Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Kat's K-Dramas: Gaksital - Bridal Mask

Genre: Action/Adventure, Historical, Romance
Episodes: 28
Aired: May 30, 2012 - September 6, 2012
Network: KBS
Watch it on: Dramafever, Viki

Lee Kang To lives in Seoul in the 1930s, oppressed under the Japanese rule. He is a rising star in the police force and works with the Japanese police to capture “Bridal Mask,” a mysterious freedom fighter who fights for independence wearing a Korean Bridal. A twist of fate puts the role of the Bridal Mask in Kang-to's hands.
Kimura Shunji is a gentle Japanese teacher who has come to teach in Korea against his father's will. He is best friends with Kang-to and shares a loving relationship with his Korean nanny. He also falls in love with the fiercely patriotic Mok Dan, a woman who is in love with Kang-to, a twist that begins to change him into a darker person.
Main Character: Lee Kang To is a police officer in the Japanese Imperial Police. As a Korean person this is kind of like betraying your people since the Japanese are the brutal imperialists that are terrorizing Korea in this pre-world war 2 story. He is the ultimate anti-hero. In the first 20 minutes of episode 1, I thought that it might be impossible for me to like a character that started out so low. I actually stopped watching the show altogether for awhile and didn't get back to it until I saw Joo Won in another show where I loved him. That's how low Lee Kang To starts, I just didn't think I could root for such a bad guy. However, like any good story they gave him just enough backstory and redeeming factors that I eventually found myself rooting for his character development that I knew was to come. That's a great main character if there is one.

Love Interest: Oh Mok Dan (Boon-yi). She is a strong female character, she is solidly on the Korean side. Her father is one of the leaders of the Korean Independence movement. What I kind of found facsinating was that she and Kang To were so solidly on opposite sides that he tortured her and almost had her killed in a public firing squad! It's the most adverse beginning I've ever seen in a love story. And the show just keeps layering tons of backstory, connections, and history on top of this to make it so much more complicated then it seems.

Second Male Lead: I loved Kimura Shunji (also romanized to Choonji) in the beginning. He is a Japanese man who was raised in Korea. Because his nanny was Korean, and he loved her so much, he is very empathetic to the Korean people's plight. He starts out kind, loyal, and with strong morals. He continues to be loyal and he definitely lives by a certain code the whole time, but these things get skewed greatly over time. Shunji has a character arc that is just as wide as Kang To and that makes him a good foil to Lee Kang To's character. He goes a little far into the dark side, and I mourned the wonderful Shunji I loved in the first few episodes.

Second Female Lead: Ueno Rie's character is so interesting to me. Just a bit of background info, she was a Korean girl whose parents died. She then became a gisaeng and was noticed by Ueno Hideki and he adopted her because he respected her strong will and disdain for Koreans who she sees as abandoning her. She returns to Korea as a spy for her father and she has a goal of capturing Gaksital. But this is all complicated by her internal struggle with being a Korean who hates Koreans (kind of like Kang To, so it was interesting symmetry).

Allies: Abe is Kang To's comedic friend in the Imperial police. Along with Mok Dan's circus troupe he is the source of a lot of the humor in the show.

Kang San is the source of so much of Kang To's initial angst. He is the older brother that Kang To revered and looked up to. So when Kang San is beaten by the Japanese Imperial Army for being a part of the Independence Movement and became mentally handicapped, Kang To realized that the Independence Movement had done his family many wrongs (Since his father had also died for being a high ranking officer in the Independence Movement).

Mok Dam Sari is Oh Mok Dan's father. He is a captain in the Korean Independence movement and he shows up sporadically in the show. But he is a symbol of the greater struggle of some Koreans who wanted their country back from Japan.

Random Thoughts: This show was set during a very interesting time in both Korean and Japanese history. It's a time that they don't talk about too much in dramas/films. However, it's a very important time to talk about when looking at how Korea became what it is today.

We look at the time leading up to World War II a lot from the Western world's point of view, but almost never from the Eastern world's. So I'm really happy that this show is out there.

Also, this show is great.

Really good characterization and story telling. The character arcs of Lee Kang To and Kimura Shunji are two of the most wide-reaching changes I've ever seen. And both characters go through so many stages. I will say I think that Lee Kang To's development was more dynamic than Kimura Shunji. He kind of became flat when he became "evil." I know he wasn't actually evil, he was just blinded by his rage and need for revenge. But I wish that he could have kept some of his original kindness and empathy that he displayed. I genuinely liked the Shunji in the first few episodes, and the fact that he was able to turn into such a vengeful man was very upsetting to me (but it worked really well for the story, and I know that).

I think that the show has a very underlying theme of brotherhood (which means major bromances!). However, because it is set during a time filled with so much conflict, these relationships are torn apart. Especially the epic friendship between Kang To and Shunji. This relationship broke my heart. That two people who could have been best friends in a time of peace must be pitted against each other in a time of war (wars are the worst!). And Shunji was only more important to Kang To because he lost his brother when he was beaten by the Japanese. Now that Kang San is no longer the man Kang To knew and loved, their relationship has drastically changed. Kang To does a lot of what he does in the beginning with the desire to get the original Kang San back (which makes an eventual plot twist all that much more tragic).

One thing that I kept thinking (and this might only be me) was that it seemed really weird when all of the Japanese officers and officials were yelling about how great Japan was and how Korea was a land to be subdued, but they were doing it in Korean. I understand it's a Korean show, so they should be speaking in Korean for the majority of the time. But I the scenes that tripped me up was where it was a bunch of Japanese officials sitting in a room by themselves yelling about how great Japan was...in Korean...it just kept thinking it sounded a little odd to me in that context.

I won't say the show was always at the top of it's game. There were a few episodes that seemed to draw out certain conflicts too much. The show lags a little around episode 8-10, but picks up again in Episode 11. And again the conflicts get kind of repetative between episodes 22-25. But Looking at that pattern it seems like the writers were trying to build up tension for some big splashy episode around the midpoint and the finale. So I can understand that from a plotting/writing point of view. However, as a viewer of the show I wish they would have sped it along (also, I know that the show got an extension before they got to episode 8, so I wonder if the writers took that opportunity to draw out things and ended up stretching the plot a little thin).

Overall, great show. One of the best I've seen in a long time. It had action, it had intrigue, it had history. But most of all it had great characters and great heart. I think this might go to show that even when writing falters a bit (and the writing in the show wasn't bad, but it was a tad flat at points) the acting and characters can carry a show through the rough patches. Also the scenery and the costumes (and the art direction in general) were awesome (maybe that's because I love this time period). It was just a really well done show about a period of time that was full of conflict and strife. It took turns that I never saw coming and I was super excited to watch each new episode.

Best Episodes
Episode 6 - Best reveal/Best emotion from Kang To (Joo Won's episode for sure)
Episode 7 - Best character development episode (by the end I wrote a message to my cousin, Axie, who introduced me to the show and said "I am feeling all of the emotions right now!")
Episode 11 - intrigue, characters colliding, love story development
Episode 17 - Great character development for Kang To
Any Episode after 25  - Most emotional!

Favorite Soundtrack songs:

Goodbye Day(굿바이데이) by ULALASESSION(울랄라세션)

Judgement Day (심판의 날 - 주원) Joo Won feat Lee Jung Hyun
(This song is sung by Joo Won, the lead actor in the show)


Spoilers ahead! Do Not read on if you don't want SPOILERS!

The things Kang To has to go through to develop as a character. It's almost too much sometimes. When his mom and Kang San die IN THE SAME EPISODE! That killed me. I was bawling!

I never thought I would be sad to see Kenji Kimura die, but I felt so bad for Shunji. Also, I did not think he would die so soon. This show really yanked my emotions around.

I really enjoyed seeing how Rie would watch Kang To. She obviously had feelings for him, but it was hard for me to think of it as love for a while. She is just so cold and detached because of her upbringing. And when she collides with Mok Dan in episode 11 and gets jealous of Kang To staring at Mok Dan, it was great.

I thought Mok Dan had the perfect reaction to finding out that Kang To was her Young Master. I think it was totally believable for her to kind of flip out on him. The image of this wonderful, self-sacrificing young man was shattered when she imagined the Kang To she knows (not the one we know obvi) is him all grown up. I wished in that moment that she could overlook all the mistakes he's made and believe in him. But if she had then I wouldn't have believed her. So I thought she had the perfect reaction to the news and I give both the show and Jin Se-Yeon major props for that scene.

The reveals were great. I loved how and when they revealed to Oh Mok Dan that Lee Kang To was Gaksital. And I like that she came to her understanding of him as a person more organically. It worked really well that she found out he was her Young Master before she found out that he was Gaksital.

Also, when Shunji finds out that Lee Kang To is Gaksital I almost died! I thought for sure it would be like ten episodes of him being in jail and Oh Mok Dan trying to break him out. But that super did not happen, and I'm glad.

On the flip side, there were way too many episodes where Lee Kang To and Kimura Shunji just tiptoed around each other, the whole time wondering what the other knew. I was getting really tired of it by the end.

OMG, the ending KILLED me! I can't believe they would kill Mok Dan like that. I know that it fits in a show that's about a hostile occupation and war. But the fact that they didn't get their happy ending really upset me. I'm still upset now. I've never watched a k-drama where the two mains don't get to be happy together in the end. Lee Kang To deserved his happy ending. He lost so much to get where he was by the end, and then he looses the woman he loves?!
Why world?! (shakes fists)

However, those kinds of plot twists are what made the show entertaining the whole time. And in the end, Mok Dan's character was more important as a symbol for the two male leads than she was important for herself (Feminist PSA: this is not a lesson for women, this is the opposite of how we should live our lives). The one positive that came from this is that Kang To was able to fight for himself and for his people after this. He started fighting for his brother, his mother, and his father. Then he continued fighting for Mok Dan. Now he fights for himself and to free his people. That's the best reason to fight.

Kimura Shunji's suicide death is fitting for where his character ended up. I found myself wondering if they knew he would kill himself and therefore chose to make him go too far so he couldn't live with himself. In the end, I like to think there was a bit of the original Shunji still in there, but then I'm conflicted because I wouldn't want that Shunji to die (even though he kind of did die, to make way for the evil Shunji). I was also really happy that Kang To didn't have to kill Shunji. it would have taken Kang To back to a dark place that he might not be able to escape if he had to kill his best friend. I wonder if Shunji knew this, and his last gift to Kang To was taking this last fatal act out of Kang To's hands. I know this is perhaps projecting a nobility to such a sad and hopeless act, but I can't help wanting there to still be something good in Shunji's character, even in the end when he's at his lowest.

So, I didn't think I would care at all about Ueno Rie's departure. She was a character I was really excited to learn about and they didn't really delve too deep into her (so sad! She was such an intriguing character in the beginning). However, they threw a hail mary pass in the end where they revealed Katsuyama loved her. I think this was actually alluded to way earlier in the show. I thought it would be corny, but their farewell scene was just so heartbreaking and beautiful. I loved it.

And the ending of the series finale was epic. Perfection! I loved that it wasn't all roses and happiness and, yay Korea is free now. Because that's not what happened. There was a long and winding path to that. But the bigger victory was that the Korean people fought back and retained their identity. And the final scene shows this big time! And all of the Gaksitals in the street were a great image to see in the end.

I like to think think that Kang To will be alright. He won't be completely whole without his family or Mok Dan, but he'll pull through all of this because he has something to fight for.

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