An emotionally invested enthusiast of pop culture in the guise of a Copywriter. Apathetic by design. Aesthetically offensive and eloquently candid. A sentimental heathen.

I’m not going to lie, Master’s appeals for me lies on its three main casts. Lee Byung-hun, though his reputation has been tarnished in Korea, still is one of the few who considerably succeeded in making it to Hollywood. And he was charming – once. Kim Woo-bin is a rising Korean actor who had garnered lots of attention since School 2013 and The Heirs. Kang Dong-won isn’t an unfamiliar name either. Though I have never seen any of his works, he’s cute enough to caught my eyes. And shallow as it might be, it still is an effective bait – otherwise their faces wouldn’t be plastered on the movie poster. But hey, Master turned out to be more than just a dreamy eye candy. It got brain and wit too.

Through One Network Entertainment, Jin Hyun-pil (Lee Byung-hun) operates a massive-scale scam with the help of PR Kim Eom-ma (Jin Kyung) and software expert Park Jang-goon (Kim Woo-bin). But when Captain Kim Jae-myung (Kang Dong-won) enlisted lieutenant Shin Gemma (Uhm Ji-won) and their financial crime unit to help him bring down Jin and his whole network, their battle of wits begin…

Forgive me Lord for I have sinned and failed to noticed Kang Dong-won during my six years (and counting) stint as K-Entertainment enthusiast. I mean, he’s just so cute and fluffy and dateable. Though he does looks like Park Yoochun during Mirotic era. And a bit like Jung Joonyoung too. And okay, it’s a stray observation, but it has been awhile since I last started a review by appreciating an eye candy, no? After all, Kang Dong-won’s Kim Jae-myung does feels like a personification of this movie: attractive, smart, and engaging. Quite a feat, considering this is a movie about financial fraud. I expected something in the veins of The Big Short or The Wolf of Wall Street. Boring and complicated, with distracting entertainment thrown here in and there to keep me attentive. But in the hand of Jo Ui-seok, seemingly puzzling theme turned into thrilling action as those three schemers try to outsmart each other.

To do that, Jo Ui-seok does simplify a lot of things. He made clear which side each of those characters are on from the very beginning. It’s a battle of the good guy Kim Jae-myung against the bad guy Jin Hyun-pil, with Park Jang-goon as the wild card. Said battle is the main dish of this family, while Jin Hyun-pil’s financial scam was relegated to merely a background theme. Master doesn’t even explain how Jin Hyun-pil con everyone, or what genius programming code Park Jang-goon actually whipped up. There’s no clear motive as to why they did what they did either. Jin Hyun-pil was just greedy, Park Jang-goon just want to save his own skin, and Kim Jae-myung apparently was born with such fierce integrity.

And yet, despite all that, Jo Ui-Seok still managed to impress. That simple and straightforward narrative provided no distraction, allowing him to play with the pace and spectacles unimpeded. He keep it tight from the start, barely giving any time to rest as he astutely build the tension. It didn’t feel draggy at all, and instead I was fascinated as more and more unfold on the screen. He convinced me that yes, this is how it’s supposed to go. Only this kind of ultimate face off is appropriate to settle everything once and for all between Kim Jae-myung and Jin Hyun-pil.

Speaking of, those two made quite a good pair as nemesis. Lee Byung-hun was dodgy from the start, and shown quite an impressive range of emotions. His Jin Hyun-pil was just someone I’d love to hate. And his monologue at the start felt a bit meta, although maybe that’s because I do keep an eye on K-Entertainment’s gossip (or at least Netizen Buzz). On the other hand, Kang Dong-won was subtler. Since Kim Jae-myung doesn’t often shown emotions, he usually plays it cool. But he could still be cunning and was very convincing in those rare emotional moments. Kim Woo-bin, unfortunately, felt a bit inconsistent. It’s partly because of how Park Jang-goon was written, but I do think Woo-bin fit weird and funny roles better because those moments where Jang-goon let loose was where he shine the most. Other supporting casts also does as supposed, though only Jin Kyung left memorable impression as the cold but calculative Kim Eom-ma. Then again, I didn’t expect much from how Korean entertainment aren’t exactly known for how they write their female characters.

Master stepped on the pedal since the start, only to floor it afterwards. With a simple but neat narrative, it turned financial fraud into a gripping battle of wits and cons. Despite its paper thin characters, every casts still gave their best and made them believable enough. Shrewd and eye pleasing, it was an awe inducing entertainment and satisfying watch.

Director: Jo Ui-seok. Writer: Jo Ui-Seok. Released on: 13 January 2017 (Indonesia). Casts: Kang Dong-won, Lee Byung-hun, Kim Woo-bin, Jin Kyung, Uhm Ji-won.

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