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K-drama ● Review: Mask Girl

English Title: Mask Girl

Korean Title: 마스크걸

Director(s): Kim Yong-hoon

Screenwriter(s): Kim Yong-hoon

Studio: Bon Factory & House of Impressions Released: 2023

Runtime: 7 episodes, 50m – 1h 2m each.

Starring: Lee Han-byeol, Nana, Go Hyun-jung, Ahn Jae-hong, Yeom Hye-ran, Han Jae-yi, Shin Ye-seo

My Verdict: A tight narrative about an ugly woman’s desire for attention. Tragedy follows her decisions. Some plot conveniences but beautifully shot.

Mask Girl

● Based on the webtoon of the same name written by Mae-mi and illustrated by Hee-se, the plot follows the adult life of Kim Mo-mi, played by three actresses (excluding those briefly portraying her childhood in the introduction).

● Ever since childhood, Mo-mi wanted the attention that comes with fame. However, as she got older, it became apparent that her face is not attractive even though her body is. As an adult, she lives alone and works in accounting. After hours, donning a mask and wig, she live-streams as “Mask Girl”.

● At the office, she has a crush on her married boss whilst another colleague is infatuated with her. Also, since Mask Girl is popular and mystery by its very nature is attractive, her identity is a topic of interest. One night, she meets a fan and things don’t well from there…

● It is a dark and disturbing tale. It is also somewhat tragic for all the main characters. It can be described as a crime drama and thriller. There are also moments of black comedy, particularly in the first half of the series.

● The names of the 7 episodes are the names of the viewpoint characters. The series starts with Kim Mo-mi (Lee Han-byeol), then her colleague Joo Oh-nam (Ahn Jae-hong) and so on. There is some overlap in each episode, showing key events or expositions from a different point of view. This method of storytelling keeps it fresh which is important because the story is dark enough to be too uncomfortable if the narrative sticks to the same viewpoint character all the way through.

Kim Mo-mi (Lee Han-byeol) in 2009, before plastic surgery.
Kim Mo-mi (Lee Han-byeol) in 2009, before plastic surgery.
Joo Oh-nam (Ahn Jae-hong)
Joo Oh-nam (Ahn Jae-hong)

● It should be noted that Mo-mi is played by Nana after she gets plastic surgery. The series then skips to over ten years later and Mo-mi is then played by Go Hyun-jung.

Kim Mo-mi (Nana) after plastic surgery.
Kim Mo-mi (Nana) after plastic surgery.

● The opening in the first episode introduces Mo-mi as a child performing in some tacky talent show which in some ways sets the tone, except the series is not as comical as the opening may suggest. It reminds me of the deliberately cheesy talent show in Donnie Darko (2001), both scenes presumably a commentary on how some people view showbiz, particularly the inappropriate involvement of young children in showbiz.

● Mo-mi (Lee Han-byeol) as an adult is presented as visually ugly but an ordinary and even a seemingly pleasant person. However, whilst there is nothing wrong with wanting love and attention, the first thing shown is her desire for fame. Likable characters need not be likable people and the writer presumably wants to give us a flawed main character, but wanting that kind of attention can be difficult to sympathize with.

● In any case, most of the other characters are just as if not more flawed so Mo-mi, by comparison, is one of the most likable characters. On a related note, the writers try to make sure the main characters, regardless of their unlikable traits, have some pathos which I think is mostly well-executed. This makes them more complex as people.

● One example is Kim Kyung-ja, brilliantly portrayed by Yeom Hye-ran, who is Oh-nam’s overbearing mother. She is also supposed to be a regular churchgoer. Given her difficult life circumstances, one wants to give her the benefit of the doubt (even if she isn’t likable) that she is not one of those maliciously hypocritical crazy christians, that it’s just her personality. Although this is ambiguous initially, it becomes more apparent later.

Kim Kyung-ja (Yeom Hye-ran)
Kim Kyung-ja (Yeom Hye-ran)

● The performances of the other main roles are good. The only (potential) problem is that the three actresses who play Mo-mi not only look very different but they also play her very differently. This is partly intended as her character does change over time and it’s not jarring, but it is noticeable.

Kim Mo-mi (Go Hyun-jung)
Kim Mo-mi (Go Hyun-jung)

● The plot is tight and the pacing is well-managed. As already mentioned, the different viewpoint characters keep it interesting. However, initially at least, there are certain plot conveniences. For example, Mo-mi agreeing to meet a fan and risk revealing her identity is hardly plausible. There are other unwise decisions on her part that make things worse. In a way, they are part of the premise so either one accepts them or not.

● Most of the episodes are beautifully shot. It is nicely lit especially if one considers the many nighttime and interior scenes (which are meant to convey nighttime). There is the common use of wide shots with the object center of frame (and sometimes off-center) and then really tight shots of the face. Combined with seamless editing, the effect is surreal. There is also the use of wide shots with unconventional angles, again, for surrealism.

● Overall, it is a short and sufficiently captivating series. Despite the name and the main character running a livestream channel, it is not merely a more unpleasant version of Celebrity. That is a good series too, but Mask Girl is not about the abuse of the internet—it is about, amongst other things, the tragic results of unwise decisions that come from loneliness and desperation.

Mask Girl livestreaming.
Mask Girl livestreaming.

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