English Title: Masquerade
Original Title: Gwanghae, Wangyidoen namja
Country: South Korea
Genre: Drama, History
Director: Choo Chang-min
Music: Kim Jun-seong, Mowg
Cinematography: Lee Tae-yun
2012’s South Korean box office champion (a No. 3 all-time grossing picture in the history of Korean cinema), this period drama stars Lee Byung-hun for a meaty dual role, the king and his doppelgänger scoundrel, intricately chronicles a spell of 15 days’ clandestine regency under the helm of the said doppelgänger.
A grandeur of a period drama pivots heavily on its art design, set decoration, makeup and costumes whether or not can conjure a believable world of that time, as a result MASQUERADE is impeccable in all these aspects. Despite basically it is an interior chamber piece, a few outdoor shots meticulously dispense us legitimate solemnity and natural quaintness.
The outline of the story is quite straightforward, and all the ramifications are predictable, the transformation from a good-to-nothing to a righteous and gallant role model is the unflagging keynote, director Choo Chang-min interposes effectual gags in-between the brooding atmosphere, first time we saw a king breaks wind on screen and his eye-opening defecation formalities, which is gross at first glance, but the comical reaction is pure golden! (Hollywood should learn how to turn repellent vulgarity into some genuine laughter from it).
Finally Lee scoops up his representative work on big screen which could testify his talent beyond the awful exploitation of his taciturn Asian fighter figure in Hollywood action potboilers. Acting with his mother tongue, the constant changeover of manners and tones is a demanding task, he successfully nail both the imperial majesty and the antic street-smartness. What is more touching is among the set pieces where the expendable side characters face their doom, Lee’s reactive performances are wonderfully empathetic, effectively efface the cliche and sappy default of a thin plot. Ryo Seung-yong (the helping hand), Han Hyo-ju (the queen) and Jang Gwang (the eunuch) all offer a more subtler presence pertains to their different functions.
There is an elephant in the room since everyone knows the impostor cannot be spared at any rate, so the film cunningly contrives a twist to lift the culmination which we cannot say is a mind-blowing one, at least it is a tenable one. Overall, the film is slightly over-stretching its sentimentality but nevertheless stands for a universal crowd-pleaser and a top-notcher of South Korean film industry.