LOVE. This show’s got the goods, and then some—badass action, gripping intrigue, dark and layered characterization, and a style straight out of my favorite era of Hollywood cinema. It’s Bogart-meets-Batman, set in the political wasps’ nest of the occupation era. Be still my heart.
EPISODE 2 RECAP
Kang-to goes to his car late at night, when someone dressed as Gaksital cocks a gun right at his head. He freezes.
And then, from a rooftop high above them, the real Gaksital launches a pellet at the gunman, knocking him down. Kang-to uses that split-second opportunity to attack, and after losing the gun in the fight, the assassin runs off.
He returns to Kimura Kenji, reporting that the assassination attempt went awry because of Gaksital. Well then maybe you shouldn’t go around impersonating other people’s carefully-planned superhero personas then!
But here’s where the villains have something to gain from the encounter: Why would Gaksital protect Lee Kang-to? Kenji immediately jumps to the conclusion that this secret partnership is why Kang-to has risen in the ranks. And not because he’s better than you, of course.
The nefarious organization Kishokai (the slashes made by Gaksital in the last episode mark “Ki,” for this name) meets to discuss their precarious situation—already two of their members are dead and Gaksital remains at large. At this rate, he’ll lead the people in a rebellion.
As expected, the group consists of the corrupt heads of every branch of society (banks, newspapers, law enforcement) and Kimura Taro is the boss. (Also worth noting: they all conspicuously wear the same ring.)
Kenji interrupts the meeting to report to Dad, and gets a gruff, “Do I have to tell you what to do?!” Sheesh, I know you’re evil, but damn, he just wants your approval! His cohorts worry, but Kimura tells them it’s taken thirty years to get where they are today, and he won’t cave to a masked avenger. They toast.
Kang-to runs out into the street still chasing his attacker, who’s long disappeared. He stops to look down at the gun in his hand—it’s an expensive one and a particular make, which gives him pause.
But before he can get any further, Kenji comes up (in a sidecar, pffft) and has Kang-to surrounded by officers. He’s ordered to lower his weapon, and when he argues, Kenji shoots it out of his hand. Yikes.
He gets hauled off to the station, kicking and screaming. Opening credits.
They throw Kang-to into an interrogation room, cuffed and battered. Then Kenji walks in and beats the living crap out of him with a baton, rage lighting up his eyes. Kang-to screams that he is a police officer, but Kenji just screams back, asking how long he thought he could fool them all.
He finally stops beating him (ohthankgod) and presents him with the charge—conspiring with Gaksital AND Damsari. Hahaha, it cracks me up that Kenji jumps to this conclusion: Kang-to could never have caught Damsari on his own (because Kenji failed, natch) so they staged his capture and his rescue mid-trial.
Kang-to in turn laughs at Kenji like he’s a simpleton. He points out some glaring inconsistencies (rubbing salt in the wound by calling the puppetmaster a novice) – the “Gaksital” that attacked him used a gun, which the real Gaksital has never done, and a gun specifically licensed to police officers at that.
“If you’re going to put on a show, do it right!” Dayum. I love that he’s a smartypants. Kenji responds by beating him to a pulp. AGAIN.
Circus boss Jo brings Dan a letter from her dad, saying that he escaped safely and will continue to fight. He asks her to be strong until the day they can be together.
The circus family interrupts and the curly-haired ajumma from the opening, Oh Dong-nyun, says that there might be a thief among them, because her chamber pot has gone missing. Shin Nan-da guesses that she either broke it with her ass, or it ran away to greener (and firmer) pastures. HA.
But then we see Sun-hwa carrying said pot furtively down the hall. She brings it to Shunji, who thanks her for yet another donation for his charity project (collecting household items). Heh, so she steals from the circus family and donates to Shunji because she has a crush? So cute.
She runs out and then Shunji notices that there’s something inside the pot. Eeew, did she bring it after use? Don’t open it! He opens it. But it’s not what we think—he finds Dan’s knife inside, which he recognizes immediately.
Dan realizes that her knife is missing, and starts to panic. Feeling guilty, Sun-hwa cops to taking it and counters that she’ll buy her a new one, much better than that old thing. Dan ends up chasing her down the road screaming for her knife back.
At the same time, Shunji is riding his bicycle towards them, and Sun-hwa begs him for a getaway ride. He obliges, but then hearing Dan’s screams of “Give it back! I need it to find the young master!” makes him stop in his tracks. Is this the girl he’s been looking for?
Flashback to thirteen years ago, in Pyongyang. Daddy Kimura comes home to his two sons—Kenji is the obedient one, while Shunji is ever the nanny’s boy. When their nanny collapses coughing up blood, Kenji coldly tosses her belongings out into the street, while Shunji races her to the hospital.
It’s then that he met Dan, who it seems was taken in by an orphanage/hospital run by nuns, hence the habit. She was called Esther then.
Shunji witnesses Esther begging for the doctor to save his nanny’s life, promising to work the rest of her life to pay for the surgery. But she gets turned down. He thanks Esther for saving Nanny’s life, but she tells him to wake up—she needs surgery to live.
He starts to cry, but she tells him to get it together and start being useful, because a person dying from lack of money shouldn’t happen. She tells him that all lives are equally precious.
That night, he sneaks into his father’s room and steals his samurai sword. Oh crap. No wonder he’s been pissed at you for thirteen years. He sells it for the surgery money, and Esther nurses Nanny back to health.
Dad comes bursting into the hospital room and beats Shunji in a fury, and soon he’s laid up in the hospital bed, casts on his limbs. Aw. But he’s totally blissed out since that just means more time with Esther. So cute. If he were a little older, he’d have been like, Worth it.
Back in the present, Dan and Shunji walk together as they catch up, Sun-hwa pouting at them from afar. He had always thought that Dan might have gone to America with the doctor, but she says she had to stay to meet someone.
He guesses, “The person who gave you that knife?” She wonders how he knows, as if anyone wouldn’t notice her clutching her preciousssss every day. He asks who it is, but gets no response.
Meanwhile Kang-to’s interrogation turns to straight-up torture. He gets strung up and whipped, as Kenji watches with a sadistic smile. Kang-to shoots daggers from his eyes, as the blood pours down his face.
Mom and Kang-san prepare for Father’s memorial, and she sighs, heartbroken that Kang-to forgot this day. Kang-san offers to go get Little Bro, since he’s probably just at Shunji’s house anyway. He waddles away happily.
Shunji gets dressed to go to the circus, chastising himself for not having gone earlier. Aw, his crush is already breaking my heart. Kang-san bursts in looking for Kang-to, and Shunji promises to stop by the police station to remind him what day it is.
Kang-san looks Shunji up and down, “You look pretty. Are you going to meet a girl?” Haha, I love that trademark line of his, any time someone else is dressed up. This time he adds, “That girl… is her butt big?” HAHAHA. Wut?
Shunji promises to send Kang-to home, and Hyung says he misses Kang-to and hasn’t seen him for days and days… “But… that girl… is her chest big too?” Pffft. Shunji ushers him out with embarrassed laughter.
Kang-to lies in a jail cell, beaten to a lifeless pulp. His partner/sidekick Abe comes running up in a panic, and at the sight of a familiar face, Kang-to scrambles to get up. He clutches the bars, pleading for Abe to get him out of here.
But Kenji’s right-hand man is standing guard, and laughs in their faces. Abe defends Kang-to, and gets beaten for his trouble. Kang-to screams for them to stop, fuming impotently as Abe gets dragged away.
Shunji rides his bike toward the police station, grinning from ear to ear, bouquet of flowers prepared for Dan. But he arrives at the station just as Abe is being thrown out on his ass. He asks in a panic what’s going on.
Inside, Kenji reads Kang-to the charges that he’s up against, and Kang-to just smirks, leaning back in his jail cell. I love that even in this scenario, Kang-to’s more confident than Kenji.
He comes up to the bars to say that they ought to take a look at something curious he found. He reaches a hand in his pocket. Pause for effect.
He describes the picture he found in the judge’s office—the one of Police Chief Kimura and Judge Choi, wearing the same outfit, with the same initial. What could it mean? How close were they? He smiles devilishly.
Kenji starts to panic and tells his minion to go in there and get it. Still with his hand in his pocket, Kang-to tells Kenji to come get it himself. “Are you scared? Afraid you might die?” Fish? Meet bait.
Kenji demands the door be opened at once, and goes in there with his gun drawn. Kang-to fidgets in his pocket long enough to turn Kenji’s gaze, and then attacks.
He disarms Kenji with a few swift moves, cornering him in a rage. The minions return with guns, but by then Kang-to has taken Kenji as hostage. Nice.
He tells them to back the hell up, pistol pressed up against Kenji’s temple. They inch backward.
At the same time, the alarm sounds and more officers run up. Shunji follows. He comes up to find Kang-to holding his hyung at gunpoint, surrounded by officers.
Shunji pleads with everyone to stop, and stands between Kang-to and the guns. He announces that he is Chief Kimura’s son, and everyone needs to put their guns down before someone gets hurt.
He urges Kang-to to put down his gun too, but Kang-to growls that this is the only way to clear his name. Both Kang-to and Kenji tell Shunji to stay out of it, which is cute even in this very tense moment.
Kenji uses his brother’s interruption to break free from Kang-to’s grasp, and on instinct, Shunji fights off the officers headed for Kang-to. He buys his friend a moment, and Kang-to screams as he launches himself into the window at full force. Damn.
He goes crashing through. He falls two stories and tumbles to the ground, and Kenji comes racing to the window with a gun at the ready. He has enough time to aim right at Kang-to while he’s still on the ground…
Kang-to looks up… just in time to see Shunji grab his brother’s hands and pull them up to the sky so he can’t shoot. The friends lock eyes for a moment, and then Kang-to runs off.
Inside, the brothers struggle and then Kenji socks his brother in the face for his interference, declaring that he has put a blade to his and Father’s throats in doing this. Shunji insists that Kang-to is a patriot—how can anyone accuse him of being on the same side as Gasital?
He asks if Father knows what Hyung is doing, but then realizes that of course he does: “You would never act without his orders. Because you are Father’s puppet!”
Kenji calls Dad and then totally tattles on Little Bro. You weasel! Don’t you guys have a bro code? Shunji gapes in disbelief, and then Kenji pointedly asks Father what they should do with Lee Kang-to. He turns the receiver to Shunji so he can hear Father say the words: “Kill him.”
He orders his officers to go after Kang-to, and then puts Shunji in handcuffs for aiding and abetting a fugitive.
Kimura Taro meets with a member of Kishokai, Woo Byung-joon, who worries that there might be someone else out there who knows of their organization. He recalls that thirteen years ago, there was a man, LEE SUN (Kang-to and Kang-san’s father), who knew of their existence but was reportedly killed by Justice Choi. But what if he wasn’t?
Kimura recalls that according to Choi, he killed Lee Sun by his own sword. Flashback shows the battle according to Choi’s account. Woo wonders if maybe someone survived that battle—if not Lee Sun himself, then someone who knew of their existence. What if this is Gaksital?
Elsewhere, a man leaps onto a roof. (We’re not told yet, but this is BAEK GUN.) He looks down at Kang-to’s mother, and then when she steps away, he somersaults down to the ground.
He’s here to pay his respects to Lee Sun. He bows down to the ground, and then disappears before Mom comes back. She notices a cup of liquor left on the table and looks around, but no one is there.
Police affairs director Kono Koji gets a call from Chief Kimura, who tells him that they’ve found evidence that Lee Kang-to is in league with Gaksital. Kono fumes, but Kimura tells him smugly that he’ll present the evidence tomorrow. Oh, with a whole night of guys running around trying to kill him in the meantime? Gee, that’s not transparent or anything.
Kono is clearly opposed to Kimura, but it looks like his hands are tied at the moment. Kono hangs up in a rage, and then Kang-to bursts through his door, bloodied and gasping for breath.
Sometime later, Kimura walks down the hall dressed in uniform. He braces himself and opens the door to Kono’s office, where Kang-to is standing by his side, back in his uniform. Nice.
Kimura and Kang-to exchange hostile looks and then Kimura sits down tensely. Kono laughs at the so-called evidence against Kang-to, while Kimura challenges Kang-to’s devotion to a nation that turned his brother into an idiot.
Kono counters with the evidence against the assassin and the police-issue gun, but Kimura already has an answer at the ready: they’ve captured him. Both Kono and Kang-to look at each other in surprise.
The assassin gets dragged in, and Kang-to recognizes him as a thug he’s put away on more than one occasion. Kenji says the guy had beef with Kang-to, and so attacked him dressed as Gaksital. Well that makes no sense at all.
But the point is that in ‘fessing up to the attempted killing, logic behind costuming be damned, the would-be assassin gets to testify that he saw it with his own two eyes—the real Gaksital, saving Kang-to’s life.
Kimura urges Kono to see the cold hard facts. He even put his own son in jail for aiding Kang-to’s escape. That just makes Kono chuckle, “Do you have a son like that? I’d like to meet him.”
So Shunji gets brought out from his cell. Kono asks why he helped Kang-to, and he eyes Dad and Hyung warily… and then answers truthfully that Kang-to is someone who gets called a traitor by his own people because of his loyalty to the new regime. That such a man would be on the same side as Gaksital makes no sense.
He says that he couldn’t stand by as Kang-to got framed. “If Lee Kang-to were to be killed by the national police simply because he is of Joseon descent, who would be loyal to such a government from that point on?”
Kang-to lets out a sigh of relief, and Kono claps, declaring his surprise that Kimura has such a respectable son. HA. Such a backhanded insult at Kenji.
Kimura asks what he plans to do, and Kono says that it’s not enough evidence to convict Kang-to. He’ll let Gaksital’s capture speak for itself. Kimura counters that he’ll have to stand by that—if Kang-to cannot capture Gaksital, it means they’re in cahoots.
That is totally illogical, but obviously, that’s the point in trying to back them into a corner. Kono agrees, and tells Kang-to to use whatever means necessary to capture Gaksital. Kang-to swears to capture him and uncover the truth behind the fake Gaksital as well. Kimura father and son sweat a little.
The search is on. The first order of business: wanted posters all over town, with Dan’s face on them. A young woman (GYE-SOON) stops to look at the flyer, eyeing the reward money, and then gasps to realize that she recognizes the face—it’s Dan.
As they do laundry, Dan tells Sun-hwa to stop pouting, pinky-swearing that she and Shunji aren’t romantically involved. Sun-hwa finally believes her and perks up.
She asks if Dan has ever gotten a good look at Gaksital’s face, but she says no—he swooshes in, drops her off, then disappears. No one ever said being Lois Lane was a good gig. Sun-hwa asks if she’s ever even said thank you, and Dan realizes she hasn’t.
Meanwhile, Kang-to tells Abe that they’ll use the wanted poster girl as bait to lure Gaksital. He’s saved her twice; he’ll surely come for her again. Urg, stop being evil! And then on cue, his phone rings. It’s Gye-soon, calling about the girl in the posters. Oh noes.
Dan takes a leisurely soak in the tub, thinking back to Gaksital’s heroic rescue and swooning all over again.
Kang-to arrives at the dormitory where the circus troop is staying, and bursts in with the wanted notice. Dong-nyun tries to warn Dan, but Kang-to finds her right away. That devilish smile of his, damn.
She runs back into the washroom and jumps out the window, hopping from roof to roof down to the ground. But she cringes as she stands up…
The yard is surrounded by cops, and they have her covered on all sides with guns. Kang-to peers down from the window and smiles. Her knife is hanging on the wall just behind him. Did he see it? Did he not? Imma go with not.
Shunji drinks alone at the club in the middle of the afternoon. Not a good sign. But you totally get a free pass, seeing has how your father and brother are EEEEEVIL. Poor buddy.
Dan is bloodied, having been strung up and tortured. What?! Lee Kang-to! Did you do this to her? Holy crap!
He saunters into the room, having charged his underlings to do the dirty work, and Abe says she won’t talk about Gaksital or Damsari. Kang-to says of course she won’t, but that’s okay, since Gaksital won’t leave her be. He’ll come charging in to save her.
Dan gets fired up at that, realizing that she’s being used as bait. She spits in his eye. Again. Man, I love how feisty she is.
He wipes the spit from his face with a sigh and then grabs her by the throat, leaning in close. He glares with that menacing smile. Voice trembling, “Why? Are you afraid? Because Gaksital might get caught? Are you two in love?”
He notes her reaction. He sneers, “Bingo,” and orders her hauled outside.
He then literally has her marched through the streets in a big procession, to draw attention. His men kick out street vendors and take over a town square, and they place her in the center, with snipers at the ready from every side.
The townspeople gather, and Kang-san appears in the crowd, distracted by his pinwheel.
From atop his horse, Kang-to charges Dan with all of her crimes against the government.
And then Gaksital appears on a rooftop. Woot! He takes out one sniper, and then another.
All this goes unnoticed by Kang-to, who declares that everyone should witness what happens to traitors, and orders Dan to be executed. The firing squad lines up. He orders them to raise their guns.
Dan closes her eyes and braces herself. Kang-to pauses between each order, waiting for Gaksital to show himself. He looks up, and then sees that none of his snipers are at their positions. One of them comes tumbling down from the roof.
They look back and forth, and then Gaksital comes leaping down from a rooftop behind them. So badass. The crowd cheers.
He draws them away from the square. Kang-to orders Abe to guard Dan and takes off after him, though a townsperson makes sure to throw obstacles in his path.
Gaksital loops back around, and then comes bounding up on his horse, kicking Abe away easily, and swooping Dan onto his horse.
Kang-to comes running after them, and as the officers charge, the townspeople rush to pull their carts in the way. I just love the people rallying to Gaksital’s defense.
Kang-to leaps over the carts and shoots furiously at Gaksital and Dan, but they manage to ride away unscathed. Kang-to lets out a guttural screeeeeeam of frustration. How can it be so satisfying to watch the hero fail?
Gaksital drops Dan off again in the woods, and this time she grabs his arm when he turns to go. She thanks him and asks why time and again, he puts himself in danger to save her.
She tells him her name and asks for his, but he says nothing. He pulls his arm out of her grasp, letting his fingers touch hers for just a moment.
And then he rides off.
Kang-to gets torn a new one for letting Gaksital slip through his fingers yet again. Now even Kono asks if he’s really not in league with him. Kang-to swears that he’s not and asks for one more chance.
Gaksital stops at a tree on top of a hill. He raises a hand to his mask, and pulls it from his face…
It’s Kang-san, wearing a grave expression on his face.
Kang-to: “Without fail, I will capture Gaksital by my own hand!”
Man, I SO LOVE that we start the series with the hero as the villain. So good. So good. I mean, even when I spend half the episode on his side when he’s framed, I’m back to hating him when he ruthlessly tortures Dan and uses her to catch Gaksital. I love you! No, I hate you with the fire of a thousand suns! Aaaaaaah! Kang-to really pushes that fine line an anti-hero can walk before we lose all faith in him completely, which sets up one really, really satisfying character arc.
I actually didn’t expect the Hyung-as-Gaksital vs. Kang-to war to play out as a long-term story arc (I thought we’d get a cursory battle and then a quick dramatic reversal) but I’m so excited to see that the story is taking its time with Kang-to’s transformation. It’s all the more riveting to watch him be the bad guy, knowing that he’s fighting against the one person he loves unconditionally. It doesn’t get any better than pitting brother against brother, with Kang-to so squarely in the dark, and yet so sure that he’s in the right.
Now that Kang-san has been revealed as Gaksital, it raises a mountain of questions. By the by, how hardcore is it that the entire Village Idiot persona is a cover for being a superhero? That’s no Clark Kenting with a pair of damned glasses, I’ll tell you that. It’s both epically heroic and yet also deeply hurtful, since Kang-to has no idea that his brother is actually not brain-damaged at all. His entire motivation for letting people call him a traitor is to provide for his family and fix Hyung! Waaaah. I know that Gaksital lives for a higher purpose, but what of the family and the little brother in the wake of it all? You can see why Kang-to chose to live differently from his father, who did the same and sacrificed his life for the cause… leaving them abandoned.
Is Gaksital a figure created by the movement and fulfilled by many (like Damsari and Baek Gun)? Or is Kang-san Gaksital alone? Is he doing this on Father’s orders? Is Father still alive? (Because seriously, if Hyung can dupe his family into thinking he’s an idiot, how hard would it be for Father to let them think he’s dead?) Is it actually Kang-san who gave Dan the knife? I think it’s Kang-to anyway, but clearly Kang-san has some connection to her, if he keeps saving her time and again. Will Kang-to change his tune when faced with the truth, or will each brother stand his ground and shed the other’s blood??
GAH. I love that this show leaves me with more questions than answers. I just want MOAR. Is it too early to ask for a fifty-episode extension?
- Gaksital (Bridal Mask): Episode 1
- A detailed look at the main characters of Bridal Mask
- And now, for a look at Bridal Mask’s other leads
- Bridal Mask resumes shoots, releases stills
- Bus crash on set of Bridal Mask results in fatality
- Joo-won tweets from set of Bridal Mask
- Joo Won gets his leading lady in Bridal Mask
- Joo Won takes the lead in Bridal Mask