Masquerade Blu-ray Review
The life of a king is filled with power and riches and, presumably, unlimited access to every major hotel chain’s Wi-Fi password. But there are downsides. There are traitors and enemies and, depending on the times, no assurance that he will not be assassinated.
Such is the case with King Gwanghae (Lee Byung-hun, who starred as Storm Shadow in G.I. JOE: THE RISE OF COBRA and its sequel, G.I. JOE: RETALIATION), the 15th king of the Joseon Dynasty (1392 – 1897) in Korea. Gwanghae constantly believes he will be poisoned and so has various underlings taste his food before he does. Gwanghae tells his closest advisor, Heo Gyun (Ryoo Seung-ryong, MIRACLE IN CELL NO. 7), that a double will be required to trick any potential assassins, delivering the precise instruction that, “He must look exactly like me.”
Enter Ha-sun (also Lee Byung-hun, which explains the resemblance to Gwanghae), a peasant plucked from his lowly existence to, yes, masquerade as the king. It’s not long before Gwanghae does actually fall ill, a fact that his followers can’t afford to let reach the ears of the public or his enemies. And so Ha-sun is tasked to serve as king until Gwanghae’s health improves.
The peasant/common man-as-royalty plotline has been done numerous times before, notably in literature such as Mark Twain’s The Prince and the Pauper and films like Akira Kurosawa’s KAGEMUSHA.
The general premise immediately sounds like a wacky comedy that would find the commoner, say, using the king’s scepter as a baseball bat or his royal bathtub to sink toy battleships. But MASQUERADE tends to take the idea seriously (although there are a couple of out-of-place fart gags).
MASQUERADE is a look at a point in history that went undocumented. (Taken from the journals of King Gwanghae are the words, “Matters need not be known shall be removed from the gazette.”) And while it covers the short window of 15 days, it gets across what the environment was like during that point in the Joseon Dynasty’s timeline, with recreations of the politics involved and the relationship between king and concubine.
Director Choo Chang-min (2011’s LATE BLOSSOM, 2005’s MAPADO) tells the story with complete honor for the subject, aiming not to expose but to explore a hidden part of his native country’s history. The same feeling comes from Lee Byung-hun, who gives a strong (albeit short) turn as Gwanghae and a much more dimensional one as the jokester who would be king.
Surrounding all of this are exquisite costumes (by Kwon Yoo-jin, I SAW THE DEVIL), gorgeous cinematography (by Lee Tae-yoon, THE MAN FROM NOWHERE) and a strong, sometimes playful score (by Mowg and Kim Jun-Sung, the former of whom scored THE LAST STAND, with Arnold Schwarzenegger).
MASQUERADE was nominated for and won 12 honors at the 2012 Grand Bell Awards (South Korea’s equivalent to the Academy Awards): Best Film, Best Director, Best Actor, Best Supporting Actor, Best Screenplay, Best Cinematography, Best Art Direction, Best Editing, Best Visual Effects, Best Costume Design, Best Music and Best Lighting.
MASQUERADE BLU-RAY REVIEW
Video: 2.20:1 in 1080p with MPEG-4 AVC codec. This high-definition transfer of MASQUERADE is crisp and clean for the duration, and boasts excellent fine details and an array of vibrant colors.
Audio: Korean Dolby Digital 5.1; English Dolby Digital 5.1. Subtitles in English. The Korean dialogue is clear throughout and the Mowg and Kim Jun-Sung score is prominent when called for.
There are no special features on this release.