**Warning: Spoiler Alert**
I love how even though the international title of the film – Masquerade – and the translation of the Korean title, 광해, 왕이 된 남자 – Gwanghae: The Man Who Became King – while both different, both accurately reflect the film. For the purposes of the review though, I will only refer to it as Masquerade. The film – which was released in Korea and North America in September – is a historical drama which is an interpretation of a brief period of the reign of Korea’s Joseon Dynasty King Gwang-hae.
Now I knew it was based on a real person/event – King Gwang-hae – but imagine my surprise upon doing some background reading for this review when I found out that there really is two weeks of missing records. Cool, so the writers could come up with their vision of what happened in that time. Basically, the story is set in Korea in the 1600s and is both a fascinating look into palace life of the day and an immensely entertaining film.
What’s the film about?
King Gwang-hae, played by Lee Byung-hun (이병헌), asks his chief advisor – Heo Gyun, played by Ryoo Seung-ryong (류승룡) – to find him a body double so he could both avoid assassination attempts and so he can visit his mistress secretly at night. Ha-sun, also played by Lee Byung-hun (이병헌), is an entertainer who is found in the search for a look-alike and is convinced to work part-time as a body double for the king. Unfortunately, after only a couple of nights sitting in for the king, Ha-sun is asked to portray the king full-time as the king’s fears come true and he has fallen victim to poisoning.
The film follows the next two weeks as Ha-sun acts as the king while the king recovers from poison. Can he fool everyone? Can he fool the king’s wife? Would he make a better king? Will the king recover?
My thoughts on Masquerade
I enjoyed Masquerade I went back and watched it again with a group of friends. Seriously, I loved the film and I’m definitely not the only person as it’s still playing at the Cineplex Odeon Yonge & Dundas and Cineplex Odeon Sheppard Cinemas in Toronto (in its third week). While I don’t always pay attention to the length of time that Korean films stay in the theatres in Toronto, I do know that many of them don’t last past the initial week as I’ve missed a few due to a fully scheduled week. Luckily, Masquerade has been quite popular and its run has been extended so you still have a chance to see it if you haven’t.
Lee Byung-hun (이병헌) was simply amazing in this film – actually, I think he’s been great in everything I’ve seen him in from IRIS (a Korean drama) to the Good, the Bad, the Weird (좋은 놈, 나쁜 놈, 이상한 놈). From my research, this is his first historical role and it’s the first role with comical elements I’ve seen him in. But he’s surprisingly funny. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry (I wasn’t the only one in the theatre with tears… really, I wasn’t) and you’ll grow to love one of his characters – Ha-sun – who is really sweet.
One of my favourite parts is Ha-sun’s interactions with the food taster – so cute – while the other is when he realizes he’s gazing at the queen and tries to hide – so cute and funny.
You’ll howl with laughter when Ha-sun asks where the bathroom is and he finds out how the king uses the facilities. Your heart will break when the food taster eats something she’s not supposed to. And the ending will have you at the edge of your seat.
Masquerade is a fantastic and thoroughly entertaining film. The story is engaging, the acting solid – especially by Lee Byung-hun and Ryoo Seung-ryong, whom I loved in Personal Taste (개인의 취향) and Arrow: The Ultimate Weapon (최종병기 활) – and the balance between comedy & drama is perfect. Whether Masquerade is your first or 100th Korean film, I highly recommend it as one that you’ll love as much as I did!
Have you seen Masquerade? What did you think?