The Crowned Clown is a 2019 South Korean television series starring Yeo Jin-goo, Kim Sang-kyung, and Lee Se-young. A remake of the 2012 film Masquerade, the series centers on the tale of a Joseon King and his doppelganger, a clown whom he puts on the throne to escape the intense power struggles afflicting the royal court. It aired from January 7 to March 4, 2019, on tvN.


The story takes place in mid-Joseon period, when upheavals and power struggles surrounding the throne had reached extremely devastating levels. In order to escape those who plan to assassinate him, the King puts a clown, who looks exactly like him, on the throne. As the clown settles into his role, the palace is upended as the King’s enemies are confounded by the imposter’s creativity and his ever-expanding circle of allies, who are glad to see the “King” finally become the ruler they have always wanted.

Review : by txc_vertigo (link)

Historical drama about a clown becoming a body double of the king of Joseon, due to their similar appearance.

The Good

(1) The drama is visually stunning. There is some sick editing showing the contrasts and duality of different scenes, drawing parallels between different characters and their actions. The cinematography is good enough to hold up even if they were from a movie, let alone a drama. The shots of the palace garden with its luscious greenery, ponds and bridges truly makes the palace feel as if though it is otherworldly and separate from what is outside its walls. Another great set of shots is of the marketplace at night glowing with the passion of ordinary people enjoying some worldly entertainment to grant light to their lives.

(2) Yeo Jin Goo’s acting as both Ha Seon, the clown and King Yi Heon is fantastic. This the best double role performance I have seen in all of kdrama. The way the characters act even down to the micro emotions is completely separate from one another, making them feel like distinctly different people even though they share the same actor. Despite their differences, both of the characters are equally intriguing and seeing both of them on screen at the same time is a treat. Also, seeing Ha Seon acting like and channeling King Yi Heon is very pleasing, as it is sort of a third character that Yeo Jin Goo has to play. He didn’t just copy his performance as Yi Heon; there are subtle differences between Yi Heon and Ha Seon pretending to be Yi Heon.

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(3) Other than the connection to the parent story Masquerade (2012) and Mark Twain’s The Prince and the Pauper (1881) that inspired the plot of both stories it also has other references such as Shakespeare’s tragedies and historical plays. Much of the plot and themes are straight up Shakespearean, and even specific scenes are heavily Shakespeare inspired. The scene of the king being kept awake at night and seeing visions of the ones whom he is responsible for dying is straight out of a page from MacBeth. Just like in Macbeth, the scene carries the notion that dreams are this unnatural state in which unnatural occurrences such as murder come out to haunt you and the guilt being felt is represented by blood. This time, however, it is not the main character holding the dagger to kill the king in his bedroom, the main character is the king about to be stabbed in his bedroom. They flipped the classic story and I appreciate that.

Another interesting thing about the Macbeth reference is that it also stretches to Ha Seon when he becomes king. But unlike Macbeth and Lady Macbeth who physically remove the blood from their hands and clothes to try to get rid of their guilt, Ha Seon, who gets the servant girl Gye Hwan’s blood on himself through an assassination attempt on him, refuses to have anyone clean the blood off of him. This shows his righteous moral character that feels remorse for the ones who die around him unlike characters such as Macbeth, Lady Macbeth and King Yi Heon. Later on, after Ha Seon’s sister is harmed, he returns to the throne room. Now he is the one holding the sword and begging secretary Yi Kyu to symbolically teach him “the way of the sword”, straying from the once moral path he walked. From this point onwards, Ha Seon keeps walking the line between the doing the good thing and getting revenge on those who wronged him.

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Furthermore, king Yi Heon, much like Macbeth, becomes so paranoid that he ends up visiting a cult/priests/witches who give him a foreboding prophecy about his fate. They tell him that there will be a revolt which just makes him even more paranoid, even becoming suspicious against his own allies. His own allies who once supported him then turn against and ultimately dies at the hand of someone who was his closest ally (or the successor of his closest ally in the case of Macbeth). I should point out the poetic justice that Yi Heon and his brother died in the same way by the hands of the same person as well, which was a nice touch.

(4) Much like how Shakespeare probably have written some of the most beautiful dialogue ever, the dialogue in this drama is very beautiful. Some of the lines in the show are absolutely beautifully written, such as “Life is about regretting at night what we did in the day”. Another good one is: “‘Why would you choose to live in the smallest house at the end of the alley?’ ‘I chose it because I would be the closest to you and we would have to take the longest walk to reach it.’” Just some stellar lines. Standing ovation.

The Bad

(1) There is a recurring problem of quite poor looking CGI fire in indoor scenes for some reason. Considering how gorgeous the series looks as a whole, the fire sometimes sticks out like a sore thumb. I would guess they weren’t allowed to use real fire inside some of the palace sets and either didn’t prioritize good looking CGI fire in the budget or the time constraints of producing the drama left some effects looking unfinished.

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(2) Unlike the source material, The Prince and the Pauper, where Edward Tudor is quite a sympathetic character, even though his upbringing has been privileged, King Yi Heon is not sympathetic and doesn’t have great character development. Edward is put in the position of the poor boy whom he switched places with and experiences the hardships of living as a poor boy with an alcoholic father and through this experience Edward develops as a character. King Yi Heon spends most of his experience of not being at the throne on drugs or in a hut where his conscience gets the better of him. Unlike Edward who vows to reign with mercy, Yi Heon never gets to redeem himself and then dies without improving himself. I suppose one could see it as Yi Heon being sacrificed for the greater good of the nation, but I still feel like his lack of character development is a weakness compared to the source material.

(3) The writing and pacing gets a bit worse after the first half. One possible reason for this is that the first half of the drama is based on the events of the movie Masquerade, whereas the second half is written as a continuation, depicting the events taking place after the movie. Thus, in the first half they could use the movie as a frame of reference, whereas the second half lacked the opportunity to closely follow any form of source material.

Score: 8,5 / 10 – The drama is really high quality but since the writing and pacing of the story drops off a fair bit in the second half, it brings down my score from being higher.

5/5 - (1 vote)

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