K-Drama Review: ‘Ruler: Master of The Mask’ A Crown Prince who Fights for the Fate of His People after His Parents are Brutally Murdered

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The Crown Prince and His Throne

Throughout history in Korea’s dynastic kingdoms, the prince is first in line to a throne and is expected to succeed the heir apparent. As we should know first, the term “Crown Prince” is the male heir apparent to the throne in a royal monarchy, or more specifically, a male designated and raised to become the next king. There were many royal titles and form of address names during the Korean royal period along the generations. Here, we will more focus on the Joseon dynasty as the royal titles and in form of address name were extensive and complex.

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During the Joseon dynasty, when sons were appointed crown prince, they were given an adult name and the crown prince name. The title “Crown Prince” during the Joseon dynasty called “Wangseja (왕세자)” or “Seja (세자)” or “Donggung (동궁)” was used by older relatives, and before they are officially appointed crown prince, they are called “Wonja (원자)” first, according to Wikipedia.

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The greatest impact on Korean society today is the Joseon dynasty, as the most important figure from that dynasty, King Sejong, introduced many progressive ideas and implemented reforms to improve the life of the common people, especially the most outstanding of his achievements, the Korean alphabet “Hangul/Hangeul (한글)”. This is one of the reasons many filmmakers appreciate the Joseon dynasty as the background in nonfiction, as well as fiction like TV historical period dramas, called “Sageuk (사극)”. Thus, the historical drama that we are reviewing this time is set in the Joseon period during the 1700’s. The historical drama “Ruler: Master of The Mask” will show you the depiction of a crown prince from the Joseon dynasty fighting for the fate of his people!

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When the Mask becomes a Taboo for a Crown Prince Turned the King

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As we know, “Ruler: Master of The Mask”, also called “The Emperor: Owner of The Mask”, is a fictional period drama that talks about the most important things in life  and argues that there are some things which money cannot buy. This drama involves romance, action, and court politics. It got a Best Drama Award on the 10th Korea Drama Awards on October 2, 2017.

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The drama is mainly about a crown prince named Lee Sun, played by Yoo Seung-ho, who fights against an organization that has accumulated power and wealth through privatizing water all over the Joseon kingdom. The organization is named Pyunsoo-hwe. Crown Prince Lee Sun fights heroically on behalf of the people and a girl named Han Ga-eun, played by Kim So-hyun, finds herself falling in love with him and she helps him grow as the ruler or king.

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The story takes place in the Joseon period. Lee Yoon, the king of Joseon, is a member of the Pyunsoo-hwe. Before, he agreed with the leader of Pyunsoo-hwe, Kim Dae-mok, played by Heo Joon-ho. He asked him to kill his own brother, who was the previous king, so that he could rise to the throne and become the new ruler. In the agreement, The King, Lee Yoon, acted by veteran actor Kim Myung-soo, was obliged to drink a poppy flower. The poppy flowers produce sap which contains compounds found in narcotics and their derivatives. If you do not drink the poppy flower in a certain time, you will die. Pyunsoo-hwe is controlling their people by requiring their members to drink the poppy flowers, so the members will be dependent on the organization as the only one who owns the poppy flower fields is Pyunsoo-hwe. Basically, all poppy flowers are poisonous. Just for your information, poppy flowers are the source of the narcotic drug opium, which contains powerful medicinal alkaloids such as morphine.

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A few years later, there was a prediction that if King Lee Yoon’s child was born above 9 P.M., he would become a great king and can lead his people well and wisely. Then, the child of King Lee Yoon and a concubine named Lee Young-bin, acted by Choi Ji-na, was born right at 9 o’clock at night.

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Knowing the spreading birth news, Pyunsoo-hwe wanted the crown prince to join the organization. But, the King refused. In response, during the naming event, the Crown Prince Lee Sun’s body was poisoned and he almost died. In order to ward off the poison, King Lee Yoon must let Pyunsoo-hwe totally control the water supply for Joseon. King Lee Yoon was forced to give in.

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The King Lee Yoon was determined to raise his son to be a strong, independent ruler, free of the Pyunsoo-hwe. Crown Prince Lee Sun grew to become a prince who wears a mask to hide his identity. The only people who knew Crown Prince Lee Sun’s face were the King Lee Yoon or his father, the concubine Lee Young-bin, or his biological mother, and the King’s personal bodyguard, named Lee Bum-woo, that was played by Jung Doo-hong.

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Over time, Crown Prince Lee Sun, played by Yoo Seung-ho, wanted to know why he has been forced to hide behind the mask.

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In search of answers, he removed the mask and went to the town where soon he found out how miserable the people of Joseon were because they had to buy water from Pyunsoo-hwe at a high price. When he wants to defend his people, he meets the commoner Lee Sun, played by Kim Myung-soo, who works as a water slave.

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He also met Han Ga-eun, acted by Kim So-hyun, the daughter of the Deputy Magistrate.

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He also met a girl named Kim Hwa-goon, the granddaughter of the leader of Pyunsoo-hwe, and the first outsider to see the prince’s real face. Eventuaslly she fell in love with the Crown Prince Lee Sun.

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Because King Lee Yoon did not want his son to experience the same thing that he did, the King sought a child who was named the same as the Crown Prince Lee Sun in order to act as the prince’s substitute in the poppy drinking ritual requested by the leader of Pyunsoo-hwe, Kim Dae-mok. The commoner Lee Sun was willing to present himself as a replacement for the Crown Prince because the King succeeded in freeing his father.

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But the peak of the problem finally began, Kim Dae-mok learned that the person during the ritual was not the real Crown Prince.

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Pyunsoo-hwe came to the emperor, then killed Lee Yoon and his concubine Lee Young-bin.

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Seeing that, Crown Prince Lee Sun immediately appeared without his mask and was recognized by Kim Dae-mok. Afterward, how did Crown Prince Lee Sun’s resist them?

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This drama depicts what happened in the Joseon dynasty, typically with a series of twisted events. There is heavy drama, unrequited love from second leads, and also awesome battle scenes which should not be missed. The drama was directed by Noh Do-chul and Park Won-gook, and written by Park Hye-jin and Jung Hae-ri. It aired on MBC channel with a total of 40 episodes. According to Nielsen Korea, the last episode of “Ruler: Master of The Mask” managed to score 13.3% for Episode 39 and 14.4% for Episode 40.

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The Casts

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Now that we’ve taken a brief look at the plot summary, let’s take a look at the cast!

  • Crown Prince Lee-Sun, played by Yoo Seung-ho

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He is the protagonist male lead in this drama. Crown Prince Lee-Sun is a prince who is faced with a variety of endless problems and also has to fight tooth and nail just to help Joseon and his people. He is the hero, no doubt. He is selfless and willing to risk anything to achieve the freedom he dreamed of for his country. He fell in love with the daughter of the Deputy Magistrate, Han Ga-eun.

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  • Han Ga-eun, played by Kim So-hyun

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She is the protagonist female lead in this drama. Han Ga-eun is the daughter of the Deputy Magistrate. She is a tough woman who wants to help the people of Joseon. She likes to help the poor and she is the go-to person for people who were sick or being ill. She is a modest, naive, and innocent lady outside the palace. Yet, she is annoyingly a little useless, her rash and ignorant actions cause trouble. At first, she tried to get revenge on Crown Prince Lee Sun for executing her father, but in the end, she becomes the key figure who helps Crown Prince Lee Sun to rise to his throne.

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  • Commoner Lee Sun, played by singer and actor Kim Myung-soo (L)

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He is the male second lead in this drama. Commoner Lee Sun was once naive, kind, and innocent, and was willing to help Crown Prince Lee Sun to fight against Pyunsoo-hwe. He is gifted with a bright mind fit for a genius, but he became an evil and greedy person after he became the fake king. He betrayed Crown Prince Lee Sun, and tried his best to make Crown Prince Lee Sun unable to regain his throne. He became the puppet king of Pyunsoo-hwe. Because of his unrequited love for Han Ga-eun, the girl he loved before he became the puppet king, he did everything and he becomes the monster who blocked the eyes of the real Crown Prince Lee Sun.

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  • Kim Hwa-goon, played by actress Yoon So-hee

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She is the female second lead in this drama. Kim Hwa-goon is the granddaughter of the leader Pyunsoo-hwe. She is the bravest, the strongest, the fiercest person who wants to protect and shield Crown Prince Lee Sun. She is confident and portrays such an empowering female character. She has an unrequited love for Crown Prince Lee Sun and risked her life for the person she loved. It can be said that she is the best character in this drama.

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  • Kim Dae-mok, played by veteran actor Heo Joon-ho

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He is the antagonist in this drama. Kim Dae-mok is the leader of Pyunsoo-hwe and incited everyone and controlled everyone using the nation’s water supply. He is the villain behind the scenes who tries to take control of Joseon for good. He is the figure who always wants everything, by any means, and wants to control everything.

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