[SS Review] Nana's nude exposure is not everything, from superficial beautyism to offspring earthism... The uncomfortable gaze of 'Mask Girl'

August 22, 2023


A scene from the Netflix original series 'Mask Girl'

[Sports Seoul | Reporter Joe Eunbyeol] Kim Momi (played by Lee Hanbyeol), an ordinary woman in her 20s working as a company employee, had a dream of becoming a singer. Since childhood, her talent was dancing and singing in front of people. However, in Korea, to become a singer, one needed both talent and appearance to support it.

The extraordinarily unattractive 'beauty of misfortune,' Kim Momi, gave up her dream early on. Instead, she began a secret double life. During the day, she worked as Assistant Manager Kim Momi at the company, but after work, she put on a specially crafted mask and stood in front of a PC webcam.

Being remarkably unattractive ultimately turned into an advantage with an exceptionally good figure. Kim Momi enjoys the adulation of numerous men throwing virtual balloons her way on the internet, falling into narcissism.

The original series 'Mask Girl,' released on Netflix on the 18th, is based on the foundational framework of the webtoon 'Mask Girl,' serialized on Naver in 2015. While the drama adapted the original's themes of appearance-oriented society and prejudice into a milder form, the uncomfortable gaze remains intact.

Brentford | AFP Yonhap News

A scene from the Netflix original series 'Mask Girl'. Photo: Netflix

Director Kim Yong-hoon, who previously illuminated the desires of humans who resemble money-chasing beasts in the film 'Beasts Clawing at Straws', once again exposes the clash of human nature and reason in the series 'Mask Girl'. He provocatively reminds viewers, "There's a desire within you as well to disregard the weak and normalize hatred," in an uncomfortable manner.

Condensing the extensive original source material spanning 29 episodes in Part 1, 48 episodes in Part 2, and 47 episodes in Part 3, the drama 'Mask Girl' unfolds as a total of 7 parts. Each episode mainly focuses on explaining the causes and consequences that lead prominent characters like Kim Momi (played by Lee Hanbyeol, Nana, Go Hyun-jung), Ju Onam (played by Ahn Jae-hong), Kim Kyung-ja (played by Yeom Hye-ran), Kim Chun-ae (played by Han Jae-yi), and Kim Mi-mo (played by newcomer Shin Ye-seo) to face society's gaze of hatred.

The first form of hatred tackled by 'Mask Girl' is appearance-oriented prejudice. The extreme stories are revealed behind the reasons why Kim Momi, who has a good figure but an unattractive face, had to wear a mask, and why Ju Onam, who was bullied since childhood due to being short and chubby, became fixated on sexuality.

Both individuals find confidence when admired online. Kim Momi, hiding her face behind a mask, and Ju Onam, showering virtual balloons generously upon her due to her exceptional figure, experience exhilaration. Due to the gaze of hatred that denied them acceptance, these two individuals distort each other's desires through a warped perspective, ultimately leading them to make unfortunate choices.

A scene from the Netflix original series 'Mask Girl'. Photo: Netflix

During the process of condensing the original source material, the drama underwent changes such as transforming the original concept of 'female enemies' into a sense of female solidarity and amplifying the notion of 'offspring earthism' present in the source material. It also critically addresses the prevalent behaviors of problematic parents in our society.

For example, in the original work, Momi changes her name to Areum to work at a bar and is depicted as engaging in a rivalry with Kim Chun-ae, leading to mutual destruction and even another murder. However, in the drama, the two characters are set up to support each other, comforting each other's pain and helping each other escape their hellish reality.

In the drama, Ju Onam is characterized as a person with skewed sexual fantasies due to the strict upbringing of his mother, Kim Kyung-ja, who is deeply involved with a cult-like religious group. Yeom Hye-ran's portrayal of Kim Kyung-ja is fixated on capturing the murderer Kim Momi, who killed her son, without mentioning her son's distorted sexual preferences. Given the reality of parents who use phrases like 'a child with royal DNA,' the depiction of Kim Kyung-ja in the drama is not unfamiliar.

A scene from the Netflix original series 'Mask Girl'. Photo: Netflix

In addition, the drama points out the prevalent societal contradictions through scenes like churchgoers who have just finished their district worship gossiping about a lenient restaurant or depicting the coarse profanities uttered by the faithful Christian prison warden and the practical authority figure in the prison, Ahn Eun-suk (played by Lee Soo-mi).

The main contributors to the drama's powerful message are the actors who embody these challenging roles. Lee Hanbyeol, who managed to break through the 1 in 1000 competition ratio, adeptly portrayed her character with remarkable synchronization. Nana portrayed Kim Momi, who leads an anxious life working at a bar after undergoing plastic surgery and even resorting to full-body exposure, despite her limited screen time. Go Hyun-jung showcased her 30 years of acting experience by expressing both the desperation of a mother struggling to survive for her child after imprisonment and the sense of futility.

Ahn Jae-hong, in the role of Ju Onam, transformed the character from the original work, who had become a slave to his desires, into a dramatic presence that garnered praise from internet users who jokingly asked if this was his "retirement piece." Yeom Hye-ran's acting is truly deserving of the compliment "Korea's Javier Bardem." Her incredibly versatile expressions provide the driving force for this uncomfortable drama, gripping the audience's attention and keeping them engaged.