I have always wanted to watch a historical Korean film or drama, since seeing the first ever historical Korean film I ever saw, War Of The Arrows (최종병기), during the 6th London Korean Film Festival in November 2011. I truly enjoyed watching this film. Actor, Ryu SeungRyong acts in this film, as well as in the Masquerade.
I decided to choose option 1 for this week’s homework because I get to see what life would have been like in ancient Korea. I love to learn about different cultures and historical events, so watching historical films is one way of doing this. However, films do tend to change the story line slightly, however the visuals and effects help to set your imagination about how things would have been like back then and how written/spoken tales would have looked like in 3D/motion.
The film I chose to watch was Masquerade (광해: 왕이 된 남자; Gwanghae: The Man Who Became King). It was released in 2012 and stars Lee ByungHun, who double acts as the Joseon Dynasty King Gwanghae and the jester, HaSun, who plays as the King, when he is threatened of being poisoned.
King Gwanghae was the 15th Joseon Dynasty king (1574-1641). He made reforms and reconstructed things to make the nation prosperous, however he had many enemies and was exiled to Jeju Island.
The film tells the story of the 15 missing days in the Annals of the Joseon Dynasty during King Gwanghae’s reign, as stated in his journal, “One must not record that which he wishes to hide.”
Gwanghae is portrayed as an aggressive King, who cares very little about the feelings of the people around him think. Most people are scared of him and has many enemies, due to him not making the right decisions and looking out for the people. As a result, he is made victim of multiple assassination attempts. Due to this, he orders his councillor, Heo Gyun (Ryu SeungRyong), to find him a double in order to avoid the constant threat of assassination. Heo Gyun finds Ha-sun, a lowly acrobat and jester, who resembles the king. As expected, King Gwanghae is poisoned. Heo Gyun tells Ha-sun to act as the king until Gwang-hae fully recovers. He is taught the ways of the king, and learns how to act just like him. However, after some time, HaSun begins take interest in the affairs and problems debated in the king’s palace. The difference in behaviour in the king (or HaSun) is seen in the court and many changes occur due to his attention and appreciation he shows towards others, especially the servants. However, the chief opposition, Park ChungSeo (Kim MyungGon) and many others in the palace, notice the sudden changes in the “king’s” behaviour and starts to become suspicious. The queen (Han HyoJoo) is also confused about this too.
Masquerade was directed by Choo ChangMin and features Lee ByungHun, Ryoo SeungRyong and Han HyoJoo. It was a very successful film in the box office. I think this is because of HaSun’s character, as he showed compassion and empathy towards the people around him, unlike the King. However, the film does not show how the King ruled after he returned to the throne. Maybe a part two to the film would show the other side of King Gwanghae after coming back to the throne. Also, there are many funny scenes, with the sense of humour being great, so you get a good laugh, at different points in the film, alongside the serious parts of the film. Last but not least, Lee ByungHun is a well-known, famous actor, and with the direction of Choo ChangMin, this film was a big hit.
After watching this film, I have learnt about how life would have been like for the King, Queen, scholars, the palace people, the royal family and also the people of the country. The settings, costumes, customs, manners and behaviour of the people and places in the film, portrays how things were like for people living in the Joseon Dynasty. It also shows how the high class people, such as noblemen and scholars behaved and how the common people suffered a great deal, such as one of the servant girl and her life story. I also learnt about how politics was like in that particular era and that part of the world, Korea. People respected the king a lot, and were always following him around, bowing to him at all times, and did not dare to look directly into his eyes. Also, if servants did something wrong, even if it was something very small, they would always say “Punish me with death”. However, HaSun addressed Captain Do, his bodyguard, to live in order for him to protect the king. There are many other lines like these, that make you think about life in general, and many good life lessons are told throught this film. In some scenes, there were scrolls, with Hanja on them. During that time, many scholars were highly educated and were able to read and write Chinese characters. However, Hangeul had already been invented, by King Sejong, the 5th Joseon Dynasty king.
At the end of the film, it reads: “Gwanghae is the only king in the history of Joseon who imposed tax only on landowners and confronted Ming Dynasty to protect his people.” This was all done by the orders of HaSun when he acted as King. The people around him, esp Heo Gyun, treated him badly, whilst ordering him to act as King and paying him 20 silver coins. However, after HaSun gained interest in the people around him, and showed his attention to the problems occurring in the country, the only two secretaries, who knew he was a double, including Heo Gyun, started to feel HaSun was the true King, rather than the King himself.
I will definitely watch more Korean films and dramas about different historical periods or events in the future.
There is a great opportunity to see a range of different genre Korean films, at The 9th London Korean Film Festival.
It is taking place in London from November 6th 2014 to November 21st 2014, with the first film being Kundo: Age of the Rampant (군도) at the Opening Gala event on November 6th 2014.
For more information, please look at the following links: