Jazz, film, and improvised culture.
Masquerade: the King is not Himself Today
is like the Joseon era equivalent of the eighteen minute gap in the Watergate
tapes. Fifteen days of King Gwanghae’s official
court history mysteriously disappeared.
There was a fair bit of intrigue afoot during that period, but the king
missed most of it. It is his double who briefly
tends to matters of state in Choo Chang-min’s Masquerade (trailer
opens today in select cities, including New York and Los Angeles.
Gwanghae first assumed the throne, there was great hope for his reign. Unfortunately, he turned out to be a
capricious ruler. Sound familiar? At least in early seventeenth century Korea,
there were worse alternatives. Given the
unsavory nature of his rivals in court, his loyal Chief Secretary Heo Gyun opts
for full cover-up mode when the king is incapacitated by a life-threatening
mickey. Already employing look-alike
actor Ha-seon as the King’s double on a limited basis, Heo Gyun installs him on
the throne full time until the royal doctor nurses the king back to health.
knows little about the issues of the day, but his fundamental decency leads him
to make better decisions than had been coming from Gwanghae of late. Trying to make nice with the beautiful Queen Consort,
he starts doing those little things, like ending her brother’s torturous
inquisition. Of course, these edicts
only further antagonize the conspirators who brought about Ha-seon’s
impersonation in the first place.
Masquerade is the Korean costume
drama version of Dave, but the stakes
are higher for everyone involved.
Obviously, not everybody will make it through the picture alive. The only questions are how high will the body
count be and will it include the secret social climber Ha-seon?
his first true period piece, action star Lee Byung-hun (internationally recognizable
for G.I. Joe and I Saw the Devil) handles the dual role of king and clown rather
well. He is convincingly imperious as
Gwanghae and not terribly shticky as the in-over-his-head Ha-seon. However, it is the supporting cast that
really shines, particularly Ryoo Seung-ryong (scary good in War of the Arrows), whose hardnosed Heo
Gyun personifies steely gravitas.
Likewise, Jang Gwang’s understated turn as Chief Eunuch Jo really sneaks
up on viewers. Han Hyo-joo makes the
most of the underwritten Queen Consort role, but Shim Eun-kyung really lowers
the dramatic boom as Sawol, the young taster who awakens the conscience of the
Costume designer Kwon Yoo-jin’s colorful threads
look appropriately rich and finely wrought, but Choo is not overawed by the
trappings of royalty, largely narrowing his focus to the micro human tribulations
rather than the macro geo-politics. While
there is more backstabbing than swordplay in Masquerade, it should still satisfy the entire spectrum of period
action and romance audiences. Recommended for fans of Korean epic historicals,
Masquerade opens today (9/21) in New
York at the AMC Empire and in L.A. at the CGV Cinemas, courtesy of CJ
Labels: King Gwanghae, Korean Cinema