Drama Recaps
Return of Iljimae: Episode 3
by | February 1, 2009 | 32 Comments

Return of Iljimae continues to be both lovely on the eyes and the ears — it’s almost like watching a carefully balanced film more than a drama series. I’m actually getting used to the narration, which continues to (as a downside) be told in that oddly pretentious voice but (upside) does keep the flow of the story smooth and seamless.

Also, the nickname for this series (drama titles tend to get shortened for ease of reference) is “Dol-ji-mae” (돌지매) which derives from the title 아온 일지매, but I think it would be funnier (though a bit pejorative) to call it Dul-ji-mae instead (“dul” meaning second).


Return of Iljimae OST – “너의 노래” (Your Song) by B.T. [ Download ]

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EPISODE 3: “Iljimae in a fury”

(Episode 1 was titled “The one who defeats Bulgasal” — Bulgasal (or Bulgasari) is the terrorizing giant — while Episode 2 was “Escape from Yodong”)

Caught by his pursuers just as he is about to board the boat for Korea, Iljimae looks on as Wang Hweng-bo, his shifty-eyed, twisty-footed companion, leaps into the air to fight off the men. He cuts Iljimae loose and they hurry onboard.

As the boat leaves the dock, Iljimae’s former teacher appeals to his sense of compassion, saying that his fiancée is very ill, and now he’s done her a wrong by running off. It’s unclear whether this is true or merely a trick to get him back on land, but Iljimae responds, “Please tell her to forget me, to marry someone better and live happily.”

And so, Iljimae — who we learn is sixteen years old — arrives in Korea.

He speaks some Korean but is unfamiliar with Korean customs, and sees everything through the eyes of a fascinated foreigner.

Wang Hweng-bo leads Iljimae to the home of his birth father, the government official Kim Joong-hwan. However, they arrive just as the household is preparing funeral rites for the matriarch — that is, Iljimae’s grandmother. This makes things a little more difficult, because as the narrator tells us, “Could Iljimae have known that the only person who would have rejoiced to see him had died?”

Wang Hweng-bo decides to take a different tack by leaving Iljimae at an inn and saying he will talk with his father first to smooth the way. Iljimae hands over the items his grandmother had sent his adopted parents as proof of his identity.

What Iljimae doesn’t know is Wang Hweng-bo’s secret identity as a spy. (I can’t decide if Hweng-bo is really annoying, or really awesome. Right now I’m thinking a little of both.) While it does seem that he wants to help Iljimae, he has his own agenda as well. He surreptitiously makes contact with his spy colleagues, who are after confidential documents, but they are intercepted by authorities. The other spies are killed or kill themselves to prevent capture, leaving Wang the last one standing.

Thus when Wang crashes the funeral wake and gets into a fight with the attendees, chief officer Gu Ja-myung grows suspicious that he may be one of the foreign spies, and heads off to deal with the situation.

Wang Hweng-bo is chased through the city and cornered by police officers, led by Officer Gu. Wang challenges Gu to a one-on-one, but is pre-empted by the arrival of Gu’s right-hand woman, the damo (woman officer) Soo-ryun. He underestimates her skill, and she disarms him swiftly.

The spies’ rampage through the city has caused not a small amount of collateral damage, and thus the people’s resentment of foreigners is at its peak when Iljimae wanders through the marketplace. He means no harm as he stops to ask a question, but the man gives him the once-over, sees his foreign attire and demeanor, and pushes Iljimae around belligerently.

Bewildered, Iljimae acts in self-defense when a few more men gang up on him. Given his superior fighting skills, he subdues his attackers easily.

It’s in the aftermath of this fight that Bae Sun-dal makes his appearance — if you recall, he’s the man in the first episode who later takes it upon himself to chronicle Iljimae’s exploits. Bae takes the typical ajusshi scolding tone and chastises Iljimae for disrespecting his elders. Iljimae defends himself, but his phrasing ruffles feathers — not having been Korean-raised, he speaks too directly. Bae lectures him on proper etiquette, which he says Iljimae is sorely lacking. Perhaps tired of being scolded by this fussy little man, Iljimae delivers a swift kick to the smug Bae’s neck and knocks him down.

This scuffle gets Iljimae locked up. He protests that he’s innocent, but to no avail. The thief sharing his cell tells him it’s no use trying to argue his innocence — he’s been locked up merely because he’s a foreigner, which is enough to stir prejudice in the current xenophobic climate.

Later, a third man joins them in their cell — Wang Hweng-bo, who has been beaten and threatened, but has refused to spill any information.

Officer Gu questions Iljimae, who asks to be let out to meet his father. He even has proof of his identity, although currently the items are not in his possession, as he’d given them to Wang. On the other hand, he does have his mother’s letter, which he shows the officer — and Gu is startled to hear that Iljimae’s mother is/was a gisaeng named Baek-mae.

At this information, we jump backwards sixteen years to resume where we left off when Gu had first met, and fallen for, Baek-mae.

At the time, there had been a thief at large who’d been stealing ornaments and jewelry from rich homes. When Baek-mae is brought in as a possible suspect — there are expensive items in her possession whose origins are unaccounted for — Gu does his best to help clear her from suspicion. He appeals to his superior, but the chief would rather jail someone than no one (with his reputation at stake), and takes a hard line with Baek-mae.

Furthermore, Baek-mae insists her items are not stolen but refuses to identify the source (that would link her to the household that had thrown her out). All the while, she remains fixated on her child, murmuring to herself, “If you just grow up well in that household, if only you stay safe, it’s okay if your mother dies.”

But Gu, determined to save the woman he loves, finds out as much as he can in order to clear her name. There are rumors that she had given birth to a baby and been kicked out of her home, which means the jewelry was given by her former master. If she only gives the name of that family, he can confirm the story and release her. If not, her punishment — physical blows — could end up killing her.

Baek-mae, fearing that naming the father would somehow endanger her child, refuses to say anything. She scoffs, “Die? I may as well.”

Shortly thereafter, two men are caught and suspected of thievery — one of them being the beggar who first rescued Iljimae. But he cries that he’s innocent, and there is no proof.

Thus Baek-mae is punished. As she stumbles out of jail weakly, Officer Gu asks her once more for the truth, having guessed most of it anyway: “Did your master force himself on you and get you pregnant, after which you went to the gisaeng house? Who is he?”

Baek-mae replies that there’s nothing he could do even if he knew the truth, because a slave is so low “that even if what you say were true, if a nobleman and owner violated his slave, took her child, and kicked her out, it would still not be a crime. It’s not as though you can return my child to my arms or punish that man.”

Now in the present day, Officer Gu remembers how he could do nothing to help Baek-mae in the past and therefore offers to help her son. Having never found out which nobleman had misused Baek-mae in the past, now he’s as eager as Iljimae to visit Lord Kim and confirm whether he is Iljimae’s father.

They’re shown in by Kim’s son — Iljimae’s half-brother, above — Kim Joon-seo, who senses a strange kind of connection with Iljimae at first sight.

Kim sternly denies the claim, acting offended at the suggestion that this foreigner is his son. Gu suggests that they bring in the boy’s mother to confirm the truth, and at the mention of Baek-mae, Kim immediately bristles and orders them to leave.

Iljimae speaks up, telling the man that he cannot leave like this, after all he’s gone through to get here — does Kim mean to abandon his son not once, but twice? “Look me straight in the face, and tell me I am not your son. If you are truly not my father, I will leave.”

Kim gulps a bit, looks toward him, then says quickly, “You are not my son.”

As Iljimae reacts to this, his brother looks over at him quizzically, having witnessed the exchange from a distance.

Reeling from the betrayal, Iljimae wonders bitterly why he came. Gu suggests that there’s a possibility that Kim is not his father, but Iljimae was not fooled by the denial. He was looking at Kim’s eyes, which were looking at him until the last moment: “That man is my father.” He adds, “But no longer.”

Gu tries to track down Baek-mae’s current whereabouts; the last anyone heard (years ago), she had been heading to her hometown. He remembers the day she had left the gisaeng house, when he’d watched quietly from a distance. Burdened with uncertainty, he had been unable to talk to her or ask where she was headed, which he has regretted for years.

Iljimae is returned to his cell, where he gives in to angry tears. His fury growing, Iljimae vows — to his cellmates’ surprise — “I will not remain here.”

To that end, the next morning when the guard delivers their breakfast, all three prisoners lie unmoving, prompting the guard to enter, wondering if they’d all died in the night. Iljimae moves swiftly, knocking out the guard, and escapes with Wang Hweng-bo and the thief. He doesn’t know that at that very moment, Officer Gu has decided to let him go and has asked for Iljimae to be sent to him.

A hunt ensues. The three fugitives hide, and when Wang Hweng-bo asks what he plans to do next, Iljimae replies that he’s realized there’s nobody in the world to depend on: “Now I’ll live on my own.”

With that, they split up. Wang decides to head back to China. The thief gives Iljimae one last clue before leaving — because he’d once known a beggar who may know where Baek-mae is. A flashback shows us that this thief is the same man who’d once been accused of stealing jewelry, along with the beggar. The man names the beggar’s hometown and points Iljimae in the general direction.

Of the three escaped prisoners, the thief is apprehended first. Gu sends men to capture Wang Hweng-bo, and prepares to find Iljimae.

Meanwhile, Iljimae makes his way to the beggar’s hometown, sleeping in caves and stealing food to survive.

One day, Iljimae is washing under trickling water from a waterfall, watched unseen for several long moments by a curious village girl. As he looks up and spots her, the girl hides, then dashes off along a mountain path. He chases.

He catches up to the girl at a waterfall, grabs her arm, and demands to know why she ran away like a guilty person. The girl takes advantage of a moment of distraction and pushes Iljimae into the shallow water, laughing at his surprise.


Isn’t it pretty?

I think what Return of Iljimae does well, and the reason it draws me in, is its ability to evoke a sense of pathos. Handled even a teensy bit more clumsily, a lot of these moments could end up ridiculous, overdone, or silly. But tone is such a key component in this drama, and it is delicately balanced.

Part of that is the gorgeous background music — seriously, I am in love with the score. Not necessarily the pop-song-fueled soundtrack, but the background instrumental music, which is not only well-applied but also — important! — not overused. Most dramas use music as a mood-setter, but here, the score is beautiful on its own.

As for the characters, I don’t really think it’s the acting that is impressing me — some is good, some is okay — but in the way that the characters are established and developed. So many dramas tell me I’m supposed to feel bad for characters when I actually don’t. Here, somehow, I do — like the lovelorn Officer Gu who’s in love with a woman far out of his reach. It’s not so much the societal barrier that keeps him from her, but his own indecision and hesitance. His constant inner struggle is well expressed and the longing comes across palpably.

Similarly, I feel for Iljimae, who’s capable of inner strength, but at this point is much more a lost little boy. Jung Il-woo’s acting isn’t necessarily the highlight — he’s serviceable — but again, his adolescent turmoil is very relatable. The PD is doing a skilled job at putting together this story, imo. Some dramas are actors’ dramas, others are writers’ dramas, and yet others — like this one — are directors’ dramas.


32 Comments from the Beanut Gallery
  1. Bisquit

    Thanks again for the recaps ^^ Yes, the drama is gorgeous and it draws you in just by looking at it (oh! if only this was the case for BBF… Iljimae is the perfect drama currently to compare of a good drama with good pace, while BBF lacks in many of these areas- although I do like BBF anyways >.<)

    (I’ve been a “quiet” reader, although this isnt my first post, I think I’ve commented before but never had an actual “name” that I went by… but since I’ve seem to be commenting often, I thought I might as well be an official person XD)

    And I like how the fact that Iljimae was raised by foreign customs was treated. makes him seem more real that he struggles… I mean, 16 yrs in a foreign country and BAM he’s in another country. Personally, to me I like his character more… only because I can understand and relate to him and it makes it more realistic :/

  2. jellybeans

    thanks…I’m really liking this drama!

  3. ice chocolate

    Thanks.. just wondering, are you guys find Jung Il Woo looks like Joo Ji Hoon in Goong? I find him similar to Joo Ji Hoon, but in softer way.

  4. sophie

    thank you very much! the pictures are beautiful, can’t wait to see how the story will develop.

  5. hjkomo

    Thank you, Sarah! 🙂

    I, too, love the score and the tone of the drama.
    I don’t know how else to describe it, but the feelings of longing and loneliness portrayed by the characters are really touching.

    I’m really enjoying this one. And I’m sure your recaps alone will get more people watching, even without subs. Thanks again! *muah*

  6. Lucille

    Thanks for the recap. You must be pretty busy with BOF, SL, and noe ROL. Good luck and thanks.

  7. javabeans

    Longing is exactly that feeling that gets me! Really, PD Hwang is doing a fantastic job, because I think while the actors are good, they’re not yet in that outstanding range and there’s no other explanation for how sometimes this drama really… grips me. It’s like a very … 짠한 feeling, if that makes any sense?

  8. ilwoojimae lover

    Thank you so much for the recap..I really appreciate it..
    The beautiful sceneries from this drama really captured my heart..
    I love it..Ilwoojimae Fighting!!!

  9. blue_penguin

    Hey, thank you so much for your recap on Iljimae! =D
    It seems that among the young people, it’s a series that’s being overshadowed by BBF but this is an interesting one for sure, and I think it’s worthy of being recapped.

    As for Wang Hweng Bo, I can’t stand him. UGH. The portrayal of this man by the actor is pretty great, but the character itself, I just don’t get his motivation at all. He’s just super annoying to me.

    Dal Rim’s character is growing on me. I was surprised at how forthright she was in these episodes, 3 and 4, and I wasn’t sure I’d like the actress, but she’s doing well with her role.

  10. 10 all4movies

    I’m so glad you’re watching this too as your comments are always insightful and add a deeper appreciation to any drama you care to comment on.

    I hope Return of Iljimae will continue to pull you in, especially to the end.

  11. 11 tinysun

    Thank you for the recaps. I was so freaked out at the scene of the ugly big man about to eat/bite the baby (ep 1) that I stop watching this drama. I have been receiving positive comments about it so I may give it another try.

  12. 12 lina

    I didn’t know why many people complained about the narrated voice at first, but when I actually watch ep 1, the voice really gets to me. It’s really long and I suppose that the voice is telling the story in the main girl’s (when she gets older?) perspective. The voice is really an unusual voice to use for narration in a drama.

  13. 13 lina

    oh and is there anyone who thinks the main girl looks like Choi Jiwoo? especially in ep 1 at the beginning in the modern scene (with the hat and everything)

  14. 14 hjkomo

    ^ 짠한 feeling. Yes, that’s how I feel, too!
    I feel their longing as it transcends through the whole package – the cinematography, the score, and the characters’ stories. There is much sadness and tragedy still to come, and, yet, it’s not a depressing kind of sadness. I think it will be portrayed with beauty. (Hope I’m making sense)

    Since so much of the filming has already been completed, I have high hopes that the PD can continue this.

    Btw, I’ve been listening to 너의 노래 on repeat. Lol.

  15. 15 giddygirl108

    Jung Il-Woo is sooo incredibly pretty. I still can’t get over that.

  16. 16 estelle

    ice chocolate, i agree with you. Jung Il Woo realli looks like Joo Ji Hoon from certain angles. When i visited Korea last May, i even mistook his giant poster as JJH’s and took lotsa pics with it. (At that pt, i didn’t know who this pretty boy is. *laughs*)

  17. 17 Sere

    *sighs* adds Return of Iljimae to the to-watch list. It really seems interesting!

    PS: Javabeans, the thing I talked you about? Happened again today. Just so you know

  18. 18 Acalle

    I love to watch this drama with English subs. Unfortunately, there’s none 🙁 🙁 🙁 .

  19. 19 Annie

    tell me why this is being over shadowed by BBF again??? huh. this is such a FANTASTIC drama, yet no one bothers to do it any justice by subbing it or recapping it besides dramabeans. i’m living on you dramabeans!!! for return of ilijimae!!!

  20. 20 mzpakipot

    awww…..that’s too bad…i really want to see this drama with subtitles. Your recaps will do for now, and enjoy the scenery and iLL Woo. Thanks javabeans!

  21. 21 all4movies

    for those of you who want to watch this with english subs, you can stream it from viikii or mysoju. subbed up to episode 2 so far.

  22. 22 Seri

    I know I may sound really extra but when i read your reviews it feels like i can see the whole episode playing before my eyes as I read. I really love your reviews so much.

    I’m only on ep 2 due to slow downloading but I’ll hope to catch up.

  23. 23 Luv

    Thank you so much Sarah.
    I really love reading your recap for this episode.
    Spending half an hour on your blog…day dreaming 🙂

  24. 24 KATE

    This drama surprised me…i like it very much and Jung Il-Woo is very pretty, nice skin too…hmmm..i wonder what kind of skincare he uses *.*

  25. 25 Cinamoroll

    Compared to Lee’s Iljimae, I think Jung’s Iljimae is pretty nice!
    I mean, I was die-hard Lee’s Iljimae fan(okay, more of Lee’s fan), although I found a lot of it very annoying, but Jung’s Iljimae is very nicely and delicatedly toned and balanced! Lee’s Iljimae was made of LeeJunki, by LeeJunKi, and for LeeJunKi, and seriously the whole story line was crap (no “rising to climax” story up until episode 19 and all of sudden we were watching Lee bursting into King’s palace and having his revenges and we were expected to understand bc drama was 20 episodes long). But I do understand Lee’s choice of Iljimae very much (he was offered both Iljimaes) because MBC;s Iljimae follows original story line which includes cross-dressing and empasis on pretty face, which Lee’s was trying to avoid at all cost. (SBS’s Iljiamae story was totally invented one)
    anyway, I found Jung’s Iljimae very beautiful although narration is annoying but I got used to it. I serisouly love that side walking spy and his “Ho” (2nd name) which literally means “Horizontal Instinct” lol
    Jung is very handsome and a promising actor, and
    Jung and LeeMinHo are best buddies, and KimBum and Jung are good friends so I secretly imagine them together and drool kkkkk
    Anyway, I think Lee Seung Ki could;ve been very nice Iljimae too (my mom asked me, I thought Seung Ki was supposed to be the main lead! Where is him?)
    nah, I just miss Lee’s acting and singing too much lol

    One more thing, I love the child actor they casted for Cha-Dol!
    He is one of the best and popular child actor named Lee Hyun Woo!
    kyaa!! you are making noona drool on you baby boy!
    Love *Lee Seung Ho, Park Ji Bin, Lee Hyun Woo* Love

  26. 26 ;D

    Are you intending to recap this drama?

  27. 27 Jen

    After watching “Return of Iljimae,” I’ve become hooked on Jung Il-woo. I even started watching “High Kick!”

    Having seen him in two roles, I have to say he’s a better actor than I thought he would be. And, something about him is just so darn sexy. =P

    BTW, I now see what all the “High Kick!” hype was about. I remember seeing it on AZNTV one day and totally not getting it. Having watched it with English subs, it’s so hilarious. I love Jung Il-woo’s character. Such a bratty rebel without a cause. =D

  28. 28 okayy

    YAYY!! I thought you were gonna stop recapping.
    it’s a nice drama isn’t it?
    thank you javabeans!

  29. 29 iljimae

    i love iljimae!!!!! hehehe

  30. 30 Elien

    Whoa, I have finaly made some time to watch this and you have a big part in my decision XD It was a good choice and I enjoy it ^_^

    I noticed that the song of the day is from Iljimae soundtrack and it´s pretty good so I downloaded the soundtrack but the tracks aren´t named. Do you, by any chance, have the tracklist? Pretty please ^_^

  31. 31 NewKDramaAddict

    Slowly growing on me. The cinematography is really, really good for non CGI scenes.

  32. 32 mbk


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