Return of Iljimae: Episode 6
I don’t know if this drama will end up on my favorites list — I wouldn’t go that far yet — but I CAN say that I really enjoy watching it. Almost everything about it is lovely.
With some dramas, I’m eager to know what’s going to happen in the story and I watch with some impatience. With this drama, however, the combination of lush cinematography and music makes it one I want to savor patiently.
SONG OF THE DAY
Ibadi – “비로 뒤덮인 세상” (World Covered in Rain) [ Download ]
EPISODE 6: “Wandering Iljimae”
Iljimae rages inside his dark shed, screaming for the monk to let him out. Over the next few days, the monk comes back to give him food and to tell him that he will have to be kept inside his cell for at least 10 months: “Iljimae, that is your mother’s womb.” He needs to spend time reflecting, and be reborn into the world.
For what it’s worth, the monk speaks with calm sagacity — not crazed religious fanaticism or anything like that — so it’s not that he’s acting sadistically. It’s more that he wants to break Iljimae of his uncontrolled anger. But yikes! His action reeks of charismatic pastors shouting, “I will beat the devil out of you!” and reminds me why I am wary of religious authority.
Bae Sun-dal witnesses the scamp Cha-dol conning another man for a counterfeit sword, and follows him curiously. He watches as the boy steps inside a yard, hides some money in a hole in the wall, then enters the home.
Inside, three boors gamble, one of whom Cha-dol nervously calls “Father.” Dad grabs Cha-dol roughly and takes the money earned from the swords (which explains why Cha-dol sneaked a few coins into his hiding place) and sends him out with another to sell. Cha-dol hesitantly asks — very Oliver Twist-like — if he can eat first, but Father says he can eat when he’s sold the sword.
Bae watches the father’s abuse of Cha-dol with horror, particularly after Cha-dol leaves and the other two gamblers offer to buy the boy. Dad rejects their offers — Cha-dol brings in too much income to just let him go.
Bae rushes to alert policemen, who raid the gambers’ den and seize the men, all of whom have petty criminal records. When Cha-dol returns home to an empty yard, Bae scolds him for his grifting, but doesn’t get very far because Cha-dol fights back and slips away.
All the while, Iljimae is kept in his dark shed, quiet and defeated. True to his word, the monk keeps him there for months:
This series is just so freaking gorgeous. I find myself saying aloud, “Wow,” at least once per episode — not just because it’s pretty, but at how well the beauty and imagery are used to enhance the feel of the story itself.
When his period of reflection comes to its end, the monk asks, “Who are you?” Iljimae answers, in a low tone, that he is a dirty louse, someone who only caused people trouble, a worthless being named Iljimae.
The monk agrees — up until now, Iljimae has lived harboring hatred for other people, and has even wanted to kill. However, adding a dash of hope to that demoralizing statement, the monk says, “Those who can be killed can also be saved.” That choice will determine what kind of human he will become. Ohh, nice of you to give him a choice now, Mr. Monk!
(I understand from a narrative point of view what the monk means, but he just rubs me the wrong way.)
But I suppose the point is that Iljimae has learned the monk’s intended lesson. Now displaying a vaguely zen-like calm, he bows in respect before leaving. Asked where he’s headed now that he’s free, Iljimae answers that there is one person in particular he wishes to see.
The scene transition leads us to believe that this is Wol-hee, because we cut to her back in the capital, heading to the marketplace.
However, I believe Iljimae means somebody else, because when he arrives at Wol-hee’s gate, he admits that this is not the right time for him to give his formal thanks to her. He says (to her closed door) that he’ll leave for now, but promises to come back.
I’m not quite sure why he feels this is the wrong time, but it could be that he feels there are still loose ends in his life that must be addressed first.
Wol-hee is looking for work, now left to fend for herself after her father passed away of illness. She asks to take over her father’s job of transcribing texts, which is a task in great demand but without many capable people available to do the work. The printer is skeptical of employing Wol-hee until she reveals that she’d actually done most of her father’s work after he’d fallen ill.
When she runs into her uncle, he tells her disapprovingly that working is beneath her — she may not be rich, but she’s still of noble birth. Each class has their place in life and should observe their societal roles. Wol-hee answers that people created the divisions — they weren’t there naturally — and everyone must do what they can to survive. Her uncle is aghast at these liberal views; she replies that they were her father’s beliefs, and she believes that everything he had said was right and true.
In the marketplace, we are introduced to a prime example of someone harboring the same classist views as Wol-hee’s uncle. (In other words, he’s a Noble Douche.) He’s a government official, and threatens to shut down one cloth merchant who’s operating without a proper license. The bewildered merchant says that nobody else has one, and is given the hint to offer a bribe. If he doesn’t pay the exorbitant amount, he’ll be dragged off to jail and punished.
Just as the hapless merchant is being taken away and his merchandise confiscated, a disturbance draws everyone’s attention. It’s Cha-dol, running from a food vendor from whom he’d stolen a dumpling. The government official sizes up the situation and draws his dagger and throws, striking Cha-dol in the back.
The boy goes down, and Bae rushes to his side. The villagers gasp at the man’s excessive action, but he merely mutters, “How dare you steal?”
As the situation grows tense, Officer Gu arrives to assess the situation. Hearing that a boy was stabbed for stealing a dumpling, Gu turns to the official, who’s indignant at the people’s reaction — HE was the good guy who caught a thief. He expects Gu to side with him, and is therefore offended with Gu tells him — very diplomatically, at that — that because of his involvement, the official will have to accompany them back to the police station.
The official tries to leave but is stopped by Soo-ryun, then pulls the “Do you KNOW who I AM?” card, drawing his dagger threateningly. There’s a short glare-off amongst the officers, but Gu knows to pick his battles wisely, and relents. He warns the man, however, that he’s not exempt from the law. He will still need to come by the police station at some point.
After the official’s huffy exit, they rush to get Cha-dol treated. Although he will recover, the healer says Cha-dol needs to rest and receive further treatment. Gu makes arrangements to have Cha-dol transferred, but Bae defends the boy and offers to keep watch over him. He gives his word to deliver Cha-dol to the police station when he’s recovered.
More amazing scenery as Iljimae travels south from the capital and arrives at one seaside village…
This, I believe, is the true destination he’d mentioned to the monk. He inquires after the whereabouts of Keol-chi — the beggar who had taken care of him as a baby.
He finds the former beggar at the rocky shore, fighting with his fishing pole. Keol-chi eyes him suspiciously, since Iljimae knows his name and asks with a smile, “Don’t you recognize me?”
Iljimae describes a monk who had told him that a man named Keol-chi took care of him as an infant. He’s here to express his gratitude.
Keol-chi remembers, and because he’s always had great affection for the baby, he’s overwhelmed to see him now. Keol-chi had been brokenhearted when he had lost Iljimae, and now he clutches him tightly, thanking God for returning the boy to him. It’s surprisingly touching.
Keol-chi explains that he’d grown attached to Iljimae, and wandered for a long time after losing him. He ended up here, where he has been fishing ever since. However, he muses that life sure is strange: he’d tried to forget all about the lost baby, but now that he’s showed up, he doesn’t want to let him go. Therefore, Iljimae should live here with him from now on.
Iljimae gladly agrees.
Cha-dol recovers from his injury and is brought to the police station. The petty theft issues are no problem, as Bae paid for the stolen dumpling. However, Cha-dol faces more serious charges regarding the fake swords.
Bae argues that the boy had been forced to participate by his abusive father, to which Gu informs him that the man was not really Cha-dol’s father. Actually, his birth father had died some years ago, followed shortly by his mother. So Cha-dol wandered around for a while until he met the gambler who promised to feed him if he sold fake swords, who’d forced Cha-dol to call him father.
Cha-dol apologizes for having scammed Bae, who is moved at his story and worries what will become of the boy now. Soo-ryun answers that he’ll be sent to an orphan’s village and put up for adoption. He’ll probably be picked quickly because of his age — not to adopt, but to work or be sold off as a slave.
It did occur to me that the policemen were purposely laying it on thick to get Bae to adopt Cha-dol, seeing that the man has a soft spot for the kid. But even if that wasn’t their intention, it’s the effect. Bae can’t let the boy be sold into slavery, and offers to adopt him himself. So it’s with some surprise that both Bae and Cha-dol find themselves released into each other’s company.
As for Iljimae, he again finds some measure of normalcy, learning how to fish from Keol-chi and living a quiet seaside life.
The narrator tells us that it’s possible Iljimae would have been content living here for the rest of his days — if not for one incident that would change all that.
As can be expected, the presence of a strapping young man in a remote village causes a stir with the young ladies. Their petty jealousy causes shoving and glaring; the girls are all eager to attract Iljimae’s attention for themselves, none realizing that Iljimae has no interest in any of them.
And then one day, a girl named Bong-yi is found dead in the woods (above-right picture, on the left).
The incident has been witnessed by one malicious girl, Nan-yi, who pins the blame on Iljimae. She insists that she’d seen Bong-yi kissing Iljimae in the woods, painting Bong-yi as an aggressive hussy. Iljimae had resisted and ended up bashing in her head with a stone.
Iljimae is out on the shore when he is called before the village elders and questioned. The last thing he notices before heading to his inquisition is one of the village men, Sung-kae, hurriedly paddling his boat to a cove. Something strikes him as strange, but first he must go and defend himself from the ridiculous charges.
Iljimae says he knows nothing of the incident, and notices holes in the eyewitness’s account. Nan-yi has been quick to whip up her own alibi, which can be confirmed by many others. Iljimae points out her story’s inconsistency — if she was far away with an airtight alibi, how could she have seen him allegedly killing Bong-yi?
Good point. Nan-yi stutters, caught in her lie. Iljimae points out that Nan-yi is the cousin of Sung-kae, the man who’d been suspiciously lurking in the cove. If Nan-yi will not admit the truth, perhaps the crucial clue lies with Sung-kae?
Iljimae rushes to the cove (the villagers follow behind), and intercepts Sung-kae trying to run away. A short fight ensues, in which Sung-kae — who’s a bit of a loose cannon, wild and angry — lashes out at Iljimae.
Iljimae’s already figured out most of the details, and snatches away a parcel that Sung-kae had been guarding. In it, he finds a set of trinkets (silver spoons, ornaments), which are recognized. Iljimae fills in the story — Nan-yi obviously gave the trinkets to Sung-kae as payment for attacking/raping Bong-yi. However, the girl fought back and Sung-kae hit her over the head with a rock, killing her. (Sung-kae blurts out in a rage that yes, he killed the girl, so what of it?)
Attention turns to Nan-yi, who breaks down in sobs when it becomes clear the jig is up. She wails that she did it because Bong-yi’s prettier than her — and I admit it, even in the midst of this tension, I totally laughed. Nan-yi confesses that she was afraid Bong-yi would steal Iljimae away.
But when Iljimae hears this, he grows still, comprehending that he was at the source of all this trouble. Not the instigator, perhaps, but still, he was the reason.
I’m inclined to believe that Return of Iljimae is going to be the drama that really makes Jung Il-woo’s career, because he’s starting to show a lovely range of nuance in his expressions. For instance, in the seconds that the camera closes in on his face as he comprehends Nan-yi’s confession, his expression turns from satisfaction at uncovering the truth to shock, dismay, and lastly, guilt.
Sung-kae makes one last-ditch attempt to attack Iljimae. Immediately knocked back, he decides to end it all in a fit of irrational anger. He races up the cliff and jumps into the sea, yelling, “Have a nice life, I’m leaving!”
That night, Iljimae sinks into thought, and explains to Keol-chi that he may have to leave this village. None of this would have happened if he hadn’t come.
Keol-chi immediately tells him not to take the blame, because this was the fault of one mean girl and stupid guy. Those words aren’t comforting, though, and therefore Iljimae sneaks away in the dead of night. He takes Keol-chi’s boat and sets sail.
Unfortunately, he isn’t at sea long before lightning flashes and rain starts to pour, which soon intensifies into an all-out storm. Throughout the night, Iljimae struggles to stay aboard, clinging to the tossing boat as it is battered by the storm.
By morning, all that’s left of the boat are wooden planks. He hangs on for dear life, clutching his board until finally making it to land.
Exhausted, Iljimae lies unconscious on the beach as a man comes upon him curiously. He’s washed ashore in… Japan?
What this drama does so well is make the emotions really credible. I can’t pinpoint what exactly makes this so; I can only say that in combination, the directing, acting, and artistic direction all come together to make these characters… palpable. Not necessarily realistic (although some, like Gu and Baek-mae, are), but emotionally accessible. Even the exaggerated comic-relief characters like Bae have their grounded moments, such as when Bae hears Cha-dol’s tragic childhood story and is overcome with pity.
I’m also a sucker for acquired families — you know, lost drifters who come together for whatever reason — and this drama is coming through on that score. First we had Iljimae acquire a family with Dal-yi and her father, and now with Keol-chi, with whom he shares no blood. They have a pretty tenuous connection, but the relationship is fulfilling for both and that really comes across. Bae and Cha-dol make up a motley pair, and there’s something appealing in the way they end up together inadvertently, neither of them expecting this development but both relieved when all is said and done.
As for Wol-hee… I’d wondered what the point was in having an old love look exactly like a new love, other than supplying Iljimae with the requisite tragic past. But I think perhaps there is a point… Dal-yi was an important figure in Iljimae’s life, and he grew into adolescence with her naturalistic approach to life and love. I think he would have been very happy with her, but her death wrought a change in him, and Wol-hee suits that change. It’s not like she’s Dal-yi 2.0, but she’s similar in some ways while being a more intellectual match for him, and progressive in her thinking. Iljimae hasn’t really been challenged intellectually until his forced confinement by the monk, but now that he’s become more thoughtful, I can see Wol-hee being instrumental in the next phase of Iljimae’s growth.
Does she introduce him to the concept of natural rights and human equality, or is it that they both come upon the same conclusion and therefore find themselves drawn together?