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Masquerade (Blu-ray Review)

MasqueradeCJ Entertainment brings Masquerade to the United States on Blu-ray.  This title was originally released on June 11, 2013 as a Best Buy exclusive.  On February 11th, that exclusivity is relinquished and it will be available for purchase from other outlets.  This historical fiction film is the fourth highest grossing film in Korea’s history.  I think its worth noting that in terms of countries South Korea has had possibly the best and most original output for film in general in the last 10 plus years, so this is saying something.  Masquerade also swept Korean’s equivalent of the Academy Awards, the Grand Bell Awards, winning in all 15 categories.

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Film 

King Gwanghae lives his life in constant fear of assassination.  There are rumblings of an attempt on his life and he comes up with a plan to counter it.  He wants his councilor to find him a doppelganger to sit in for him during the nights when he could be most vulnerable.  One is discovered, in the form of the town’s jester.  Ha-sun.  Ha-sun is originally supposed to just wear the king’s outfit and sit during the night.  But, as feared, the king is actually poisoned.  Instead of informing the people, the king is secretly taken out of town and Ha-sun is trained to talk and act as king until the real one recovers.  As he gets comfy in the position, Ha-sun starts to become an even better king than Gwanghae ever was.

Masquerade is a film of historical fiction theorizing what happened during a mysterious missing 15 days of Gwanghae’s reign.  It’s a pauper becomes the prince tale, without the prince having to “paup”.  Part of this film is about Ha-sun learning to become king and educating us on the particulars of the royalty of this era.  The other half deals with the politics of the time and his mission to do right where Gwanghae was failing, but also trying to maintain his cover.

Lee Byung-hun takes to task both the roles of Gwanghae and Ha-sun.  You may have seen this guy plenty recently as he was Storm Shadow in both GI Joe films and starred in RED 2.  But, likely his bigger claim to fame was a little movie called I Saw The Devil (which is awesome and I recommend you go see it now!).  I get having the same actor take on a dual role in this, and Byung-hun is terrific, but they really made no effort to differentiate the two characters on their initial offering.  Ha-sun looks EXACTLY like Gwanghae just in different clothes when first they meet.  He even has the same facial hair and hair cut.  It seemed kind of like laziness in production doing that.  It’s a conceit we have to give the movie that they look totally alike, but they could have at least tried to make them look slightly different.  The way this is presented is too easy.

I must applaud this film for being an incredibly beautiful production.  They had some breathtaking shots and gorgeous scenery to work with. Much of the costuming and color palette used on the film is a wicked thing of beauty.  There is some stellar framing and great compositions that you just kind of want to pause and marvel at throughout the film.  It also helps that this Blu-ray does it complete justice and has a really strong sense of bold colors and sharpness to accurately present the filmmakers intentions.  Maybe filming ancient Korea is an easy recipe for success, but it most definitely works.  It may be a lengthy film, but it looks good while doing it.

I did enjoy what this film was presenting, even though it seemed a new take on a traditionally told tale.  Its biggest problem from not being great for me is its length.  It’s a 134 minute film that I couldn’t see any reason for it to be so long.  There was so much of this film that could have been tightened or even excised.  There’s not a whole lot of action in the film or intense drama to keep it moving.  There’s a lot of ancillary storylines that get in each other’s way of this movie ever having a solid pace.  There are moments when it picks up, but goes right back to (this is the wrong word to use, but I’m drawing a blank) dragging.  I’d argue this could have been a very effective film at 105 minutes.

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Video 

This movie doesn’t ‘masquerade’ as anything but a fantastic 1080p MPEG-4 AVC video encode.  The colors on display are incredible bold and very gorgeous looking.  Much of the scenery is wonderfully displayed in this detailed and sharp image.  You can pick out every little bit of the king’s beard hair in the 2:20.1 frame it’s that accurate.  Fabric textures, skin textures and surfaces all resonate quite realistic.  While the movie is a bit snoozy, the picture you’re looking at is far from.

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Audio 

Disappointingly this release is fitting with only compressed audio formats.  The main track is a Korean Dolby Digital 5.1 surround track that is front heavy and really feels like a whimper in comparison to the luscious video on display before you.  There’s some impressively slight movements between channels, but this is a rather calm and uneventful (in terms of action) film that not much is required.  Also provided are a Korean Dolby Digital 2.0 track and an English dubbed Dolby Digital 5.1 and 2.0 tracks.

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Extras 

This release contains no supplemental material.

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Summary 

CJ Entertainment brings home Masquerade with a solid presentation.  The fictionalized historical film has a terrific video transfer, but ultimately disappoints with providing Dolby Digital audio tracks instead of an uncompressed track.  It just feels lacking having that support such a rich image.  The film is bare as bare bones can be as there are no extras, no trailers and the disc loads straight to the menu.  It doesn’t carry a hefty price tag, so for some of you it might be worth the query.  But as it is, if you really love the movie go ahead and grab it because it’s cheap.  If you have not seen it, rent it or stream it before making the decision to add it to your collection.


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Brandon is the host, producer, writer and editor of The Brandon Peters Show (thebrandonpetersshow.com) on the Creative Zombie Studios Network. At Why So Blu he is a Writer/Reviewer. Brandon is a lifelong obsessive film nerd. As eager to educate in the world of film as I am to learn. An avid lover of horror, schlock and trash. You can also find older essays on his blog Naptown Nerd (naptownnerd.blogspot.com).

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