Bridal Mask (aka: Gaksital)
air date: 5.30.2012 through 9.6.2012
number of eps: 28 (extended from 24)
I watched it: Marathoned it over a couple of weeks (with a heavy weekend watch thrown in); can’t imagine the tension involved in watching it live — breaking for sleep and, you know, life was hard enough as it was. A week’s delay might have killed me.
In an nutshell: Holy crap, this was good. And by “good” I mean intense, operatic… the word “epic” would definitely apply. Based on a popular manhwa* the drama takes place in 1930’s Korea, with Imperial Japan ruling the country with an increasingly iron fist. The perfect setting for a masked freedom fighter to get his heroism on. But the story goes so much deeper than a masked avenger’s action/adventure. It’s a creation story (the best part of all hero-myths, imo) not only of the hero but of the villain as well. And it takes them both and starts them on opposite sides of the board — the hero in darkness, the villain in light — and then moves them each across. The hero crawls up towards redemption while the villain slides into madness. And to add the most perfect, angst-inducing twist, they are best friends. (As they must be, yes? Two sides of the same coin, it makes sense that they feel like brothers. In a way, they complete each other.)
I highly, highly recommend this show to anyone who likes hero-myths and epic tales of light vs. dark. The two main actors, Joo-won and Park Ki-woong, just killed it and most of the supporting cast were equally up to task. And the fight scenes were awesome! I never, never got bored with a fight scene. Which, with 28 episodes, is saying something. (The fight scenes served the story. That’s the key. If you watch (and you should!), look for the difference between the first fight between our protagonists, and the last. There’s a story just in those two scenes.)
What I didn’t like: The female lead, Mok Dan, was a bit… dull is too harsh — she was too spirited to be dull. But she never changes. She’s good from the start and stays there, never wavering, which made her more of a symbol than a fleshed out character. Fortunately there was Rie, the Korean-born Japanese singer/spy, going through the angst of hating her birth-country while not quite being accepted by her adopted land. She was fascinating and her story was really, really good.
The Count was ridiculously over the top. The actor playing him, Ahn Suk-hwan, is capable of subtlety — and we get a glimpse of that here and there. But I think they were going for “comedy” and, imo, missed. Fortunately, his scenes were mercifully short and his character mostly stuck to the background. And we did get some good comedy out of the circus folks. We also slipped into “old men around a table; talking” territory that historical dramas seem to love. Fortunately again, those scenes never dominated.
It’s a dark story, definitely not for the faint of heart. There are torture scenes. And while they didn’t go too graphic (I was able to watch), they do take the viewer firmly into the grim.
*At least, all the press releases for the drama referred to the manhwa as “popular”. I could only find one website actually on the manhwa itself. But that it came out in 1974, that the drama was so recent and so hugely popular itself, and that this is a manhwa rather than a manga (which I believe has a higher popularity in the English-speaking world), is probably why I couldn’t find much on it. I lean towards blaming my limited (ie non-Hangul) google-search rather than saying the press releases exaggerated. [end pedantic explosion]