가면 SBS (2015) 20 Episodes
Grade: A

Melodrama Deluxe / Crime

Korean Drama Review by Jill, USA

"If you wear a mask,
you can never be happy" - Eun Ha Seo

Easily one of the best Korean dramas of 2015, Mask delivers on every entertainment front possible, with terrific performances by all the actors, and a story written by well respected scriptwriter Ho Chul Choi (who also wrote Secret). It's filled with suspense, intrigue, superb cliffhangers, revenge, psychological warfare between characters, a great narrative flow, a sincere love story, and an overall satisfying ending. I found it impossible to concentrate on any other currently running K-dramas while I was watching this one, and just abandoned them all temporarily until I was finished with this one first. I was that totally engrossed in it.

I had always had troubles finding the leading actress, Soo Ae Park, attractive, what with her unusual face with its prominent nose, and her deep husky voice, but here in Mask she finally won me over completely. I consider her akin to a Bette Davis type, not a standard beauty but possessing incredibly raw, yet at the same time sophisticated acting talent. Although I had always recognized her as a great actress (Love Letter, Queen Of Ambition, A Thousand Days' Promise, the Korean films The Flu and Once In A Summer), she didn't personally appeal to me so I rarely sought her work out. All that has changed with this wonderful performance in Mask. It's the best I've ever seen from her, and I can easily understand why Korea keeps giving her top roles in its films and dramas. She can play good girls and she can play bitches and be equally captivating as both types. You're in for a roller coaster ride with Mask! I should also mention the production values are first-rate. Obviously a lot of money was spent on this amazing Korean drama.

Soo Ae plays a dual role of good girl,
and bad girl; both come face to face
with their doppelganger in an unexpected way

Soo Ae has great chemistry with her leading man, Ju Ji Hoon (from Princess Hours), even though he is several years younger than she is. Korea loves these noona romances (older woman, younger man) and this particular one goes from tempestuous to tender very quickly, so you never lose your patience with the growing relationship -- there are both intense and amusing moments -- and you are cheering the relationship on from beginning to end. Both characters grow tremendously as people as they fall in love and learn to trust one another. The only catch is when his character first marries he thinks she is an entirely different person! He expects a contract marriage for business reasons, but he experiences his first true love relationship instead. That's because of the major twist in the plot. 
The Story: Poor girl Ji Sook Byun (Soo Ae) is working as a sales clerk at a department store when she suddenly comes face to face with her doppelganger, Eun Ha Seo (Soo Ae) as the woman shops in the mall. They stare at each other in amazement and an old saying is recalled, "When doppelgangers see each other, the first one to notice the other person will die." In the key scene it is Eun Ha who first notices Ji Sook. Will the prophecy come true?

Eun Ha is a rich woman who is the daughter of famous Congressman Jong Hoon Seo (Young Soo Park) and the fiancé of chaebol heir Min Woo Choi (Ju Jin Hoo). Min Woo is the illegitimate son of the chairman of SJ Group, Doo Hyun Choi (veteran actor Hwan Jeon Guk from Bad Guy and Doctor Stranger), and despite his illegitimacy he is the company's presumptive heir, to the bitter resentment of the chairman's wife (Joon Geum Park who played the infamously horrid mother of Hyun Bin in Secret Garden), and her daughter's apprehension, Min Woo's half-sister Mi Yeon Choi (In Young Yoo from My Love From Another Star).
Despite the wealth of his family, Min Woo has grown up without any love or warmth, which results in him displaying some mental problems, like issues about being touched and a concern over total cleanliness. His mother died early in a tragic accident and his one consolation is going to her grave on her memorial days and playing the violin for her. His and Eun Ha's future marriage is understood by both parties to be a mutually beneficial business arrangement and that it will be celibate, with both parties allowed to pursue their own romantic interests privately.

Min Woo also doesn't know that the man Eun Ha is having an affair with is his sister Mi Yeon's lawyer husband, the manipulative and ambitious evil sociopath Suk Hoon Min (an INCREDIBLE PERFORMANCE by Jung Hoon Yeon from Sad Love Story). Sociopaths are incapable of true love, and Suk Hoon uses his marriage to Mi Yeon as a tool to position himself into gaining the company once the patriarch dies. He does this partly because he feels his own family was ruined by the Chairman of SJ Group, so revenge is part of his motive, not just gaining wealth and power for himself. These manipulations play around with his wife Mi Yeon's head as well. He will say "I love you" to her without any expression but that of a cold user, but she is so desperate for his love she makes herself believe he is in earnest. At one point she even imagines a pregnancy.

For many episodes it was Suk Hoon who fascinated me the most. "This is the most perfect depiction of a sociopath that I have ever seen," I would think to myself, in awe. Suk Hoon has no conscience, no remorse, no guilt, he's only out for Numero Uno. The sociopath is incapable of being cured, the condition is permanent. He believes his own lies, which is why he convinces so many people that he is trustworthy and on their side. Why did so many hundreds kill themselves at Jonestown at the order of fanatic Jim Jones? Because he was a sociopath and they believed him implicitly.

Jung Hoon Yeon gives a brilliant
performance as a sociopath

Suk Hoon will stop at nothing to prevent his brother-in-law from being named successor, including conspiring with a corrupt psychiatrist into drugging Min Woo and making him think he's going insane. False memories are implanted in his afflicted brain during hypnosis. However, Suk Hoon's plans go awry when Eun Ha seems to appear dead in the family swimming pool (full details of this incident are revealed later in the story), so Suk Hoon, aware of Eun Ha's doppelganger, threatens and blackmails Ji Sook into taking Eun Ha's place. He says he will not kill her and he will pay off all her family's large debts if she does so. Reluctantly she agrees. It is assumed by her family that Ji Sook is the one who died, and her family - her dad Dae Sung Byun (veteran actor Hwan Jung Dong), mother Ok Soon (Yang Mi Kyung), and younger brother Ji Hyuk (Hoya) are fooled by the body in the coffin that looks so much like their daughter. They grieve over her loss and the loan sharks who were pursuing them back off, for the time being, until they start to realize some hanky panky has been going on and Ji Sook is not dead. Then they are used by Suk Hoon to accomplish further nefarious goals.

Ji Sook and her family
As Min Woo begins to live in close quarters with Ji Sook after their marriage, he is puzzled and intrigued by his new wife and how different she is from what he expected. Eun Ha had been rather cold, but Ji Sook is all warmth and caring. The couple begin to fall in love in earnest, which of course begins to complicate sociopath Suk Hoon's plans for taking over the family corporation. If Min Woo heals and stabilizes that won't help Suk Hoon in his thirst for revenge and power, trying to usurp Min Woo's place, and so he plans on ways he can kill both Min Woo and Ji Sook, and almost reaches his goals on several occasions.

However, there is always his wife Mi Yeon, who begins to suspect his true motives and is torn between her concern for her brother's life, and her obsession with winning the true love of her husband. For awhile Mi Yeon seems to rally and think constructively, but eventually obsession wins out over critical thinking and morality. I found myself actually feeling sorry for Mi Yeon, even though she was clearly very troubled. However I was also, in turn, angry at her, repulsed by her, frustrated by her. This actress gave a wonderful performance in a very complicated role, and I found it ironic that in both of her most famous K-dramas she has to play women deeply in love with sociopaths; in My Love From Another Star she is ultimately murdered by the insane sociopath Jae Kyung, whom she gets pregnant by out of wedlock, and here in Mask she checks her own intelligence at the door, refusing to really accept how evil her sociopath husband truly is, even when he aims to kill her brother. Even when she knows he has actually murdered someone she keeps quiet instead of turning him over to the police. She herself is guilty of committing murder by walking away from the scene of a crime after contributing to it. Mi Yeon needed a psychiatric hospital badly, poor thing.

The ending is a pleasing one. SPOILER: There is one thing I would have changed if I were the writer and that is to not try and humanize Suk Hoon by trying to show him capable of guilt at the very end of the drama. Sociopaths are incapable of feeling this emotion because they are incapable of self-reflection and remorse over wrong-doings. You don't depict the perfect portrayal of a sociopath for 99% of the show and in the last 1% show him capable of doing anything but running from police to save his own hide. Expect to be called out on this discrepancy by fans of the show. This is a character who, when he killed a man who was onto Ji Sook's real identity, said to him as he died, "The world will be a better place once you're gone." That is how sociopath Adolf Hitler thought too: "The world will be a better place without the Jews, gypsies, homosexuals, mentally ill, etc." Would you be impressed with a writer depicting Hitler's true evil character, one which in the last few minutes changes gears and shows him capable of any remorse whatsoever for his murders? Would you believe that the author of that show had done a good job in depicting the true Hitler? Most (sane) people would answer, "No!" Korean drama writers really need to leave their villains as villains and not try to bring them any sympathy or reform them. It's much more believable that they would not change by the end of the show after doing many heinous things throughout the show. I would have graded Mask a full A+ instead of an A if the show had depicted a sociopath accurately from beginning to end.
If you love hardcore melodramas with lots of twists and turns, and a beautifully depicted romance at the core, then don't miss Mask. I loved it. Superb acting!




Ji Sook sees a woman who
looks exactly like her