"Mask" barrels out of the gate with swift, secure characterizations, and a fresh take on a few of the more belabored drama themes: owing money to loan sharks, severe mental illness, and on the idea of doppelgangers. Director Boo Seong-cheol of "Lobbyist", "My Girlfriend is a Gumiho, and "Jang Ok-jeong" and Writer Choi Ho-cheol of the melodrama "Secrets" tackle this dark story with panache and a surprising touch of comedy.
The story centers around a woman, Byeon Ji-sook (Soo Ae) whose family has always lived in dire straights due to her father's irresponsible fiscal habits. The misfortune she suffers stems from her family's poverty their involvement with loan sharks, and her mental anguish leave her teetering at her wit's end. At the opposite end of the spectrum is the woman with who her fate is intertwined, her doppelganger Seo Eun-ha (also played by Soo Ae), the arrogant daughter of an influential politician who is entering into a contract marriage in order to benefit both families. Her husband-to-be is the mentally unstable Choi Min-woo (Ju Ji-hoon) who suffers from some sort of germ-based OCD that leads to panic attacks and hallucinations. Despite his illness, Min-woo is ambitious, but that ambition is challenged by his equally keen brother-in-law Min Seok-hoon (Yeon Jung-hoon). Seok-hoon is married to Min-woo's sister, Choi Mi-yeon (Yoo In-young), and they have a tense marriage that is based on lies, but runs on a charged sexual tension that does not equate to genuine affection by both parties.
With these main players, the stage is set and the first episode wastes no time throwing the viewer into morbid chaos. The pace slows after the initial chase sequence, but tensions remain high as tragic backstories are revealed. What relieves the tension are small moments of unexpected humor such as Ji-sook joking with her workers and a Strauss polka playing while her boss subjects her to a long lecture, complete with Soo Ae singing the melody along with a full orchestra.
The other classical music in the show is carefully chosen. Better known works such as 20th-Century composer Piazzolla's Libertango work their way into the story's texture. The shots were equally well-planned in ways that visually put characters at odds and isolate them without a word spoken. There are quite a few visual effects, especially in relation to the car accident at the start of the episode and in relation to Min-woo's intolerance for dirt that manifests itself as spreading puddle of black goo.
Set-up for "Mask" is clear and mostly predictable, but what gives incentive to watch further is the fine acting by the leads, and how troubled Ji-sook, Min-woo, and Mi-yeong are. Each of their troubles is tied in with a factor of interested that prevents them from being like every other drama character: predictable.
This first episode is only set-up. From the preview material we know that Ji-sook will replace Eun-ha in her chaebol lifestyle. From the massive clues given, we know that death is the catalyst for the switch. The question that remains: how do we get there?
Written by: Raine from 'Raine's Dichotomy'
Journalist, drama lover, and foodie, Lisa enjoys exploring Korea, speaking the language, and soaking in all that dramaland has to offer. Her Korean husband laughs that she knows more than he ever will about dramas and K-pop. Lisa Espinosa can be contacted via firstname.lastname@example.org.
"[HanCinema's Drama Review] "Mask" Episode 1"
by HanCinema is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported License.
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