Bridal Mask ~ Review
“Of course, hitting a rock with eggs may seem reckless.
A layer of egg will just break when it hits the rock.
However, no matter how sturdy the rock is, it’s not alive.
Eggs are alive, even though they are weak.
Rocks will become sand in time.
But there will be chicks hatching out of the egg
And they will triumph upon the sand.”
Truth be told, it’s rare finding dramas that won’t drag after they pass the 20th episode, even 16-episode dramas drag quite often! Don’t ask me why i hadn’t watched Bridal Mask all this time, i don’t know either, but the positive voices around me were growing in numbers and while i am absorbed by Yong Pal i decided to give it a shot. Whether it was a huge mistake or a wise decision during exams period i really can’t say, only time shall tell.
However, i don’t regret a single second i invested in watching Bridal Mask and i still can’t believe it didn’t feel like dragging during this 28-episode journey; not at all. At first i thought it was my arch enthusiasm, but at the end of the drama i was quite certain it was flowing like water in cascades proving that this marathon was well-conceived and well-executed. Needless to say that it’s one of these dramas that gently enforces personal participation to a wider extent as episodes pass by!
Bridal Mask is based on Huh Young Man‘s same-titled 1974 manhwa, Gaksital. The drama reflects the story of Lee Kang To (Joo Won), a local cooperator of Japan’s imperial machine during Japan’s oppressive colonial rule of Korea. Kang To is a proud member of the imperial police and his passion to suppress any sparkle of rebellion is carved all over his face. Being a native Korean makes his attempts more vulgar in order to abolish any remains of Korean heritage running in his veins and that’s the reason why he’s often more violent than the Japanese colonists themselves.
Ever since Bridal Mask, a revolutionary figure bound to keep the hopes of an entire nation breathing, appeared Lee Kang To’s life changed once and for all. Catching Bridal Mask became his sole reason of existing and all traces of humanity started vanishing one after the other, but this violent journey was also the reason why the beast within would be tamed and humanity would steadily blossom anew in Kang To’s life.
Bridal Mask is a bright example of what nationalism/fascism and like-minded forms of “ideology” can do to hearts and minds as they are led by blind fanaticism through the prism of a “higher cause” in order to preserve ill-natured and ever-expanding ambitions. If wars are a crime against humanity, fascism through strict uniformity is just one drop of the poison and wealth and power are the lurking reasons. Bridal Mask reflects all three sub-levels of inhumanity to a wide extent without attempting to appear user-friendly on screen. On the contrary, it is raw because you can’t approach such subjects in an amiable tone, especially when you want to strip righteous-seeming uniforms and most and above all the sickening cause behind its “noble” contours.
Even though Bridal Mask is seen through the Korean prism it still remains a protest against gruesome “beliefs” which are bound to leave scars on the very soul and essence of humanity. Given the circumstances, Bridal Mask doesn’t neglect bringing to the surface comfort women, enforced army enlistment of Korean youth to find themselves at the Chinese front for the Japanese war machine to have less casualties, tortures based on evidence or assumptions, humiliation of human rights and dignity, extreme citizenship discrimination and an attempt for Koreans to abolish their heritage and embrace a Japanese way of living in order to acquire a chance of becoming first class citizens of the empire.
In times like these, an idealist figure is always needed to raise the heads and eventually the moral of an entire nation’s population, except for those who chose the colonial side for their own well-being as opposed to their fellow Koreans’ struggles and their presence throughout the drama is more than palpable. However, not every Japanese citizen was preserving the “ideals” of the empire and it’s being depicted through very specific figures at some points in their lives. It’s one of these aspects of Bridal Mask that don’t make the drama one-sided in its point of view even though it focuses on the Korean side which indeed suffered under the colonial rule.
The mask itself was a symbol of anonymity depicting that any Korean citizen could be under that mask as the prayers for freedom and brighter days were growing in numbers while the ongoing struggle and oppression were perfectly presented through the burden of the figures partaking in this drama. Just like the mask was forged by the cries of an entire nation, the face behind the mask wasn’t bound to remain stable and the successor to the righteous avenger’s “throne” was meant to go through all the steps of internal change, depending on the circumstances in the beginning, but walking upon the enlightened path that had already been paved.
Bridal Mask masterfully depicts the flames of revenge and the way it progresses through very different perspectives as it ranges from pure yet purposeful hate to noble intentions or blind hatred and in reverse. It’s all about how the arch thought of revenge makes one’s heart’s cogwheels rotating differently, especially when it appears as an inevitable option. Revenge was the main crossroad in Bridal Mask’s world with both roads externalizing the internal collision. The first pathway was forging a humane side given the circumstances and the second one was nurturing the beast within.
There’s also an ongoing sense of familial love both in presence and absence since there’s a wide variety of characters trying to be accepted by their parental figures while pushing them away at the same time with their decisions. There’s a distinctive presentation for every character when it comes to that very specific aspect somewhere between a parent’s expectations/ambitions which distort a child’s personality and a parent’s love and longing for wisest decisions.
Albeit a cliche in the world of dramas, the past which brings together and tears apart many of our figures at the present was essential in Bridal Mask. It doesn’t only show how some of the characters met during turbulent times, it also reflects a part of their choices at the even more explosive present and the way all of them progressed solely and through their manifold interactions.
There’s an ongoing and ever-changing battlefield where friendship, emotion, conscience and duty struggle for the upper hand in a threatening surrounding environment. The captivating storyline never loses its pace and it gives the characters the opportunity to evolve and grow wiser or lose themselves in the vehemence of the circumstances. The soundtrack evokes a bittersweet aura forging a sound background which climaxes everything going on in the foreground in the most representative way.
Dramas like Bridal Mask are very demanding in order to preserve to the fullest everything they want to convey. A multi-layered and thought-provoking script in combination with exceptional cinematography is not enough if the acting isn’t top-notch. Bridal Mask excelled in that factor and Joo Won was a living masterpiece through his transcendent and versatile interpretation. A wide variety of facial expressions was parading in front of our very eyes since Joo Won is an emotional chameleon even when the role is more than challenging.
Minimal whenever needed but also exaggerating without seeming pretentious or pompous just for the sake of it whenever the circumstances were asking for it, Joo Won always managed to bring to the surface Kang To’s plenteous characteristics in the way he progressed as a character. During the first episodes he was depicting a figure you could hate to the fullest for all the reasons in the world, but his transformation was immense and we could witness the course he was paving step by step in a masterful way. Joo Won’s acting in Bridal Mask is beyond any expectations, he’s one league of his own and the way he breathes through a wide variety of emotions from one edge to the other is simply astonishing.
The most complex characters of Bridal Mask have to be Lee Kang To and Kimura Shunji and they progressed back to back while embracing one another’s former nature by perfecting two figures’ parallel yin and yang opposition. Park Ki Woong was as stellar as Joo Won and he was highly representative of Shunji’s arch warmth and kindhearted nature, but he was literally glimmering in the darkness once the poison befriended Shunji’s veins with only one destination, his heart. Just like Kang To was progressing step by step, the same applies to Shunji and Park Ki Woong was paving his own way with every step being even more darkening during an ongoing struggle to maintain his humane side.
I usually read negative opinions concerning Jin Se Yun and this was the first time i saw her in a drama. I have to admit that i found her pretty decent and she fervently brought to life Mok Dan’s character. Her revolutionary nature and non-compromising spirit, along with her longing which was related to the past, were there and i liked her interpretation. However, the female figure that stole my impressions was no other than Ueno Rie. Such a multifaceted personality, so much grandeur, finesse and elegance under a menacing veil were brought to life in an entrancing way by Han Chae Ah‘s vibrant and irresistible presentation. Ueno Rie was the woman of a thousand dresses and she was a living catwalk of that era as she never wore the same outfit twice. Her background story and the way she progressed were highly intriguing, as intriguing as Han Chae Ah’s genteel presence and glowing acting!
The number of secondary figures and guest roles is quite a big one since the nature of the drama was asking for it. It’s true that main figures are the front line of a drama, but if the rest of the cast don’t possess the dynamics of presenting distinctive figures then the overall outcome isn’t as majestic as it should be. Thankfully enough, Bridal Mask has nothing to do with this and you could differentiate each and every character from the first moment they started making their appearances.
Ahn Hyung Joon was putting many second leads to shame as Katsuyama even though he was only a supporting role, Jeon No Min was simply flawless as Dam Sa Ri, Shin Hyun Joon was shining as Lee Kang San, Kang To’s brother, Yoon Bong Kil was presenting Abe, the person you could never hate regardless of his uniform while Yoon Jin Ho was no other than the person you could only hate, Goiso, alongside Kimura Kenji who was exceptionally presented by Park Joo Hyung. I named just a few, but there are many fascist characters, local cooperators, renegades and conflicted ones along with the quirky ones that were easing the tension with their humorous approach just like the grotesque figures of Lee Shi Yong (Ahn Seok Hwan), Lee Hwa Gyung (Kim Jung Nan) and Shin Na Da (Lee Byung Joon).
Bridal Mask is breathtaking with diverse fight choreography, representative cinematography, a wide variety of emotions presented through many angles, mesmerizing acting, excessive and ever-expanding chemistry and a cleverly woven thought-provoking and history-reminding storyline through a fictional scenario reminding everyone that authoritarian approaches don’t last forever since people will always oppose oppression regardless of the sacrifices they have to make.