- FILM & PEOPLE
- K-Cinema Library
Apr 28, 2020
- Writerby Pierce Conran
2012 | 131 MIN | Epic/Historical, Drama
DIRECTOR CHOO Chang-min
CAST LEE Byung-hun, RYU Seung-ryong, HAN Hyo-joo, JANG Kwang, KIM In-kwon
RELEASE DATE September, 2012
CONTACT CJ Entertainment
The period drama has been a staple of Korean cinema ever since cameras first started rolling in the country in the early 20th century, but in the early 2010s the genre experienced a surge in popularity as the industry started to recover and to welcome record numbers of viewers to theaters. One of the main architects of this boom, which opened the doors to scores of big-budget period epics, was CHOO Chang-min’s Masquerade. Featuring the unique achievement of LEE Byung-hun playing two roles on screen, this effortless crowd-pleaser brought in over 12 million viewers during the Chuseok holidays in 2012.
During the early 17th century, the paranoiac King Gwanghae (LEE Byung-hun) of the Joseon Dynasty, fearing an assassination plot, orders his councilor Heo Kyun (RYU Seung-ryong) to find him a double. Heo finds Ha-sun (LEE Byung-hun), a jester with a striking resemblance to the king and trains him to take on the secret task of being the king’s double. One day, Gwanghae’s fears are realized when he is poisoned. His vassals hide him away as he recuperates and install Ha-sun on the throne to fool the rest of the court. Initially it takes Ha-sun a moment to adjust to court life, but once he does and begins to understand the inequalities within the court, he takes some liberties with his temporary position. All the while, the king’s enemies grow suspicious and draw closer to the fake king.
Masquerade follows the popular template of stories like Mark TWAIN’s novel The Prince and the Pauper, not to mention Ivan REITMAN’s Hollywood movie, the presidential comedy-drama Dave with Kevin KLINE. Korean period dramas often revolve around complicated king’s court power struggles and while Masquerade is also cut from the same cloth, having a character like Ha-sun suddenly installed within it offers the viewer an easy entry point into the political power struggle.
CHOO’s film also features a considerable amount of levity, with a stellar cast of thespians comfortable across comedic and dramatic roles, such as former voice actor JANG Kwang as a eunuch and affable character actor KIM In-kwon as the queen’s personal guard, not to mention RYU Seung-ryong as the king’s councilor Heo, in his last big supporting part before transforming into successful leading actor in the sensationally successful Miracle in Cell No.7, which appeared just a few months later.
Of course, the biggest draw here is superstar LEE Byung-hun, in his first ever period drama role(s). He exudes presence and gravitas as the king, while as Ha-sun he both gets to show off his comedic chops as well as his trademark emotional intensity. After Masquerade, LEE tackled three straight Hollywood projects, G.I. Joe: Retaliation, Red 2 and Terminator Genisys and has continued to split his time between the US and Korea since.
The film was the fourth by CHOO Chang-min, a reliable studio director with a strong sense for dramaturgy, who had already found success with the gangster comedy Mapado in 2005 and the surprise hit geriatric romantic drama Late Blossom in 2011. He went on to team up again with RYU Seung-ryong for 2018’s revenge thriller Seven Years of Night.