Here is another drama with another stellar casting bait. I have already watched several dramas of Kim So Hyun and most of Yoo Seung Ho’s because I love them both and I sometimes can be an awesome binge watcher.
I have been waiting for this pairing ever since I saw a video of Kim So Hyun and Yoo Seung Ho when they were filming for Missing You, where So Hyun played the younger version of the female lead and Seung Ho is one of the three main cast. So there were actually no scenes between them in the drama. Look at this cute behind the scene video of these two who took pictures together:
And finally here comes this drama!
Ruler: Master of the Mask is about a Joseon prince Lee Sun (Yoo Seung Ho) who is forced to hide his face with a mask ever since childhood due to the King’s involvement with an organization when he refused their demands. The prince grew up – still in that mask – and became someone who fights against injustice in society by going up against the same shadow organization (Pyunsoo) who continued to be a threat to the royal family and wants to privatize the waters of Joseon. But after several of his actions resulted in the death of those around him – including the father of Han Ga Eun (Kim So Hyun), and the secret plan to have another man (L) wear the mask and pretend to be the Prince goes terribly wrong – Pyunsoo group becomes so powerful they seem to be unstoppable.
My thoughts …
I was tempted to review this one alongside fellow saeguk drama The King in Love, and give the post a title ‘Tale of the Kings‘ then compare. This is because of certain similarities I noticed, and it didn’t help that I watched this one after I finished the other. If the previous drama has the weak-minded and pitiful King, Ruler: Master of The Mask also has a King who is a King only in name. It would seem that the sins of the father continue to haunt his child and was left to deal with the aftermath.
This historical drama is beautiful. Literally. It is aesthetically pleasing to watch. From the gorgeous traditional costumes, beautiful cinematography and the vibrant use of colors all throughout.
The story started out slowly laying out the foundations of the plot, and the viewers were being introduced to the key players. There were also several lighthearted and funny moments mainly because of Seung Ho’s adorable antics. It started out as a promising story of a naive prince and how his choices led to one consequence to another and ultimately forcing him to grow up and face the threat that is right in front of him.
Will save the good stuff for last (like a happy ending sort) so I’ll start with:
(Let’s make a bullet point or else this will be a very long rant..)
- I had a certain problem with the mask and how it is used in the story. I know that it is right there in the title so there should be one, but the word mask can also mean that there are different sides to the prince and not the just the physical mask itself – so why not go with that? And the logic of the old King that the Prince will be protected if he hides his face? Obviously, the mask doesn’t help him blend in, it makes him stand out. Okay, then maybe his identity would be unknown, but then how would his people even trust him? How should they know that he is the real crown prince? The ‘mask’ over the course of this drama was donned by three different people and [of course] no one knew the difference. What about their height? Their voices? Why does this drama have to revolve around this stupid mask? (I told you –rant.)
- The King could not tell his son of the reason he has to wear a mask (why not?) so then the prince wants to find out for himself. Therein lies the root of all his regrets and naive decisions. And the prince –he was old enough that he should have understood that he is under attack from a specific group and him being the crown prince is enough reason for that.
- Its predictability. Being familiar to the type of characters this drama offered, you’d know exactly what was coming way before it ever happened. The characters did not once deviate from the personalities constructed for them so it was predictable on that end.
- This drama seemed to drag on. I admit to being bored in a few scenes and lost the excitement in anticipating the next episode because of the predictability I mentioned.
- And to top it all off, the ending was not nearly as satisfying — it felt like they just had to get rid of some of the loose ends so as to wrap it up nicely and give the viewers a somewhat of a happy ending. Sure it was nice to see how it turned out but not at the expense of other characters who deserved more.
Now that we got the bitter taste out, we can finally proceed to other things.
The characters and their actors…
The Chief Peddler
Crown Prince Lee Sun (Yoo Seung Ho) is an idealistic character and who is someone who genuinely wants to help his people. He is a solid and likable hero. At first, he was a naive and a silly prince – but with the events following the death of the people around him, being thrown out of the palace, and the things he suffered along the way – he became a character with so much growth that it was satisfying to watch. Yoo Seung Ho delivered the range of emotions in his arsenal and played the naive Lee Sun perfectly as well as the mature version of the prince. It was obvious how perfect he is for the role. Every facial expression and gesture painted the image of a youthful prince who was sheltered from the world, but then afterward he had to learn to be tough. Of all his different sides, it was his performance as The Chief Peddler I like the most. This was also where his character’s growth was seen the most. It showed his wit, his charms, his adaptability, and his drive and determination to keep moving forward.
The Masked King
The other Lee Sun (L) is a commoner who shares the Crown Prince’s name. He is the embodiment of the struggles of the poor and one who only longed for a better life. He started out as someone in a constant state of fear but later on bared his fangs when he was fighting for what he truly wants. L‘s portrayal of this character was a surprise because I had never expected such vigor and force in his acting. He was very convincing in his role and made you pity his character who got caught up in all that mess when all he wanted was to help his Prince and keep his family safe. There was also the volatile aspect of his character which gave way to scenes that would showcase L‘s acting chops, as well as show some of the most intense scenes between him and the real Crown Prince. The dynamic between the two was interesting to watch because of how the power (or who got the upper hand) would constantly shift. This wouldn’t have been achieved if not for L’s surprisingly strong portrayal of the role.
The Textbook Heroine
The female lead Han Ga Eun (Kim So Hyun) is a kind, caring, and intelligent woman who does what she can to help her fellow people. A perfect girl for our prince. She’s the textbook heroine – kind, generous, beautiful, intelligent. She’s the kind of perfect heroine that dramas give you and expect you to like her. I love So Hyun as an actress and she did very well here, but it was the character Ga Eun who was very much not on par. Her character’s growth was limited and seem to be the least appealing of the main cast. I think she was mostly used as a prerequisite heroine in the drama which was doing fine even without her, but of course, if Ga Eun wasn’t there the second female lead Hwagun would have claimed her spot.
Just a Woman in Love
Kim Hwagun (Yoon So Hee) is by far the most noteworthy and admirable character in this drama for me. She is devious, haughty, and a strong and independent woman. She’s the granddaughter of the enemy but she is in love with the crown prince. She protects him and would do anything for him, all the while keeping her grandfather in check and schemes her way through him. Add to the fact that the Prince was clueless for the most part of who she is and what she truly feels, she is the perfect image of devoted one-sided love. But her love is not poisonous and her love is not vain. She wasn’t horribly jealous or nasty to the main female lead like so many other female rivals we know and hate. For a while, she seemed almost like the main female lead to me. Her character is very fascinating. I will admit that if not for her, I would have stopped watching this drama even with Kim So Hyun and Yoo Seung Ho in the lead. Major props to So Hee who rose up to the challenge and portrayed this equal parts strong and vulnerable character well.
She may be selfish in some ways and was demanding too much to her loyal servant (Gon), but all she does, she does for her love. She was the strongest and the bravest character, and one of the most intelligent too (probably second only to her grandfather who was the master schemer). But for all her riches and the power she wielded, she seemed so poor in my eyes. She deserved better than the what she got in this drama.
And special mention to GON! The loyal and silent bodyguard who followed Hwagun and quietly loved her in his own way. Probably the most heartbreaking scene for me was that one scene between Hwagun and Gon. He is so very loyal and loved her in his own way that he would always follow her will even at the cost of her safety.
This drama is not mainly about romance as it depicts more of the power struggle between the two main male leads and of course the nasty Dae Mok. More so the fact that Ga Eun did not appeal to me as the female lead majority of the time. Yoo Seung Ho and Kim So Hyun’s performance was of course very well done, but it was their characters and the way the story unfolded that left me unsatisfied. L was also a pleasant surprise in this drama, but it was Soo Hee’s Hwagun that really captured me.
I would have been inclined to gush and rave because I have a fondness for the main leads but I can’t really say that I loved this drama. I did not enjoy it as much as I thought I would. I could say that the two brought me here but it was Hwagun who kept me going.
P.S. My next reviews will probably be not as long as this one. With nearly 2000 words this was such a long post!