's nary a bad adaptation of his dryly venal yarn of sexual gamesmanship.
The latest, Chinese director Hur Jin-ho's "Dangerous Liaisons," adapted by Yan Geling, lays this timeless boudoir chess board over the moneyed class in 1930s Shanghai, where a wealthy businesswoman (an agreeably devilish Cecilia Cheung) and a roguish playboy (Dong-gun Jang) wager over the carnal conquests of a tycoon's virginal teen bride (Wang Yijin) and a morally upright, widowed teacher (Zhang Ziyi).
Visual sumptuousness trumps the coldly erotic dastardliness of previous incarnations, but where this version feasts is on close-ups, with exchanges between pairs of eyes — the predatory versus the hesitant, the manipulatively comforting opposite the blindly vulnerable — that recall the silent era.
Zhang, expertly conveying someone closed off yet silently sensual, even rolls out a tear during a moment of impending intimacy as exquisitely timed as a dancer's move. It's behind veils of bitterness, pride and prudishness where De Laclos' knife-twister most delights, after all, something this performance-rich "Liaisons" understands.
"Dangerous Liaisons." No MPAA rating; In Mandarin with English subtitles. Running time: 1 hour, 50 minutes. At AMC Atlantic Times Square 14, Monterey Park.