With Dada Chen at NYAFF 2013

With Dada Chen at NYAFF 2013
With Dada Chen at NYAFF 2013

Monday, February 10, 2014

South Korean hit MASQUERADE available on Blu-ray tomorrow

CJ Entertainment
Masquerade / Gwanghae, Wangyidoen namja
Directed by CHOO Chang-min
South Korea, 2012, 131 minutes

Masquerade is a marvelous period film set during the rule of Gwanghae, one of the Joseon Dynasty kings. CJ Entertainment released a single disc DVD version in June of 2013. A Blu-ray edition will become available tomorrow, Tuesday, February 11th. So this seemed like an ideal opportunity to review the film and compare the DVD and Blu-ray versions.

The story is one of assumed identity. In this it is related to such literary works as Mark Twain's The Prince and the Pauper (1881) and Anthony Hope's The Prisoner of Zenda (1894) and to Akira Kurosawa's film Kagemusha (1980).

LEE Byung-hun as King Gwanghae. (Or is it as Ha-seon?)

King Gwanghae (LEE Byung-hun) knows that there are powerful ministers in his court who are plotting against him. Fearful of assassination, he commands Chief Secretary Heo Gyun (RYU Seung-Ryong) to locate an identical double who can pretend to be the king certain evenings. One is found in the person of Ha-seon (LEE again), a commoner and jester who is given to performing lewd impersonations of the real king.

However, Ha-seon's role is expanded to one of actually pretending to be the king when Gwanghae falls into a mysterious coma and is secreted away in the hopes that he will eventually recover. Ha-seon, who can impersonate the king's voice and manner of speaking, is coached in his "royal" duties by Ho Gyun and by Chief Eunuch Jo (JANG Gwang), the only two people who know of the switch.

Although instructed to "stick to the script" and to stay away from the queen, Ha-seon cannot resist his natural impulses to do good. This behavior threatens to undo the precarious scheme and to reveal that Ha-seon is an impersonator.

HAN Hyu-jo as the Queen

Masquerade was one of South Korea's most successful films in 2012; its box office attendance that year was over 10 million, second only to The Thieves. Besides wins and nominations at other ceremonies and festivals, it was a huge winner at the 2012 Grand Bell awards, South Korea's equivalent of the Oscars. Among its wins there were those for best picture, director, actor (LEE Byung-hun), supporting actor (RYU Seung-Ryong), screenplay, cinematography, lighting, and editing.

While everything about the film is outstanding, it wouldn't be nearly as great as it is were it not for the performances of LEE Byung-hun as the king and as the jester. In addition to the Grand Bell Award for best actor, he received several other wins and nominations in that category elsewhere, most deservedly so.

Both the DVD and the Blu-ray disc offer the original Korean soundtrack with English subtitles and an English dubbed soundtrack. The inclusion of the latter seems clearly intended to broaden the potential audience to include those who are "subtitle-aversive." Personally I rarely enjoy dubbing of an Asian film, basically because of the disconnect from hearing what almost always is a Caucasian voice coming out of an Asian's mouth. (Can't good Asian voice actors be found for such work?) Others, to be sure, may feel differently about English dubbed soundtracks.

Ha-seon is assisted with the royal clothing by Chief Eunuch Jo

The Blu-ray disc comes with no extras whatsoever. I found this quite surprising since the DVD included featurettes on "Lighting and Cinematography" and on "Production Design" as well as some deleted scenes. On the other hand, while the video transfer on the DVD is quite good, that of the Blu-ray is absolutely spectacular. The reds and golds are just brilliant. If you're only going to buy one version, I'd say go with the Blu-ray disc.

ACF Rating: 4 out of 4 stars; highest recommendation. This is a film that deserves a place in your collection, whether it's the DVD or the Blu-ray version, or both.