Review – The King of Façade: Masquerade
I’m actually not sure if this is The King of Façade: Masquerade or Masquerade: The King of Façade. Everywhere I look it’s simply referred to as Masquerade, which is much simpler to type as I don’t have to remember the “c cedille” keyboard alt code to type Façade every time…It’s ALT + 0231 by the way… So as we were unpacking the releases for next week at work, myself and a co-worker saw this movie in the order, and joked about it for a moment because we had never heard of it, and then set about tracking down the trailer. Once again proof positive that a good trailer can sell your film, we both agreed it looked very good simply based on the trailer. We then checked it out on Rotten Tomatoes and saw that it had a 100%/89% critic/audience appreciation rating. That ensured that I would watch it.
The writeup on the DVD case looked very promising: political intrigue, betrayal, peril and forbidden romance play out in this lavish, critically acclaimed, historical epic set in the royal palace of Korea’s ancient Joseon Dynasty, where amid national chaos and fear for his life, tyrannical King Gwanghae orders his trusted counsellor to find a royal body double. He recruits a crude, working-class peasant, Ha-seon, a village performer who bears a startling resemblance to the ruler. When the king falls into a coma from poisoning, he is secreted away to recover and Ha-seon reluctantly assumes the throne, forced to pull off history’s biggest masquerade. Narrowly evading exposure or yet another assassination attempt by his power-hungry court, he stumbles through his daily rituals and onerous royal duties, covertly coached by the king’s stoic chief advisor and chief eunuch. Soon, however, Ha-seon finds he must follow his own heart – no matter what the price – to save his country from collapse and its oppressed people from despair.
Well, the box tells it fairly true, but there wasn’t as much “narrow evading” or as many “attempted assassinations” as you might think, and King Granghae doesn’t really seem to be that tyrannical either; he’s a little stressed out and just playing politics in the 1600s. Spoiler Alert – politics don’t look to have changed much in the last 400 years.
Immediately after reading the box I said Masquerade looked like a Korean “Prince and the Pauper”, and it essentially is, but as I began to watch it, it seemed to play more as “Man in the Iron Mask” but a few minutes later, I realized that I had seen this film before as 1993’s Dave, starring Kevin Kline and Sigourney Weaver. That was okay though, because I really enjoyed that film and found a lot of similarities between the two. In both the false leader (king or president) goes against their advisor, and makes some laws that are unpopular politically but are for the benefit of their people. In both there are hints at neglected love, and both have loyal bodyguard figures. Masquerade was primarily a historical drama/costume drama/period piece, but it still had its share of comic moments throughout. It was visually very well done, and the acting was top notch as well and that is what really made the film stand out from the others with the same plotline. Byung-hun Lee who plays the dual roles of Ha-seon and King Gwang-hae may be more recognized as Storm Shadow in the G.I. Joe movies, and was also in The Good, The Bad and The Weird; which is another film that I highly recommend. Based on that resume, you may think that he would be showcasing some sort of martial arts but in fact he does not in Masquerade; he does however play the drama and the comedy of the King and the stand-in remarkably well.
If you’re in the mood for a well acted, well filmed historical drama with a bit of comedy mixed in, don’t let Masquerade hide from you. (I’m working on pun recommendation lines…) The DVD has both a sub-titled and a dubbed option so there really are no excuses not to watch a terrific film.