I’m gonna write a review of a long Korean drama that I watched and followed since day one. Ok, I kid, I started on episode 3. I was vehement becuz I am not the kind of people who like to watch contemporary setting of a drama-sageuk and those traditional dresses make me go WHOA with amazement. Sometimes I think I live in the wrong era cuz I love to watch (and read) movies and books with historical settings since I was small. So much so I’m surreptitiously surprised I didn’t end up in the history department!
Back to Gaksital, or Bridal Mask, that I wanna pour my thoughts in.
It’s about the struggle for a free nation by the Joseon people (that’s how Korea were called by their colonialists back in those days)by a masked fighter called Gaksital, meaning bridal mask, cuz he fights dem Japanese wearing a bridal mask and traditional white hanbok. Korea was colonized and oppressed in every damned way by the Japanese (hello we share the same colonialist, albeit for a few years) But true to fashion, er drama-sense, our hero is actually not a born and bred hero. Far from it. Well, he does come from a noble family entrusted with the mission to protect King Gojong but when it failed, the whole family flee and his father died, Lee Kang To is left with his elder brother, Lee Kang San and his mom. They live a very hard life and Kang To had to work harder everyday to support his brilliant elder brother to university. But one day Kang San is caught getting involved with rebellions and is tortured so terrible he becomes crazy. That was the last straw that breaks Kang To that he turns to work with the Japanese police force to feed his family.
When Gaksital appears, the police force is in a frenzy to capture him. Gaksital, like any other celluloid hero, is elusive with incredible martial arts-able to jump from tall buildings(yep) and flip through bullets (yep people). Gaksital always outwit the police force and Kang To is assigned to capture him. Little did he know that the true identity of Gaksital is (wait for it…) is his own brother, who pretends he’s mentally ill so he could be Gaksital without being investigated. But as the story goes, Kang To causes his brother’s death and in doing so he then takes up the mantel, er, mask and becomes the second Gaksital, to finish up his brother’s work, only he realizes that Joseon needs him, and he realizes that he plays a larger role on determining the fate of his people…
Kang To grows up with his best friend, Shunji Kimura, who later becomes a sweet kiddy teacher while Kang To is the grumpy screamy violent police officer. But when Kang To discovers Shunji’s brother, Kenji, kills his mom (oh noes) in rage, he goes and kills Kenji in gaksital costume, incurring eternal vengeance and wrath from the nice and demure Shinji. So Kang To has to hide the fact that he’s Gaksital from his bff while trying to save the country. Matters become worse when Kang To’s childhood sweetheart, Mok Dan is also coveted by Shunji. Oh then a lot of twist and turns that would make you go sleepless, I kid you not.
I love it. Every.dem.episode. Every.heartbreak. Every.Revelation. I’m a sucker for redemption story so Gaksital is my thing. I almost didn’t watch this cuz I didn’t like the 1930s. Capital Scandal made it worse. But once Kang To is on the screen, everything becomes alright LOL
I love it when the make Kang To’s character goes into a progression of some sort. In the beginning 6 episodes he’s so unlikable, with his penchant for screaming and kicking people in his rage (he even kicks his sweet brother ohmygawd) and with zero patriotism-he lives only to survive and patriotism is such a luxury and what happened to Kang San is a cautionary tale for him. But after the death of his family, he returns to his original self, and he learns to be a better person and more selfless. At first he just pities the weak and the oppressed but he then grows to be a bona fide freedom fighter you couldn’t be prouder when he beams and smiles for his country.
Shunji, the antagonist, starts out as a sweetheart that wouldn’t hurt a fly even if the fly goes kamikaze on him. But amazingly he flips out after his brother’s death and swears to avenge him. He becomes more cruel and clever as days pass and he really is a match to Kang To’s cunning and witty maneuvres. (and to think this is the same guy who cries on the bicycle with Kang To sobbing on his back)
Kang To and Shunji, shaken by the death of their loved ones, take different projections in their later life. Kang To becomes kinder (and happier) and more dedicated but Shunji becomes obsessed, possessed and calculative (and miserable). Mok Dan, the object of both’s affection is the daughter of the leader of freedom fighters, so no marks for guessing who she falls for.
So, episode by episode, we get this awesome cat-and-mouse game as Kang To and Shunji try to take the upper hand against each other. What is incredible is since episode 10, Shunji has guessed that Kang To is Gaksital though he can’t prove it. To me this kinda writing is awesome! I mean they’re best friend and all but both of them didn’t let that friendship fool them. As long as nobody shows his card, Shunji pretends he doesn’t suspect Kang To is Gaksital and Kang To doesn’t let his guard down either (well, only in a few occasion, where Mok Dan is concerned, since he’s just so deeply in love kinda thing, which I kinda dig, especially when he’s so pitiful, having lost everyone he loves, kinda like Harry Potter, you know)
Then we have Kang To trying to save his people by being Gaksital, serve the freedom fighters missions and all while trying to keep his cover when working as a police officer in the Japanese police force, and also romancing Mok Dan. Oh, and Mok Dan was separated from Kang To since small so she doesn’t recognize him, but she has a tremendous crush on Gaksital, but hates Kang To to the core, since Kang To is this evil police officer in the beginning, remember? And Shunji tries to avenge his brother while upholding his family honor, and at the same time tries his hardest to win over Mok Dan’s heart from Gaksital. Phew.
There are many scenes that I like for so many reasons.
In episode 7, the first time Kang To dons the gaksital mask, after killing Kenji, while running from Shunji, Kang To falls from a cliff into a river. Now, water is a superloaded metaphor, not to be taken lightly. We see him inside the river and Mok Dan is running away in a field elsewhere but she stops in her track, as if she hears something. You know what she hears? Many interpret it as Mok Dan’s instinct that someone she loves is in danger but I beg to differ. I think Mok Dan’s intuition is that someone is returning to her, meaning Kang To. THE Kang To that she knows and loves in her childhood. That young, brave, kind and unselfish Kang To. You know the thing with water is that it washes away all the dirt. Yes, this is the falling into the river for. Kang To is ‘cleansing’ himself, and his original self returns to him.
This metaphor is continued beautifully, when Kang To wakes up at the hospital. He walks from his bed to outside of his room, his surrounding is very unclear and hazy, and everything is heightened. He is wobbly and his feet could barely sustain him and he falls to the floor. He is behaving like ‘a newborn baby’-everything in his surrounding is new, and vague and unfamiliar to him and he’s very weak and he’s all wobbly like a baby. This is the symbolism that Kang To has been cleansed and born anew and that the audience will get a ‘new’ and better Kang To. Such powerful presentation.
Another scene is between DamSaRi, the leader of the freedom fighter and Kang To(KT), when he asks DamSari (DSR) why does he fight a losing battle. At this point of the story, KT is deep in his Gaksital act but having nobody to explain or tell him anything about this fight, he relies on DSR to tell him that there’s a reason to this madness(of defying the imperialists). and DSR does not let the viewers down. He compares the struggle for independence is like an egg clashing with a boulder. The egg may be brittle and easily broken but it is still a living thing. One day it will hatch while the boulder is a dead thing and enough friction it will become sand one day. So powerful an analogy to be used and very impressive.
And of course I love the romance. I don’t know but some people might find the romance subdued but tis not the case for me. I find Kang To-Mok Dan’s love story to be good and more realistic as they live in a chaotic and turbulent era. There are not many scenes of them spending time together, in fact, because Mok Dan is highly sought by Shunji, they meet just for a few minutes on the tram or at the hospital bed, and they only hold hands but gawds I feel for them so bad it hurts
Which is why the final episode made me cry like kerrazy when Kang To loses Mok Dan after she is shot. A very potent scene as Kang To weeps on Mok Dan’s grave but Baekgun, Kang To’s Alfred, urges him to stand up and fight for his people. And KT remembers what MD tells him before she fades away, to live and be strong. So he wipes away his tears and stands painfully. He is now a full freedom fighter, having lost everyone he ever cared about (honest to god, no kidding) and he lives only for his people (but killing MD hurtz. I hurtz T____T)
Besides the powerful narrative and appealing cinematography (wanna go to Korea now!) the OST is also great!! Some people might find the OST blaring especially during the action sequences but I lurve lurve it! But my favourite pieces are the OST titled ‘Holy’, ‘Right Beside You’, and ‘You in My Arms’.
And the acting is top notch! My heart fluttered every time KT appears on screen. He’s really gorgeous and he can goddem act! Whenever he’s in pain I flinch and when he cries oh it’s so sad. I had not felt this for a long time, only once with My Sassy Girl’s Chun Hyang’s Lee Mong Ryong. Joo Won, the actor, breathes purrfection. He’s intense and sharp but demure and sweet when he needs be. And Park Ki Woong who plays Shunji almost matches Joo Won’s performance. I almost pitied him at the end, ( I never pitied vile people) so that’s good. And Ji Se Yeon who plays MD, many hated her, but really, she’s still new, and to be pitted against that smouldering sexy of a man that is Joo Won and that consummate perfectionist Park Ki Woong, I think she handled it well. Sure, she could emote more, but her character is not the point of the story isn’t it (*vents* me a KT-MD shipper) and MD sure is purrty. I like her. She has this ethereal charm and winning smile. I wish to her all the best in her future endeavour and please, dramagods, can we have her with Joo Won next time in a rom-com? Please purty please with cherry on top?
|credit to soompi forum|
In conclusion, as shallow (and dense) as I may seem from my review, go ahead and try watching it, especially if history is your thing, you’ll be rewarded.