With a solid cast and brilliant plot about the damaging effects of societal beauty standards, Mask Girl had us hooked from the start. At its core, Mask Girl delves into the concept of revenge, albeit in a broader sense. It explores the notion of retribution, while emphasizing that one’s true essence transcends mere appearances.
* This review contains minor spoilers for all 7 episodes of the Netflix series Mask Girl.
Our central character Kim Mo-Mi is portrayed by rookie actress Lee Han-Byeol in the first two episodes. She is trapped in a mundane accounting job and haunted by societal judgments about her appearance. At night, she escapes into a double life as a masked cam girl with a sizable online following. Unbeknownst to her, a colleague and friendless otaku Ju Oh-Nam (Ahn Jae-Hong) is one of her biggest fans. He also knows her secret.
When Mo-Mi accidentally causes the death of a fan who tried to assault her, Oh-Nam appears and helps her cover it up. By this time, Mo-Mi is sick of her current life, and makes the decision to get plastic surgery and run away. However, just before she makes her escape, she ends up killing Oh-Nam.
This one act puts Mo-Mi in the crosshairs of Kim Kyung-Ja (Yeon Hye-Ran), Oh-Nam’s mother. A simple, hardworking woman, she blames Mo-Mi for her son’s death and dedicates her life to revenge. She manages to track down Mo-Mi, who is living a new life as a showgirl named A-Reum (Nana). A tense encounter between the two women takes place, leading to the death of Mo-Mi’s friend, and the apparent death of Kyung-Ja.
A remorseful Mo-Mi turns herself in to the police, and we meet her some years later (played this time by Go Hyun-Jung). We discover she has a daughter, Mi-Mo (Shin Ye-Seo), who was not told about her mother’s identity. Eventually, Mi-Mo falls into the hands of a still-alive Kyung-Ja, and Mo-Mi decides to escape from prison to rescue her daughter.
What We Liked
Each of the seven episodes adopts the viewpoint of a character connected to Mo-mi, keeping the storytelling relatively fresh. This allows Mask Girl to successfully intertwine the various subplots while also telling the main story. It is a complex narrative structure that is executed brilliantly, and allows glimpses into various characters’ backstories and motivations.
What really puts Mask Girl above the rest is the quality of the performances by those involved. Lee Byeol-Han, Nana and Go Hyun-Jung do an excellent job portraying the twisted but sympathetic Mo-Mi. Having three actresses also helped the audience visualize the distinction between the various stages of her life.
We were also impressed by the supporting cast. Ahn Jae-Hong’s portrayal of Ju Oh-Nam is both cringeworthy and heartbreaking, and we wish his character had stuck around longer. We also enjoyed the episode 4 subplot of Kim Chun-Ae (Han Jae-Yi). More specifically, the character of her deadbeat former idol boyfriend Choi Bu-Yong (Lee Jun-Young, in an unforgettable cameo). Their storyline was both sad and cautionary, and offers proof of how good looks can be more of a curse than a blessing.
The standout performance has to be from Yeon Hye-Ran, who delivers a powerful interpretation of a mother on a quest for vengeance. Her character is both righteous, and thoroughly unlikeable, and Yeon Hye-Ran portrays both aspects brilliantly.
Should You Watch It?
Mask Girl offers an engaging and experimental thriller experience. It alternates between moments of brilliance and instances of self-defeating complexity, occasionally straying from its core themes. Still, the series manages to carve out moments of genuine originality, even if they prove somewhat fleeting.
There’s plenty to appreciate in Mask Girl, and it has much to offer even seasoned K-drama and thriller enthusiasts. The outlandish premise might not be for everyone, but ultimately it is a thought-provoking and cathartic watching experience.