Drama Recaps
Return of Iljimae: Episode 5
by | February 12, 2009 | 21 Comments

I really liked this episode. It sets up its conflict nicely, and the emotions were really there. It’s rare that I like all the main characters in a drama, but I do here — they all seem like real people and not just stand-ins for conflict and plot manipulation. (Excepting a few side characters like Wang Hweng-bo.)

First, we saw Iljimae in a fury (Episode 3), followed by Iljimae in love (Episode 4). Now, we have Episode 5, titled: “Love, Fury, and Sadness.”


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EPISODE 5: “Love, fury, and sadness”

Deep into the mountains, Iljimae accompanies Dal-yi’s father to harvest some valuable wild ginseng, then hurries back. Eager to see Dal-yi, he doesn’t notice the warning signs that a seasoned fighter like Dal-yi’s father does, who tries to warn Iljimae to wait. But Dal-yi appears in the doorway, and Iljimae rushes to greet her.

Anticipating this reaction, Gu Ja-myung’s policemen quickly close in, and surround Iljimae when he falls right into their trap.

The police had lured Iljimae by dressing Soo-ryun as Dal-yi and digging a pit to catch him.

The younger policeman, Jung Tae (who always seems a little rasher and more careless than the wise Gu Ja-myung), is satisfied with their work, but Gu corrects them, because if they’d had a “proper” fight, they would have lost. Not even Soo-ryun would have been able to defeat Dal-yi’s father — the martial arts master had once been the instructor to young officers.

It turns out that in hunting down Iljimae, Officer Gu has inadvertently stumbled across an even bigger catch in Dal-yi’s father, a man named Kang Sae-wook who disappeared years ago after being labeled a traitor. He had been implicated in a (false) conspiracy plot involving the former minister of war.

Gu interviews Kang, sorry to be put in this spot with a man he’d so admired. Kang meets his inevitable fate with stoic calm, having long been marked a dead man.

The war minister was the nobleman Lee Joon-shik, Dal-yi’s birth father. When Lee was accused of the plot and wrongly killed, Kang, who had served him, took Dal-yi and ran to save her life. (A traitor’s family was punished as well as the accused.)

Gu feels sorry that there’s nobody to confirm Kang’s innocence, but Kang doesn’t expect that. He knows that Gu can’t do anything for him or for Dal-yi, but asks a favor: “Iljimae has no idea who we are, so let him go.” Gu promises to do as much as he’s able. Kang is satisfied: “That is my last request.”

Not knowing any of this, Iljimae is cheerful, thinking they’ve been imprisoned for mere chicken theft. Since that was his crime, he promises to repay the chicken owners and beg forgiveness once they’re released.

Kang Sae-wook breaks his silence, asking Iljimae if he remembers where they’d found the ginseng in the mountains; he is giving that to him: “It will be helpful to you someday.”

Iljimae doesn’t quite grasp his drift until Kang’s tone grows serious as he instructs him to listen carefully:

“It was only for a short time, but I’ve taught you everything in the Jang Baek sword technique. I had thought it would die with me, and felt shame in the name of my ancestors. But having met you, I was able to pass it along to you. This is a blessing for my ancestors. Now I will teach you for the last time. Repeat after me: Find the truth of a sword by the sword. Find the truth of war through war. Find the truth of a person through a person. These words were passed down from my ancestors. The meaning of this, you must now realize on your own.”

Iljimae is released, but the other two remain jailed. He is naturally confused, not understanding why he was the only one released. He hounds the prison gates, asking for information and being told nothing.

It’s really sad, actually, seeing how he thinks everything is his fault. Because nobody has told him the truth, he’s left clutching at straws.

A bit of comic relief comes in the form of Bae Sun-dal, Iljimae’s eventual biographer, who is sold a supposedly precious sword by the urchin Cha-dol. Seizing on the older man’s interest in martial arts, the boy passes off the sword as a prized possession which he must sell to buy medicine for his sick father.

Cha-dol is a master hustler and sells the sword for a modest amount. Soon afterwards, the policemen see the sword and tell Bae that he’s been scammed. The kid has been selling cheap fake items and passing them off as treasures all over town.

A few days after his release, Iljimae finally sees movement from the prison — Dal-yi and her father are being transported in wooden cages.

It appears that Dal-yi doesn’t understand her fate any more than Iljimae does, and she sobs as Iljimae spots her and cries out her name. He tries to force his way past the guards, but they block his way and keep him at a distance.

He follows the caravan to a location in the woods, where an executioner prepares his blade. Not comprehending the logic of things, Iljimae is in a state of disbelief — which is why he turns angrily on Bae Sun-dal when he hears the man mutter how it’s such a pity to be killing innocent children.

At the word “kill,” Iljimae grabs the man and demands to know what this is about. Bae motions toward the executioner; it’s plain as day what’s about to occur.

Now realizing that Dal-yi and her father are about to die, Iljimae doubles his energy trying to force his way to Dal-yi. He shouts out her name, but is grabbed by guards.

The executioner beheads Kang first. Dal-yi cries in fear as the body next to her flops to the ground, knowing she’s next. She trembles when the executioner holds his blade to her neck, screwing her eyes shut tightly. Iljimae grows more frantic, calling out, “It’s me, Iljimae! Dal! Dal-nim!” (At mention of his name, the monk who’d saved Iljimae’s life, who’s part of the crowd, pricks up his ears.)

Hearing Iljimae’s sobs of “Dal-nim,” Dal-yi lifts her head, opening her eyes. She scans the crowd, and there’s a really sad and beautiful moment when she sees him — her fearful expression growing a little calmer and her face breaking into a small smile. (That moment — it kills you.)

Then Dal-yi is beheaded. Iljimae watches her body fall over in shocked silence. And we get a lovely montage of the two of them together with (yet more) gorgeous scenery and poignant music:

In the aftermath, Iljimae is understandably bitter — and angry. Oh, so angry. It’s bad enough that he lost his love and his surrogate father figure — and the first bit of stability he’d managed to establish since learning of his birth — but worst of all, Iljimae still doesn’t understand why.

Feeling an outpouring of rage and grief and no way to express that (in a healthy way), Iljimae welcomes any excuse to pick a fight. The straw that breaks the grieving camel’s back occurs when he bumps into a man in the marketplace and the man complains that he’d better watch where he’s going.

That opens the floodgates: Iljimae threatens the guy, then kicks over stands and throws merchandise around. When the offended merchants angrily confront him, Iljimae beats them up as well. Soon the marketplace is a wreck and injured bodies litter the ground.

Some of the men band together — this time with weapons — and form a mob to get Iljimae. Bae Sun-dal, who has been harboring a fascination with Iljimae since first meeting him, tries to avoid being seen but keeps an eager eye on the proceedings.

A man whose business is in trouble decides to take advantage of the current disturbance. Because of a particular merchant’s stubborn refusal to sell his store, the man is facing ruin. Iljimae’s riot gives them the perfect opportunity to kill the man, then pin the blame on Iljimae.

When Gu Ja-myung hears of the trouble, he understands that Iljimae must be reacting out of great mental shock and orders his men to bring Iljimae to his home. It’s a little heartbreaking to watch Gu cleaning his home and making it presentable in anticipation for welcoming home Baek-mae’s son. Gawd, I feel like half of this drama makes me want to use the word “heartbreaking,” which is a little extreme, though not TOO far from the mark. It’s a little heartbreak, though, enough to give you small pangs of emotion. (I love it.)

The merchant is killed in an alleyway. Iljimae spots the body as he runs by, but as he’s being chased by the angry mob, he makes the quick decision to run from the scene.

It’s not long before Iljimae is blamed as the killer. Gu hears this with disbelief, not having thought Iljimae would be pushed to murder, which is something he can’t make allowances for. At the scene of the crime, where a crowd has gathered, Gu inspects the body, noting that the man died from stabbing.

He asks whether Iljimae had been carrying a knife, to which Bae Sun-dal speaks up — he’d been watching Iljimae all day, and never saw a knife. Gu is relieved to hear this, feeling hope that perhaps Iljimae isn’t the killer, but feels that it would be wise to capture him all the same. He gives the order to arrest him.

It’s not that easy to remain hidden when the entire city is out hunting you down; Iljimae soon finds himself cornered. (I love this scene.)

Iljimae leaps from a wall onto a rooftop, and glares down at his pursuers. Officer Jung Tae shouts, “Come down here and beg forgiveness for your wrongs. Then you will be forgiven.”

Having believed the authorities’ promises once before, Iljimae doesn’t believe them now: “I know that as soon as I let you get me, I die. You’re going to cut off my head like Dal-yi, aren’t you?” (This is yet another heart-twisty moment. Oh, Iljimae.)

He continues to run, leaping over a wall and onto someone’s property. And comes face to face with… Dal-yi?

Transfixed, Iljimae calls out to Dal-yi and approaches hopefully. But the girl, looking at him curiously, tells him that’s not her name; she’s Wol-hee.

Disappointed, he remembers, “No, there’s no way you can be Dal-yi.” At the sound of the approaching policemen, he starts to jump back over the wall, but Wol-hee stops him — that way is a dead end.

Jung Tae pounds on the gate, asking Wol-hee’s father if a young man has come by, then forces his way inside to inspect the premises. As I said, this guy is hotheaded and a little rash, so when he jerks open a door suddenly, he finds to his embarrassment that Wol-hee is inside, lying down without her modest jeogori covering.

Wol-hee shrieks. Jung Tae averts his eyes with embarrassment as Wol-hee’s indignant father scolds the policeman for his disrespect, and they leave empty-handed. The leaving-off-my-top maneuver was Wol-hee’s way of ensuring that the policemen wouldn’t search her room closely, which we realize when we see Iljimae hidden in her room. Clever girl.

Wol-hee is intrigued by Iljimae; the guy was running from policemen and yet she’s oddly trusting of him. She offers him food and rest; he accepts the first, but turns down the second.

Iljimae is unnerved by Wol-hee’s resemblance to Dal-yi, although she’s more demure than the straightforward Dal-yi. He’s grateful for her help, but also a little uncertain at why she gave it.

Wol-hee senses that conflict, although she doesn’t understand it. As she watches him eat, she wonders to herself that on one hand, it seems he’s fallen for her — but on the other hand, it also feels like he wants to be far away from her.

Yup, that pretty much sums up boys for you.

Hesitantly (hopefully?), Wol-hee offers to let him sleep here, but turns her down, saying that he may just bring her more misfortune.

Iljimae tells her, “I won’t ever forget your help,” then leaves.

At police headquarters, Jung Tae complains about his injury and Iljimae. Gu muses, “That boy is like his mother. His mother could be tough, too.” You get the sense he hasn’t talked about her to his colleagues, who look at him curiously (particularly Soo-ryun) as he explains that she never gave the name of the man who had wronged her.

Smelling opportunity, Wang Hweng-bo offers to catch Iljimae for Gu, boasting that he’s the only one who can catch him. Well, that may be true, but Wang Hweng-bo is also a shifty bastard who can’t be trusted — and Gu recognizes this, since he rewards him for the offer by clapping additional cuffs onto his feet. Ha.

On the run again, Iljimae returns to the cave he’d shared with Dal-yi, his encounter with Wol-hee enhancing his grief at losing Dal-yi.

He clenches his fists angrily, and mutters, “Dammit. I’m going to kill them all.” In response, a cranky voice wonders, “Who are you going to kill?”

It turns out to be the monk, who’d recognized Iljimae at Dal-yi’s execution, who has taken temporary shelter in the cave.

The old man rambles on a bit about trifling matters, then rattles off a line about being abandoned in a river with plum blossoms — which grabs Iljimae’s attention: “Are you talking about me?”

Iljimae recalls a tidbit of information Wang Hweng-bo had told him regarding a monk. He asks if he’s the monk who’d taken him away, and the man answers, “Follow me, and I’ll take you to your mother.”

Magic words indeed. Iljimae follows the monk to his temple, and is led around to a nearby shed.

The monk opens the door and indicates that Iljimae should go inside if he wants to find out about his mother.

Iljimae looks a bit apprehensive, but steps inside — and the monk kicks him in, locks the door, and tells him, “You’re a stray dog that goes around biting people. Stray dogs should be kept inside the gate.”


What a great episode for Iljimae’s development. I mean, sucks to be him — but good job of making his transformation from a simple-hearted, love-craving young boy into a man who feels doubt, suspicion, anger, and disappointment.

Like I said, he’s still partly childlike, and I don’t mean to say he’s stupid, but he still thinks in a simple, pure sort of way, and thus the ways of the world are cruel and sudden to him. It’s one thing to abuse someone who understands what pain is — still wrong, of course — but to heap abuse on someone who barely even grasps the idea of pain is really… (wait for it) heartbreaking.

If watching Iljimae is like watching somebody wake up (as I mentioned in the last recap), then watching him being hunted while not knowing why Dal-yi was killed is like witnessing somebody discovering for the first time what pain is.

I’m not a parent, but this must be what it’s like when your child experiences pain for the first time, and you watch them try to comprehend what this new, disagreeable sensation is. If that’s not a heart-tugger, I don’t know what is. This may be why I dig Jung Il-woo in this role, despite the fact that I think he’s is doing a decent-but-not-fantastic job — because he can evoke that kind of sentiment. And I don’t think that’s something everyone can do.

The casting all around is pretty solid, in my opinion. I liked Yoon Jin-seo‘s portrayal of Dal-yi, so I look forward to seeing what she does with Wol-hee. I miss any episode that lacks Baek-mae, because Jung Hye-young does the bearing-the-weight-of-the-world-on-my-shoulders wearied pain really well. And perhaps most of all (or on par with Baek-mae), I am really enjoying Kim Min-jong as Officer Gu.

Gu is an intriguing character for me because he is nuanced and complicated, with conflicting traits. For instance, he’s strong because he wants to stand up for the wronged people, but also weak because ultimately he fails — he tries as hard as he can, but only within the box. Iljimae, on the other hand, is the guy who will stand up to The Man regardless of boxes or lines or society’s rules. It’s also why, for all Iljimae’s disadvantages, Gu is the sadder man.

I do find it interesting that Gu seems to regard Iljimae with affection, but he also sees him more as a concept than a person. And while I understand that Kang didn’t want Iljimae mixed up in any of this, Gu surely could have told Iljimae something to explain the executions. But he didn’t, maybe thinking Iljimae didn’t need to know. Only, the problem is that you have this boy-man on the cusp of adulthood, who still often thinks in a straightforward, childlike way — and expresses rage in the form of a childlike tantrum — but with very manly fists.


21 Comments from the Beanut Gallery
  1. peachys2sleep

    Thanks javabeans! Im glad you’re back with an iljimae recap =D If you didn’t know, Yoon Jin Seo is originally a film actress. Iljimae is her first drama.

  2. gladi

    the cave looks so familiar…looks like same in other dramas…maybe “Legend”?

  3. Rovi

    Oh, so Iljimae means “being abandoned in a river with plum blossoms”, keuronikka?

  4. natureii

    wow Im lovin this drama, the scenery, score, and the fact that it moves me…

    thanks for the recap

  5. orea

    OMG! This is absolutely awesome. I love JIW’s face. Great acting. I never thought that this would be better than the previous one. Definitely amazing.

  6. Lucille

    Thank you for the recaps. I am courious to know how this drama is doing in the rating and if JIW is experiencing increased popularity? I don’t expect it to be on par with BOF, but something for this beautiful drama.

  7. Peeps!

    The last part is a little like the chinese ‘Sun Wu Kong’ or the ‘Monkey King’ where the monkey king gets trapped in a pile of rocks because he was so bad. He later turned good. Kind of like Iljimae huh?
    No, I’m not saying that ‘Iljimae’ is copied from ‘Sun Wu Kong’ or that ‘Sun Wu Kong’ is copied from Iljimae. It’s just that that scene just strikes something in me.

  8. sf

    I am absolutely loving your summaries! And the scenery is just gorgeous…and everyone is doing a pretty good job of holding up their end of the character.

    On a side note, am I the only one who is SO THRILLED to see Kim Min Jong in mainstream drama again? I really liked the actor since I saw him in the old school drama, Ghost (with Park Ji Yoon) and listened to his album (he’s a good singer too ^^). I know he was in Hyena and Women of Matchless Beauty but neither caught my interest…but yeahhhhh I forgot what a great actor he was :D!

  9. kate

    i am glad that is drama is receiving its proper attention…it is a great drama, beautiful scenery, music and the acting is well..a must see *.*

  10. 10 Empress80

    I just started watching this because of Javabeans recaps. This show is stunningly beautiful (including Jung ll Woo). Just had a question is Gu’s right hand woman Lady Choi from Goong Princess Hours? I’m not sure as to what her name was but she looks and sounds just like her.

  11. 11 Seri

    Iljimae should be getting more attention than it does but hten again. It’d be nice that people enjoy it and understand it’s concepts and appreciate the cast than it being hyped and then everyone researching cast backgrounds ect ect and devaluing the drama because of the hype.

    I dunno, my opinion.

  12. 12 hjkomo

    ^Yes, Soo Ryun is the same actress from Goong.

    “Hearing Iljimae’s sobs of “Dal-nim,” Dal-yi lifts her head, opening her eyes. She scans the crowd, and there’s a really sad and beautiful moment when she sees him — her fearful expression growing a little calmer and her face breaking into a small smile. (That moment — it kills you.)”
    – It certainly does!

    I loved this episode. It’s so poignant and well-executed.
    I’m so glad you’re continuing to recap this drama. Thank you! 🙂

    P.S. Love the song, too. It really fits the mood.

  13. 13 Anonymous

    Yes, I am also happy to see Kim Min Jong again. Love him as an actor and a singer.

  14. 14 Alvina

    There is too much pain in watching Iljimae but I cannot help but want to stick to the series and keep going…

  15. 15 sophie

    thank you very much for the recap!

  16. 16 mzpakipot

    I think i’m ready for another sageuk, aside from POTW (my first sageuk), This drama seems really good from your recaps. Now I gotta look for soft subs and start downloading episodes from aja-aja. Thanks javabeans.

  17. 17 tammi

    @ #3: Iljimae simply means “a stalk of plum blossom”. (not sure if “stalk” is the correct measure word for a plum blossom – i can’t find a better word.)

  18. 18 Luv

    Thank you so much Sarah.
    I really enjoy reading your recaps…especially for this drama.
    This episode was heartbreaking…hehe…for lack of better words 🙂
    I already like the drama but always like it even more after reading. Thank you.

  19. 19 hermes173

    Among the vignettes after Dalyi’s execution, there was a single shot with a nude Dalyi. Is the director hinting that Iljimae and Dalyi had a carnal relationship? (or is my perv self reading too much into it?)

    After all, they were two teens living in the wilderness and conditions seemed…ripe. In the past, people wedded young too.

    Just thought that it added more depth to Iljimae’s despair, for if so, Dalyi was a companion in yet one more aspect..

  20. 20 Marjj

    I am loving Return of Iljimae right now..
    After BBF finished, I had to find another Kdrama to get addicted to and after reading your reviews on it, I started watching it. But, I didn’t really like the first couple of episodes and definately preferred the other version.

    BUT, episode 5 has been its turning point for me. I mean, it even made me cry! That look Dal gave Iljimae before she got executed was really reallyy (as you say it) heartbreaking. As you said, that moment kills you, and it killed me for sure.

    I really get (and love) the sense of this pure, simple 16 year old coming out and finding his world for the first time, and then the sudden load of pain he’s being made to feel. Yes, yes, it is heartbreaking… I don’t think there is any other word. Hahaa.

    (I swear I am about to finish!) Finally, LOVE LOVE LOVE Jung Il Woo! He’s just so beautiful — hot cannot even describe him… it’s like he’s some piece of art. I just love him, and his acting. I totally dig him in this role.

  21. 21 NewKDramaAddict

    This was a solid episode. I totally understood it and felt his pain. The monk trying to train the ‘dog’, interesting turn of events!

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