“Mask Girl” Lights Up the Screen but Loses Its Way

“Mask Girl,” the new Korean thriller film based on a webtoon of the same name, bursts onto the scene with excitement and innovation but struggles to maintain its course under the weight of its own ambition. With a storyline centered around mystery, secret identities, and the intricate world of plastic surgery, the film offers a fresh perspective in the realm of Korean cinema, reminiscent of the audaciousness seen in hits like “Squid Game.” While the movie’s start is impressive, it eventually falters as it becomes entangled in its own convoluted twists.

At its core, “Mask Girl” follows the journey of Kim Mo-mi, a woman whose life has been marked by the stigma of her appearance. From an aspiring performer to a disillusioned adult trapped in a mundane accounting job, Mo-mi finds solace in her online persona, captivating viewers with her masked performances and secretive allure. However, when unrequited love ignites a chain of irreversible events, Mo-mi’s life takes an unexpected turn.

The film’s narrative tapestry also includes characters like Ju Oh-nam, an ardent fan of Mask Girl portrayed by Ahn Jae-hong, and Kim Kyung-ja, a protective mother played by Yeom Hye-ran. As the six episodes progress, the film adopts an anthology structure, dedicating each segment to a different character’s perspective. This approach, while initially engaging, loses its luster as character connections thin out, making each episode feel like a standalone tale.

“Mask Girl” shines brightly in its early acts. The first two episodes are a masterclass in captivating storytelling, showcasing a blend of genres including anime, horror, and romance, resulting in a refreshingly original cinematic experience. The film’s keen exploration of gender dynamics is evident, with Mo-mi’s yearning for validation clashing against Oh-nam’s embodiment of toxic online culture. The film also delves into the impact of emerging internet norms, offering a discomforting reflection of beauty standards and digital intimacy. This intentional discomfort serves to highlight the characters’ isolation and dehumanization in a tech-driven world.

A notable cinematic device in “Mask Girl” involves multiple actresses portraying Mo-mi, reflecting her transformation through cosmetic surgery. The transition from the newcomer Lee Han-byeol’s portrayal of the “ugly” version to K-pop star Nana’s embrace of her past is handled with skill, culminating in Korean TV veteran Go Hyun-jung’s role in the final episode, set in the future. This soap opera-inspired technique adds an interesting layer to the film’s narrative.

Regrettably, the film’s allure diminishes as it progresses, succumbing to the temptation of sensational plot twists at the expense of character development. The latter half of “Mask Girl” trades coherent storytelling for jarring revelations that feel contrived, provoking more exasperation than amazement. The film loses its thematic clarity and transitions into an underwhelming revenge plot that sidesteps earlier questions. What began as a promising exploration of genuine, relatable struggles becomes lost in its own intricate web.

In conclusion, “Mask Girl” starts as a cinematic spark but ultimately fades into a haze of its own complexity. The film introduces intriguing concepts, skillfully intertwines genres, and captures societal nuances, yet its desire for shock value overshadows character arcs. The movie’s initial brilliance and flashes of excellence are dimmed by its inability to maintain a steady narrative course.

“Mask Girl” is now available for streaming on Netflix.