Also known as Gwanghae: The Man Who Became King, Lee Byung Hun portrays two different characters in this award-winning historical film – the King Gwanghae and a mischievous clown named Ha Sun. Masquerade was part of the closing gala at last year’s London Korean Film Festival where the leading man himself came to visit.
Avoiding constant threats of assassination, Gwanghae orders his Chief Secretary Heo Gyun (Ryu Seung Ryong) to find another man who resembles him while he leaves the palace one evening. Heo Gyun manages to find Ha Sun – a clown who works in a prostitute house and tells him he must pretend to be the King for a night and that he will be paid for his assistance. Somehow things take a complicated turn when Gwanghae is poisoned and Heo Gyun tells Ha Sun to stay as the King for a little longer while Gwanghae recovers in hiding. But how far can Ha Sun go with his impersonation when the palace has eyes and ears all around?
* Lee Byung Hun truly shines as very different characters. Gwanghae is cold and calculating and mostly AWOL throughout the film understandably but with Ha Sun he’s cheeky, swears a lot but has a heart.
* Never ever fart until you’re certain you are alone in the room. Ha Sun learnt a lesson.
* Ryu Seung Ryong as Heo Gyun. The Obi Wan, the teacher, the good friend. He’s cool.
* The palace setting is gorgeous. It truly brings out the beauty of a historical Korea. I want to walk around that palace one day and pretend to be a princess or a queen for a day.
* Ha Sun’s transformation from an idiotic performer to an actual King is extraordinary. Lee Byung Hun makes the character go deep with the role playing as the Joseon King, to the point of bettering the original.
* Ha Sun’s kindness towards the young servant girl Sawal. It’s fatherly and touching.
* Lee Byung Hun’s eyes always do the talking when he acts. You just feel his anger or sadness and he is very tearful in this film.
* Being congratulated by your servants on managing to poo is quite amazing.
* Palace food has so much to choose from. I did get hungry looking at the plates.
* The “switch” scene near the end of the film is very clever. After watching I Am The King I had to wonder if something similar would occur in Masquerade
* The Queen didn’t get enough back story and I really wanted to know what happened to her at the end of the film. On the other hand Han Hye Joo looked very graceful and regal I barely recognised her with the Hanbok.
* All these politics and backstabbing people. Could you survive these things while working in the palace?
* The ending’s final text to explain what happened to some of the key characters. Somehow you might think, “Oh my god after all that happened in this film?!”
Overall: If I Am The King was heavy on the comedy then Masquerade definitely approached the identity swapping with a more serious edge. Sure there were some funny scenes like the farting and swearing but for the most part it was dramatic and at times heartbreaking. When you watch Ha Sun go all out with the role-playing you feel the power in his impersonation that even his top chiefs who know his true identity cannot hide their awe over how convincing he is as a king. Once again Lee Byung Hun has proven his acting talent by demonstrating how swiftly he can switch his characters’ personalities between intense, noble and light-hearted.