I never get tired of Korean costume dramas with their richly colored, many-layered robes, and wide-brimmed, transparent black hats. I never get tired of actor Lee Byung-hun either and here in Masquerade -- a film that's already got me enraptured with its costumes -- he's cast in dual roles, once as King Gwang-hae, the justifiably paranoid monarch whose court wants him dead, and once as Ha-seon, a lookalike actor who fills in for Gwang-hae when the latter's been incapacitated by an opium overdose.
Playing two characters in the same movie is always hard but playing two characters, one of whom is impersonating the other, is really hard if you're still trying to make each distinct. Lee, an actor who has come a long way from his pretty boy days of Lament and The Harmonium in My Memory, is up for the challenge. He shows evolution as well as contrast by refining Ha-seon's impersonation as time goes by while still displaying the stature of the real king when the potentate returns at the end.
I would also like to thank director Choo Chang-min for not having a scene in which the king and the impostor must face off or even share the screen. While Masquerade isn't afraid of getting comical [royal bowel movements, slapstick switcheroo with the royal advisor (Ryu Seung-ryong)...], the movie refrains from asking the Queen (Han Hyo-ju) to choose between two identical men shouting, "I'm the real king!"
What makes a king, not who is the king, is the real question at the center of Masquerade. And the surrogate sire has a few things to teach the court about government for the people. The eternal difficulty in getting the rich to pay their fair share of taxes is as relevant as ever. The consulting of the head eunuch (Jang Gwang) and a 15-year-old girl (Shim Eun-kyung) who makes a mean bean paste are perhaps a bit more of their time.