Sometimes I feel like I can’t advance in a drama unless I get food poisoning. When I found myself, once again, confined to my bed with a bunch of antibiotics next to me, I thought, “You know, maybe it’s time I finish the remaining episodes of Bridal Mask.” And so, after two years of on and off viewing, I have finally finished this masterpiece and reviewed it!
Name: Bridal Mask
Release Date: May 30th 2012
Genre: Action, Period Drama, Romance
Summary: The story is set in Korea of the 1930’s when it was still under the Japanese rule. Lee Kang To is a Korean detective who works for the Japanese police. Ruthless and cold-hearted, he is despised by his fellow countrymen who see him as a traitor. He makes it his life’s mission to capture Bridal Mask, a mysterious freedom fighter. A couple of dramatic episodes later, he finds himself donning that very same mask and fighting for Korea’s independence. On the other hand, we have Kimura Shunji, a sweet, Japanese teacher who is also Lee Kang To’s best friend. One incident turns both of these men’s lives upside down and changes them forever.
Oh my God.
I don’t know why it took me so long to finish this drama, but I am so glad I finally did! I am not going to lie, I was very hesitant about watching it, the setting and plot just didn’t interest me at first, but then I watched Ojakgyo Brothers, fell in love with Joo Won (who hasn’t?), and decided to give it a try. This drama has everything, romance, action, suspense, patriotism and really passionate acting!
I guess the first thing that caught my attention was the acting. As much as I love Korean dramas, many of the shows I watched before had….”questionable” acting skills. Although, to be honest, I think I blame the writing more than the actors themselves, but I digress. It felt like every actor in this drama was meant to play the role he/she was given. The cast really brought these characters to life, whether we were meant to hate them, love them, or pity them, by the end of the drama the audience really develops a connection with these people and their stories.
I wish I could talk about every single character on the show, everyone from the freedom fighters to colonizers was so dedicated to the role, I felt like I was watching La Bataille D’Alger once again. Dam Sa Ri was like the Korean version of Yacef Saadi.
Going back to my writing point, I think it was one of this show’s main strong points. Korean dramas often fall into the trap of making their characters appear too one dimensional. Not Bridal Mask though, no character was evil/good just for the heck of it, they all had layers of complexity. Even a character like Koiso, who appeared to have no redeeming qualities throughout the show, felt pity for Shunji at the end.
Lee Kang To: The story’s main character who starts out as a despicable villain and later becomes Bridal Mask. I truly believe that this was one of Joo Won’s best performances. Right from the very first episode, I found myself in awe at how he brought his character to life, sometimes I found myself repeating a scene because it was just TOO good. When he was kicking his disabled brother, you could see the frustration and anger that were inside him, when he was crying over his mother’s grave, you could almost touch the pain inside him. As the story progressed, you couldn’t help but feel sorry for him, because you discover that underneath that harsh exterior, is a man who just wants to give his family a better life, even if it’s at the expense of his pride and honor. The best part of this drama was how realistic the change happened. We follow Kang To’s story of redemption through his anger, frustration, confusion and finally acceptance.
Kimura Shunji: Poor Shunji, I think out of all the miserably unfortunate characters on this show, I pity him the most. Despite being best friends, he is the complete opposite of Lee Kang To. He starts out as a sweet Japanese teacher, who decides to teach Korean children despite the disapproval of his father. Before long, he finds himself as the Superintendent of the police station and makes it his life’s mission to kill Bridal Mask, who unknown to him, is actually Lee Kang To. As the story progresses, he finds himself becoming more ruthless, at first it shocks him, but slowly he spirals deeper and deeper into darkness as he is blinded by vengeance and hate.
Oh Mok Dan: The two men’s love interest, she has strong principles and is Dam Sa Ri’s daughter who is a famous freedom fighter. Mok Dan acts as the catalyst that changes the two men, she falls in love with Lee Kang To, and that adds to Shunji’s hatred.
Uieno Rie: A Korean aristocrat who is adopted by a prominent Japanese man when her family is killed and she grows to despise Korea. She tries extremely hard to embrace her new Japanese identity but this complex ultimately becomes her greatest weakness. She becomes a lethal spy sent to kill Bridal Mask but ends up falling in love with Lee Kang To.
It’s a love story that’s set against a backdrop of political turmoil. One of the main questions that this drama raises is whether the ends justify the means. At the beginning, Kang To sells his honor to secure a comfortable life for his family but it earns him his mother’s disapproval and hate from his fellow countrymen. Shunji dons the police uniform to get revenge but it drives him to madness. I can’t bring myself to judge either one of them, yes those choices resulted in horrible consequences and yes I was horrified at Shunji’s cruelty but I couldn’t help but feel sorry for him. By the end of the series, he was a broken man anguished by guilt and self-loathing. This drama really sheds light on how war and its atrocities change people, sometimes to the better and sometimes to the worse. It also portrayed the horrors that man is capable off, whether it was torture chambers, young Korean girls tricked into becoming comfort women for Japanese soldiers, or young students killed for siding with the independence movement.
Good vs. Evil
One thing that struck me was this drama’s attention to details. One of the earlier scenes portrayed Shunji and Kang To sword practicing. Shunji was dressed in white, while Kang To was dressed in black. At the end of the series, the two fight again, only this time the colors were switched, symbolizing the drastic change that these characters have had.
Episode 7: When Kang To cries at his mother’s grave, painful scene and incredible acting by Joo Won.
Episode 12: When Shunji confessed to Kang To that hunting Bridal Mask was slowly driving him crazy and that he can no longer recognize himself.
Episode 27: The fight scene and the flashback.
Episode 28: Every.Single.Moment.
Incredible acting, complex characters, beautiful soundtrack, and a passionate story! I want to gush about it for days. It’s definitely going on my list of favorites!