[HanCinema’s Drama Review] “Ruler: Master of the Mask” Episodes 15-16
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[HanCinema’s Drama Review] “Ruler: Master of the Mask” Episodes 15-16

Through a complicated bit of sleight of hand, Prince Seon and friends manage to achieve an important victory over Dae-mok. Because they got his…stuff, that Dae-mok was going to use to do…things. Normally I try not to overthink inherently meaningless MacGuffin devices, but the stakes in “Ruler: Master of the Mask” are so poorly defined I can only even figure out that Prince Seon’s team won because of their smug victory expressions.

A great deal more emphasis is placed on Ga-eun, and that is not good. While Hwa-goon has been making a name for herself as a highly competent, ruthless, and honorable international businesswoman, Ga-eun’s place in the plot has been reduced to that of a mere love interest. The emotions in her dramatic schemes come entirely over conflict regarding who she is going to marry and when, and for what ill-defined long term political purpose.

Dae-mok used to have all sorts of evil schemes going on and rather than worry about stopping any of those, Prince Seon agonizes over whether he should tell Ga-eun who he really is. The inability of so many of the characters in this drama to recognize each other is just plain weird. Let’s recall that even ignoring the frequent use of masks, all of these people have distinct voices. If Ga-eun can’t remember Prince Seon’s voice she should definitely remember the other Seon’s voice. They were friends. Besides that, from her perspective, the other Seon just disappeared one day without explanation, not even presumed dead.

Hwa-goon only shows up near the end of episode sixteen, and right away I remembered why I like her so much. In a world where so many characters act inexplicably, Hwa-goon carefully considers her options and quickly comes up with a logical plan even in a crisis situation. Where most of the dramatic hesitation in “Ruler: Master of the Mask” is just a result of angst, Hwa-goon hesitates because the problems she’s faced with do not have obvious solutions.

Hwa-goon is also an unusually complex character by the standards of “Ruler: Master of the Mask” on account of her technically being a villain. Yet time and again she pulls off big favors for Prince Seon’s team at great personal risk with a comparably mild expectation of reward. I don’t know that Hwa-goon would necessarily work that well as a love interest, but I am dreading the turn “Ruler: Master of the Mask” seems to be making toward sincere romantic drama between Prince Seon and Ga-eun.

Review by William Schwartz

“Ruler: Master of the Mask” is directed by Noh Do-cheol Park Won-gook, written by Jeong Hae-ri Park Hye-jin-II, and features Yoo Seung-ho, Kim So-hyun, L, Yoon So-hee, Heo Joon-ho and Park Chul-min.

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Ruler: Master of the Mask