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‘Masquerade’ well-received in global film industry

The Korean film Masquerade is in full gallop. In addition to having secured the top spot ever since its release on September 13, the movie also hit the eight-million-viewership mark in its third week. At this point, the question arises: why is the film so appealing to moviegoers?

The Korean film <I>'Masquerade'</I> released on September 13 is a smash hit in KoreaThe Korean film 'Masquerade' released on September 13 is a smash hit in Korea (photo courtesy of CJ Entertainment).

One of the basic factors is the skeletal plot based on historical facts combined with the director’s use of imagination. A phrase written in Joseon Wangjosillok (Annals of the Joseon Dynasty, National Treasure No. 151) in 1615, the eighth year of King Gwanghaegun’s reign -- ”Do not record something we should hide” -- provided the inspiration that someone other than the king could possibly play the role for him during his absence.

The plot revolves around Korean history in the year 1615 when the nation falls into disorder and is under political turmoil due to domestic power struggles. Gripped with panic and fear of assassination, King Gwanghaegun is getting more violent and aggressive with each passing day. In order to avoid assassination, the king directs the chief royal secretary to find him a double to fill in for him. Haseon, a beggar who has a surprisingly similar appearance with the king and a smooth tongue and a talent for copying the king’s way of speaking, is selected and taken to the palace ignorant of the reason. One day, the king is poisoned as feared and Haseon takes the throne pretending to be king while Gwanghaegun recovers in secret. Things get complicated when Haseon begins to voice his own opinions and people start to notice the sudden changes in the king’s behavior. The affection and appreciation that the fake king shows towards even the lowest of servants touches the people, and also the audiences.

The plot based on facts of Joseon Dynasty combined with an imagination inspired from historical record itself lights up the film The plot of the Korean film Masquerade combines true historical events that took place during the Joseon Kingdom with some imaginative twists (photo courtesy of CJ Entertainment).

Director Choo Chang-min attributed the film’s success to the restrained slapstick comedy, showcased by top star Lee Byung-hun who has always had an elegant image. Choo emphasized that it was hard to find such a versatile actor who could successfully play two ambivalent roles (king and beggar) simultaneously in one scene. On film, seeing Haseon behave like the king making awkward mistakes drives the drama and immerses the audience in his acting.

Another factor that director Choo considered important was the background setting that features the classical and dignified images of Korean palaces. Choo had always felt that films set during the Joseon Kingdom could do more to capture the eloquent visuals of the Joseon king’s quarters and thus, for this film, came to build the largest palace setting to date. The majestic and grand-scale palace, coupled with the music created by a 60-musician orchestra, heightens the film’s ambience and overwhelms the audiences.

The flim depicts the dreadful fate of queens of Joseon Dynasty The film Masquerade depicts the dreadful fate of queens during the Joseon Kingdom (photo courtesy of CJ Entertainment).
The depictions of traditional life in the palace add to the fun of watching the movie, allowing domestic and international audiences to look at the past anew. The king’s power and charismatic authority are highlighted throughout the film starting from the first scene of the king sitting in the comfort of his own sofa with court ladies busy getting him ready, trimming his nails and doing his hair to dressing up formally. It is also interesting to see the court ladies in the king’s room while the king is defecating and then getting a royal physician to smell and taste it in order to check the state of the king’s health.

The queen who boasts a graceful and beautiful figure but seems to live a hard life in the palace also proves interesting to watch. The movie depicts the dreadful fate of queens of Joseon Kingdom who were always treated well but nontheless restricted in their behaviors and forced to present a classic example. Once becoming queen, they were unable to leave the palace and were jealous of a large number of rivals, the court ladies.

Masquerade has been well-received in the global film industry too. Since the movie premiered in LA in September, a series of rave reviews have followed from critics and spectators and the movie has been introduced on several media outlets starting with the September 30 edition of the LA Times’ Sunday Calendar, which dedicated the front page to the movie featuring a full-page interview with Lee Byung-hun. LA Weekly’s critic Christine Bravo also praised the movie: “The movie is like a captivating jewel.”

Masquerade is currently showing in theaters nationwide. For the convenience of foreign viewers, an English-subtitled version is being shown at CGV Yongsan and a Japanese version at Apgujeong CGV. More detailed information is available at the official website of CGV.

By Lee Seung-ah Staff Writer

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