If Mask had a report card, and I was its teacher, I would write on it something along the lines of, “Mask displays strong potential in many areas, but seems to have a short attention span and does not work to maximize his potential.” That, and maybe also, “Mask would do so much better if he would seriously apply himself.”
Yes, this does kinda-sorta sound like what I recently said about High Society, but I think because Mask managed to show more real potential, the disappointment here feels, well, more real, too.
I mean, for a good stretch, I actually really enjoyed watching this show.
…Which is saying quite a lot, since I actually never really intended to watch Mask. I don’t usually reach for makjang, and this was marketed as makjang.
But then I checked out episode 1, because my friend Timescout had found the initial episodes so weirdly and unintentionally hilarious that I just had to see for myself, what that was about. I checked in, was suitably amused, and then checked out again.
And then, practically everyone I know on Twitter began raving about this show, and so, my curiosity dictated – make that demanded – that I check back in to see for myself what the fuss was about. (As you must have gathered by this point, I can be a very curious person! 😄 )
STUFF I LIKED
For a good 17 episodes, I actually found Mask entertaining and engaging, thanks to the next couple of highlights.
Yeon Jung Hoon as Seok Hoon
Right away, I found Yeon Jung Hoon deliciously intense and dramatic as resident baddie Seok Hoon.
In a High Melodrama setting (that was not quite makjang, in my opinion), I found Yeon Jung Hoon’s delivery almost theatrical, his expressions and gestures felt so Large. But it worked, and really well, too. For a while, at least, I found Seok Hoon the most interesting and arresting character of this drama world, and I was curious to know more about his motivations and his plans.
As a bonus, all his glaring made him feel like Vampy gone to the dark side, and I kept half-expecting him to snarl and vamp out when riled up, something which amused me greatly.
Yes, Seok Hoon’s role as resident baddie was part of Show’s wasted potential, but let’s talk about that later.
Joo Ji Hoon as Min Woo
On a more consistent note, I really, really loved Joo Ji Hoon as Min Woo.
Not only does he play Min Woo’s confusion and angst well, Joo Ji Hoon demonstrates absolutely fantastic comic timing. It’s much less in the physical gags (thank goodness), and more in Joo Ji Hoon’s great reaction faces, which tend to be hilarious – and often when I’m least expecting it.
I love that Show knows to leverage a good thing, coz we get comedic beats from Min Woo all series long, and they were the highlight of this show, for me. Seriously. Just pick any random Mask episode, and there’s a 90% chance that my favorite thing about the episode would be a comic beat from Joo Ji Hoon.
As a quick example of the comic awesome, there’s a little beat in episode 13 which is among my favorite Min Woo moments.
It’s a quick little scene where Ji Sook (Soo Ae) offers to scratch Min Woo’s back to get rid of the shivers he’s got, from giving her a cheesy compliment. Min Woo agrees, and then as Ji Sook begins to scratch his back, he suddenly literally shrieks from the tickles, then rapid-squiggles out of her reach like his pants are on fire, before shooting her the most flummoxed expression.
Seriously – Best. Thing. Evar. 😄
On a somewhat related tangent, Joo Ji Hoon’s role of Min Woo actually reminds me of his role as Crown Prince Shin in Goong (2006). I mean, Min Woo’s in an arranged marriage, and in the midst of politicking, he and his contract wife have to show the world a happy and united front while fielding interviews with the press and such. And as they spend time like that, they start to get to know each other and eventually fall in love. All you need to do is switch out the names, and you could just as well be reading the synopsis of Crown Prince Shin’s character arc in Goong, right?
I found that little detail rather amusing, especially since I recently completed a Goong rewatch (review here!), and I couldn’t help but smile to myself at how the Crown Prince is now all grown up. 😉
Tangent aside, I really liked how surprisingly candid Min Woo tends to be, as a character. In a world where so few characters actually speak their mind, I found Min Woo’s straightforward honesty refreshing and disarmingly endearing, and he remained one of my favorite characters through to the very end of the show.
Min Woo-Ji Sook Cuteness-Sweetness
In a Very Dramatic show where revenge and doppelgangers are the main event, the light freshness of the OTP came as a very pleasant surprise. Also a surprise, is how quickly into the show this OTP effect begins. I’m not complaining, of course, since I’m a sucker for a good OTP. Very quickly, this OTP grabbed my attention, so much so that I found it easy to forget that I was supposed to be watching a revenge melodrama.
If I had to break down exactly what it was about the OTP that made for such cracky watching, it’s these 3 things:
(a) Min Woo’s growing discombobulation in response to his burgeoning feelings for his wife, and the adorkably awkward expressions to go with;
(b) The comedy and the sweetness of both Min Woo and Ji Sook inching closer to each other as they come around to their romantic feelings; and
(c) The warmth and tenderness growing between Min Woo and Ji Sook, as they each offer mutual understanding and healing to the other, in the process of building their relationship.
There’re lots of OTP highlights in this show, for me, and it’d be impossible to talk about them all.
One of my favorite bits is the hidden office romance aspect of Ji Sook working as part of Min Woo’s team. The crossed wires, around her co-workers assuming that she was a maknae nobody audaciously flirting with the boss, amused me greatly. I also loved that Min Woo was So Preoccupied with Ji Sook, in spite of himself.
Hands-down, the swooniest OTP moment, though, would have to be Min Woo’s unexpected love declaration to Ji Sook in episode 16.
As they stand on the steps leading to the family court, about to finalize their divorce, Min Woo suddenly declares, “I won’t care who you are or if I will die if I’m with you. I will be happy to be with you, Byun Ji Sook-sshi. Don’t leave me in order to save me. If you disappear from my sight it will be same as killing me.” … “I love you, Byun Ji Sook.” And then he moves in to kiss her. Eeee!
Seriously, the kisses are so tender and so heartfelt; you can just feel the wistful longing on both sides finally finding grateful expression in those kisses. Swoon.
Of course, besides my 3 favorite highlights, there were other things that were working in Show’s favor.
The premise is fantastical, but Show is well-made and the execution consistently feels polished and confident. Show makes the melodramatics feel intentional and almost elegant, while keeping everything moving along at a brisk pace. The camera work and direction feels thoughtful and quite refined, and the OST is appropriately immersive. Additionally, even though the plot isn’t plausible by normal-people standards, Show possesses its own internal logic, and, for the most part, plays by it.
Cast-wise, Soo Ae and Yoo In Young both put in compelling performances as our female leads, and the supporting cast does a solid job of rounding out the drama world.
STUFF THAT DIDN’T HELP
Despite its strong start, Show – sadly – ultimately fails to live up to its potential. Rather than One Big Mistake, in my mind, it’s more that Show made a series of smaller mistakes that eventually came together to cause its underwhelming downfall.
[SPOILERS THROUGH THE END OF THE REVIEW]
Here’s a quick rundown of some of those mistakes.
Threads to Nowhere
Show often surfaced intriguing threads that promised to develop into interesting plot points later on, but essentially, most of those threads go nowhere and end up being dropped. The drugging of Min Woo, which seemed to make a convenient exit after a while, is one. Seok Hoon’s growing jealousy, triggered by Min Woo’s closeness to Ji Sook, which also seemed to conveniently peter off, is another.
The Business Stuff
I found the business shenanigans not very accessible in this show, at least in the earlier stretch of the show. Sometimes I didn’t really get what was going on, business-wise, but those shenanigans didn’t feel compelling enough to make me want to actually work it out. Since revenge was supposedly the main event of this show, I found this to be a weak link.
Additionally, the business stuff actually sorta fades into the background as we get deeper into the show. Which feels kinda more like sweeping something under the carpet, rather than actually fixing something to make it work better.
Stupid Plot Points
Even in a drama world where suspension of disbelief was a given, I found some plot points glaringly stupid.
Like Ji Sook taking off her ring next to the river in episode 6 and dropping it in the water. That’s such a dumb thing to do. But, whatchagonna do, Show needed a reason for her to be sopping wet so that we could get that skin-to-skin contact between Min Woo and Ji Sook.
Also, there’s that beat in episode 18, where Ji Sook and Mi Yeon (Yoo In Young) have their big talk thisclose to the water of the swimming pool. There’s So. Much. Space. that’s not near the edge of the water that it’s laughable that they had to stand right next to the water. But Show needed Ji Sook to almost fall into the water, so that Mi Yeon could grab her wrist, so that Min Woo could see it all and have his memory jogged.
Of course, there’s also Seok Hoon’s reason for seeking such an elaborate revenge. Up until the finale, all we get in terms of Seok Hoon’s motivations, is his twisted and warped logic about saving the world. Which makes no sense whatsoever, and is not at all helpful in making his whole vengeance crusade feel credible and solid.
Worse, when his real reason is finally revealed to us in episode 20, it still doesn’t make a lot of sense. If you think about it, the reason Seok Hoon has destroyed his own life and the lives of so many other people, is all because Chairman had smiled at Seok Hoon’s father’s funeral. Which, what?
As we got deeper into the show, I found that the accumulation of these missteps had eroded my enjoyment of the show in a big way. By episode 18, I felt quite disengaged, to the point of wanting Show to hurry up and just end already. Not good.
THOUGHTS ON THE ENDING
So, Min Woo and Ji Sook get their happy ending, and Seok Hoon and Mi Yeon pay a price for their wrongdoing. But OMG the plot-holes, seriously.
I mean, charging Min Woo for Ji Sook’s murder, when no body has been found? I know this is dramaland and all, but seriously? Couldn’t the writers have come up with something more believable than that? And the detective/prosecutor guy has the gall to look impatient and angry when Min Woo tells him that his wife just called and she’s alive.
On top of the plot-holes, perhaps the bigger offender is how overwhelmingly underwhelming everything is.
For one thing, resident baddie Seok Hoon never really does anything different, even in the finale. All this time, it had felt like Show was building up to something Extra Big, and Extra Bad, for Seok Hoon’s ultimate revenge. But honestly, the finale episode just feels like another day of Regular Bad for him.
Plus, there’s what I mentioned above, about Seok Hoon’s reason for his revenge. It’s supposed to be a Big Reveal, since as our resident baddie, we’ve been in suspense for 19 whole episodes, as to why he’s so fixated on revenge. But when it’s revealed, it’s more head-scratching than shocking.
Additionally, the entire sequence of how our resident baddie is defeated by Min Woo and Ji Sook feels quite straightforward and, well, easy, which made everything prior feel like much ado about nothing, really. Like, if it was this simple, why didn’t they just do it sooner, right?
Seok Hoon’s takedown also feels glossed over and rushed. All the evidence that put him in jail should’ve been played out for us to see. I think that would’ve been a better use of screen time, and it would’ve also felt more satisfying. As it is, it feels like they whipped him off our screens coz time was up, and they wanted to serve up more cute instead.
Yes, The Cute was cute – Min Woo’s and Ji Sook’s daughter is adorbs – but honestly, the last few episodes of the show, and the finale in particular, didn’t feel tight nor well thought-out. Instead, it kinda felt like the writers just got tired, and were in a hurry to wrap things up.
I wondered about why the ending left me this cold, when I’d genuinely enjoyed the earlier episodes. What it is, is basically a case of empty promises, all fizzling out to nothingness. My enjoyment of the earlier episodes had a lot to do with trusting Show to deliver on its promises; promises of a Major Showdown and a Satisfying Takedown, with some cute on the side. But in the end, instead of serving up a Major Takedown, it was all a Major Letdown, and I was left with a bemused feeling of “Uh.. That’s.. it??”
So much wasted potential. So Much.
THE FINAL VERDICT:
Fun for a while, but falters in the last stretch and loses its grip.
FINAL GRADE: C++