Korean Movie Review – Masquerade (광해: 왕이 된 남자)

Without a doubt, one of the most versatile actors working today is Lee Byung-hun, who can effortlessly switch between playing a vengeful boyfriend hunting his girlfriend’s killer in “I Saw the Devil” (2010) and a Samurai assassin in the Hollywood blockbuster franchise “G.I. Joe.” He has taken on another new role in his latest film, Choo Chang-min’s period drama “Masquerade.”

In the 15th century, Korea’s leader, Gwanghae (Lee), is full of suspicion and fearful for his life. As a result, he orders one of his most trusted staff members to find a double who can sleep in the king’s chambers overnight. When the king is near-fatally poisoned, his double, Ha-seon (again, played by Lee), who is no more than a jester from a local brothel, must sit on the most important chair in all of Korea until the real king is well enough to return to the throne.

At first, it appears as if their plan will fail. Ha-seon is constantly making mistakes and is forever being told to change his tone, as a king’s voice should be “low and solemn.” But his low status allows him to look at Korea’s affairs in a new light, caring more about the plight of the common people than the interests of the rich or the invading Chinese. This causes his staff and aides to wonder if Ha-seon could well be the king that Korea deserves, rather than the disillusioned dictator who, until recently, has ruled them so coldly.

There have been countless variations of Mark Twain’s “The Prince and the Pauper,” but most critics agree that what makes this version stand out is Lee’s performance. Even if you’re not a fan of the lead actor or the film’s premise, the sets and cinematography are gorgeous.

With Lee’s stellar performance carrying the film, “Masquerade” has been well received not only in Asia, but all over the world. The film cleaned up at the Grand Bell Awards (Korea’s version of BAFTA) and picked up prizes at several other Korean festivals. Amazingly, at the time of writing, the film was sitting on a 100 percent “fresh” rating at Rotten Tomatoes. I can see why, and would recommend it as a must-see.

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