Iljimae lives!

Oh, Iljimae I’m going to miss you! A more thoughtful and less spoiler-filled review will come, but for now, I need to gush for a moment or two about the character we got to watch grow from a lost, abandoned and angry boy into the hero his people needed.

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His beginnings…

Last episode totally spoiled below…

This last episode did such a good job bringing home how heavy Iljimae’s charge is. He’s basically set himself up as the defender of the helpless. That he was doing this during a time of deep corruption was hard enough. But after he wakes up from his coma, and learns his country has lost the war… you can feel the weight of every single hurt person settle onto his shoulders.

So while on the one hand it sucks for Wol-hee that he’s gone for nine years — it’s not like he’s rolling in wine, women and song. And she does get the solace of her son and word from the people he’s rescued. (I just realized: Wol-hee takes on his mother’s role for this interim, listening for whatever scraps she can get about what he’s up to.)

And I adored that she created the paper-mill and thereby provided work and income and respectability for all the people Iljimae rescued. That’s why I can’t dismiss Wol-hee as merely the hapless girlfriend. iandwh1 photo ScreenShot2013-03-25at21715PM1_zpsa7e9d9df.pngShe’s smart and hardworking and stable and whatever Iljimae’s feelings towards her, he needs her. (I actually disagree with the director that Iljimae never really loved her as he’d loved Dal. Or at least, I can agree that his love for her wasn’t as simple and pure as his love for Dal. Which is why he can sacrifice a quiet life with her to fulfill his task. But he still needs her to ground and refuel him and that’s because he does love her.)

But finally, when his work is done (in this life), we see him the most relaxed he’s been since Dal died. His journey is over. He can be a father and husband now.

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His ending (for the moment)…

But… There’s that future-flash we got at the beginning of the series. And Iljimae is woken by a nightmare that he’s not done and over 200 years later he’ll be working the same job, iandwh2 photo ScreenShot2013-03-25at21826PM_zpsa1f8d138.pngbeing the mountain ridge in the storm, doing his best to protect the helpless. And we leave with that final shot of him resting in Wol-hee’s lap. Because he’s right. His task isn’t done. Will never be done as long as there’s corruption. But he will also always have Wol-hee, providing what comfort and solace and support she can.

This moves beyond epic into the realm of myth and I adores it so, so much!! More than mere italics can communicate!!!! And I seriously wish I knew more about Buddhism and Eastern myths and such because the series had so many Buddhist monks and I know they’re signaling something but I don’t know what it is. I just recognize a demigod character like Iljimae when I see one.

(Yes, we know his very mortal parentage. But Iljimae has enough gifts — remarkable beauty, incredible fighting skills — to point towards a god being the baby-daddy. In Western myth, anyway. As does his suffering, for that matter. Since probably that god cheated and yes I’m thinking of the usual Zeus vs. Hera shenanigans that plagued Olympus and Ancient Greece.)

But I digress. Though, since I’m digressing, this last episode had a moment where Lee Hyun-woo, playing Cha-dol, really shone. He’d been amusing before, but nothing really jumped out at me that this was an actor to keep an eye on. But this one scene, when he’s working a restaurant as a prisoner of war/slave… there’s a moment where he gets knocked down and he looks up and he’s crying and trying not to and… he looks so exhausted and hopeless. And I started sobbing because I could feel how lost he was. Not that he was even in that bad of a circumstance all things considered, just… this was as good as he was going to have it and he’d lost everything. And then Mr. Bae shows up and Cha-dol’s not lost and he can finally sob out all his pain and… yeah. I tried to tell my husband about it later and couldn’t because I started sobbing again. And this time through I was expecting it… and once more I cried. That was impressive.

(And then I screen-capped it and cried again. Seriously. This scene…)

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Trying to be strong…

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Trying to be brave…

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Finally found…

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Finally safe.

Ending the digression, I conclude: The Return of Iljimae is awesome. And Jung Il-woo is awesome. And Yoon Jin-seo is awesome. And everyone involved was awesome. Totally worth the re-watch.

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4 thoughts on “Iljimae lives!

  1. Aw yeah, love, seriously LOVE this version of Iljimae! Jung Il Woo = awesome. I was even more blown away when I learned that he was just 21 when he filmed this. It was his first lead role and his first adult role in one, and he totally blew me away in this! SO. GOOD.

    I hadn’t known who Lee Hyun Woo was when I watched this, but I do remember finding him adorable & very likable. Love him too! ^^

    • Jung Il-woo was amazing. He was so serious about learning from the actors around him and bringing his best to the role. And he really knocked it out of the park I thought. Especially since so much depended on his non-verbal acting. (I… may have read every translated-to-English interview I could track down — with a lot of help from Dramabeans. ;))

      I was mildly amused by Lee Hyun Woo. He was cute kid and all, but it was that one scene that sold me. I haven’t seen him in a ton of other things (To the Beautiful You didn’t attract me) but he was pretty amazing in Equator Man.

  2. Hi BetsyHp! 🙂 I totally agree with you. Return of Iljimae is indeed WONDERFUL. All the main actors acted convincingly and the story in each episode was exciting and enhanced by a memorable soundtrack. I too love the final episode. Even though the Joseon country falling to the Qing’s rule, the good people finally got some peace, freedome and reward for their sacrifices.

    I’ll rave more about this well-made drama when you post your full review. But may I share one of my favorite highlights? This drama teaches lots of moral values, a trait I admire about K-dramas in general. One of those moral values was shown when the Master monk whipped Iljimae for killing one of the bad guys; there he scolded Iljimae saying it is not right to kill anyone even the bad ones because he is not God. In that scene, I thought this drama is refreshing and courageous for presenting that moral value when its audience lives in a modern world that sadly often glamorizes or sensationalizes killing of a fellow human being.

    I look forward to reading your full review of the awesome Return of Iljimae. 🙂

    • Oh my gosh, that scene! That was hard on me, I have to admit. I was with Wol-hee — but he’s injured! However… Iljimae had so much ability that to let him go unleashed, all rage and vengeance… I could tell the monk was doing his best to save Iljimae from that anger. And I thought the show did a good job showing that the choice to not kill Kim Ja-jeom was a good choice in the end. But without hitting you over the head with it. Just letting you know that Kim Ja-jeom got his, Iljimae was able to live peacefully now, and (slightly more fatalistically) corruption still existed so killing him wouldn’t have saved things.

      Thanks for commenting, bashful! It’ll probably be a few days or so on the review itself (I like to let things settle a little in my head before I right a review) but I’m glad you’re looking forward to it. 🙂

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