16.10.2012- South Korean take on Kurosawa's Kagemusha, epic-drama Masquerade brought in a full house at Emirates Palace.
Masquerade , the latest film from Choo Chang-min, one of South Korea's most prominent directors, was screened as part of ADFF at Emirates Palace last Tuesday evening, and filled the theatre despite it being a weekday. Choo, along with Ryoo Seung-ryong, one of the stars of the film, were present, along with His Excellency Dr. Tae Kyun Kwon, South Korean Ambassador to the UAE. They received a warm welcome from the crowd, which was made up of quite a few Koreans - the film has been a blockbuster this year in its home country - as well as a good mix of others representing Abu Dhabi's many cultures.
Masquerade tells the story of King Gwanghae (Hwang Jo-yoon), the fifteenth king of the Joseon Dynasty. Fearing assassination, he decides he needs a double, and with the help of the Chief Secretary (played by Ryoo) finds one in a courtesan's house. Ha-seon (also played by Hwang) is a jester, a mimic and comedian. To have him on the throne is deemed impossible by the king's few trusted advisors, but a serious illness on the king's part - who's later found out to be drugged by the Queen's consort - leaves no choice but to appoint Ha-seon in place as a stand-in. This remains a secret confined to the walls of the king's chamber, but for how long?
The king now smiles, jokes about and is far more passionate than the man he's replaced. This doesn't go unnoticed with the ministers as they try to find ways to expose this fiasco. In the meanwhile, the queen is falling for this new and improved king, laws are being made more just and uniform, and Ha-seon is making more friends than enemies. His crash course in the responsibilities of the king is laced with often ribald humour, which was well-received by the audience.
The story is well-worn, an ancient archtype most famously employed in Mark Twain's The Prince and the Pauper and Akira Kurosawa's Kagemusha; but also in diverse films like Paul Mazursky's Moon Over Parador and Ivan Reitman's Dave. Masquerade holds on to its audience with its fine sense of when to switch between a lighthearted tone and skilful melodrama. The film's strongly emotional moments are balanced by slapstick humour surprising for a historical epic - such as the very public issue of the 'king's' bowel movements and his crass mockery of the stuffy court's ways.
Each character and scene in the film is well-written and nuanced, and doesn't feel like an unnecessary drag although the film is over two hours long. Hwang does a great job in two roles - king and commoner - with ease; the dialogue is quirky and fresh. Hwang's chemistry with the rest of the cast is impeccable. Meanwhile, Choo has done a splendid job in recreating 17th-century Korea. The scenic locales, grand costumes and attention to detail, rounded out with the deft screenplay and great performances, make Masquerade a top-notch film on several scores with broad appeal. This was proven by the engaging Q & A with the filmmaker and his team after the screening, with the highlight being an Emirati patron who conversed fluently and comfortably in Korean!