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Mask Girl - Movie Poster
Original Title:

South Korea 2023

Number of Episodes: 7
Thriller, Drama, Comedy

Kim Yong-hoon

Lee Han-byeol
Yeom Hye-ran
Go Hyun-jung
Ahn Jae-hong
Daniel Choi
Han Jae-yi
Kim Ga-hee

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Mask Girl

Mask Girl - Film Screenshot 1

Story: Kim Mo-mi (Lee Han-byeol) has an extremely ordinary office job, even though she had a completely different dream job in mind growing up. She wanted to be a dancer and singer, and as a child she already loved the attention of others during her school performances. As an adult, she unfortunately does not have the model-like face that is necessary to achieve success. However, things are different when it comes to her figure, and so she puts on a mask and works as a streamer, where she gets the attention and recognition for being a dancer she has always dreamed of. She is so successful that she even hears her colleagues talking about "Mask Girl" at work. In the meantime, her co-worker Joo Oh-nam (Ahn Jae-hong) has his eye on her and is also a huge fan of the streamer. He eventually finds out that Mo-mi is actually Mask Girl and wants to confess his love to her, but never manages to find the right moment.
In the end, Oh-nam is killed by Mo-mi, Mask Girl's identity is revealed, and Mo-mi is wanted as a murderer all over the country. Mo-mi undergoes cosmetic surgery and goes into hiding. All the while, Oh-nam's mother Kyeong-ja (Yeom Hye-ran) tries to find the murderess herself and in her old age, has to learn some new skills in order to do so. Again and again, her clues turn out to be a dead end, but eventually she thinks she has found the real Mo-mi, as she still wears the same necklace she did back then. Still, things are not as they seemed at first...

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Review: "Mask Girl" immediately manages to captivate you thanks to several aspects. On the one hand, there is the socio-critical tone about the extreme beauty obsession (especially in South Korea) and the superficiality caused by modern consumer behavior, but on the other hand, there is also the approach to the story, which includes subtle black humor, but then clearly turns to the dark thriller genre. At the same time, the drama always remains the common theme of the story. The narrative style is also fascinating, because each episode (sort of) focuses on a different character, so that we look at the events from different perspectives or we even jump to a different timeline, all of which gives the story a more epic scale and is at the same time supposed to portray the people and their motives in a more detailed manner. While the series is more than convincing in all other respects, it unfortunately fails at the latter, because the individuals remain a lot more one-dimensional than expected.

Mask Girl - Film Screenshot 5

Perhaps I should emphasize upfront that "Mask Girl" is an ambitious and extremely entertaining series. You might even say it is the best show Korea has made for Netflix so far (yes, including the extremely overhyped "Squid Game"). The reason for this is that the series feels like an exceptionally well-produced movie. Director Kim Yong-hoon ("Beasts Clawing at Straws"), who also wrote the script, which is based on a webtoon, does an excellent job at creating a successful dark thriller atmosphere combined with some black humor, and at the same time, he always manages to keep an eye on the drama without the story ever becoming melodramatic. Very refreshing. The webtoon is praised for its numerous twists and revelations, which also keep the events moving in this show and create a high level of suspense.

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Particularly captivating is the fact that each episode is a surprise simply because of its new perspective. You never know what you are about to get. The viewer is also taken through different periods of time. Now, you might think that the lack of a real protagonist could become a problem, but this is just not the case. Somehow, Mo-mi also remains the link between everything, but little by little you work your way through the individual layers of people until you get to the very core. Here, however, director Kim misses some chances, because none of the people portrayed actually offer a complex core. Instead, the innermost essence of the individuals can be described by just a few adjectives. It can also be quite irritating that particularly the Mo-mi of later episodes has nothing to do with the person from the beginning and that her change is never plausibly explained to us. Since men hardly play a role in "Mask Girl" or tend to be portrayed negatively most of the time (but the real evil characters are actually female individuals), you would have wished for a little more depth in the plot about Oh-nam. Because the reason for his murder by Mo-mi's hand was actually initiated by her.

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There are certainly some weak points and convenient coincidences within the story, but none of that is a real problem and simply increases the entertainment value of the series. In terms of directing, Kim takes his cue from Park Chan-wook in his heyday or from Kim Ji-woon and his "I Saw the Devil". Parallels that simply cannot go unnoticed and do not only represent a beautiful homage, but also nicely fit the series and its tone. The sometimes complicated narrative structure also works, because the show never seems overloaded. As mentioned before, there is always something new and unexpected happening, or new characters are added to the puzzle. Even though these unfortunately remain a bit flat. Sadly, the finale cannot be called original either. Things develop exactly as you would have expected them to, and so the last episode runs the risk of becoming a big disappointment, until at least the action and suspense manage to win you over again.

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At the end - and not just because of the last scene - we are catapulted back to the very beginning and to the question of who Kim Mo-mi actually is. Here, we realize that we do not know that much more than we did at the start. Sure, Mo-mi is a tragic figure, a victim of society, her circumstances, the delusion of a perfect appearance, but also of her own need to get attention and recognition, all of which is the unsurprising result of her messed up relationship with her mother. But since her mother also plays a role in the series at some point, you are all the more frustrated by the fact that neither a confrontation nor a catharsis was included here. "Mask Girl" misses almost every opportunity to delve more deeply into the inherently promising individuals. This is probably the biggest disappointment of this otherwise outstandingly produced and captivating show. But since there is no unnecessary filler material and you can either work your way through the show episode by episode or binge-watch it, I absolutely recommend the series for all thriller fans.

(Author: Manfred Selzer)
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