Is anyone else finding the Iljimae–Wol-hee relationship a breath of fresh air? They’re so cute together, and their relationship dynamic isn’t one you often get in dramas — not in a main couple, at least. There isn’t that question of “When will they get together?” to worry about, but it’s still a lot of fun to see them together.
SONG OF THE DAY
Toy with Kim Yeon-woo – “인사” (Greeting). Love the music of Toy (Yoo Hee-yeol), love the voice of Kim Yeon-woo, love them working together. [ Download ]
EPISODE 9: “Golden plum blossoms”
Iljimae continues turning the gold bars into plum blossoms. He offers one to Wol-hee (who teases back about only getting one), but she tells him she doesn’t need gold: “I only need one thing.” One guess what she means.
The mysterious assassin, Park Bi-su (hired by the corrupt minister), sneaks into the Bongsuni hideout to catch its boss off-guard. He warns that they were foolish for taking gold without knowing from whom they were stealing, and demands its return. The gang boss gulps nervously, because they don’t have it anymore.
(By the way, great job styling the assassin, actor Lee Ki-young, who normally plays avuncular types — though often with an edge — like in Tazza, Time of Dog and Wolf, Lovers. Perhaps he’s more recognizable like this?)
Led by Wang Hweng-bo, the Bongsuni gang return to the ambush point and re-enact the black-masked thief’s attack. Wang Hweng-bo entertains the possibility of the attacker being Iljimae, although he can’t be certain.
At the police station, Cha-dol and Bae enthusiastically recount what they’ve heard of the gang fight, convinced that Iljimae must be the man in black. Gu is eager to know more about the skirmish, but Cha-dol and Bae have a condition — quid pro quo — they’ll tell the officer where the fight took place only if Gu first shares stories about Iljimae’s past. (That threat dies when Gu impatiently yells at Bae to talk, and he does.)
Soo-ryun thanks them for their help, because while they already knew about the fight, they didn’t know about Iljimae’s involvement. Still, Gu faces a bigger problem — despite the many gang members killed in the ambush, both Haedongchung and Bongsuni are still operational. He must figure out a way to weed them out from the roots.
Wol-hee finds Iljimae’s bag holding his black clothing (“These clothes give me a bad feeling”), but doesn’t push for an explanation. She’s clearly dying for Iljimae to confide in her, but he merely heads out with the vague explanation that he’s meeting somebody.
When he reminds her to keep the gate firmly locked, Wol-hee tells him he can lock it himself, and shows him where she’s hidden a key outside. This nicely symbolic gesture isn’t lost on Iljimae, who feels the significance — he’s no longer just a guest, but a resident here.
Wang Hweng-bo shares his suspicions with the other Bongsuni leaders that Black Mask is Iljimae. (To give us a sense of how much time has passed since the beginning, Wang speculates that Iljimae must be about 21 or 22 now.) Just then, he notices dust sifting through the ceiling cracks; alerted to an intruder’s presence, the gangsters draw their swords silently. Just as they make a move to strike, Iljimae drops down from the ceiling, fights the thieves off, and runs out.
There is a hilarious bit in this next part, and my description won’t do it justice so I hope you can watch and enjoy it for yourselves. Iljimae makes his escape by hopping acrobatically over a (low) wall, so Wang Hweng-bo mutters, unimpressed, “I can do that much, too.” He runs at the wall and jumps over it…
…and crashes into the ground. I totally laughed out loud.
Wang Hweng-bo recovers and continues chasing Iljimae into the woods, where they face off. Iljimae asks how much longer Wang Hweng-bo intends on staying a thief. Wang replies that he has finally found where he belongs, and has no plans to leave. Iljimae advises him to cooperate with police, which will reduce the severity of his crimes. Naturally, Wang isn’t interested in compromises.
They fight. Wang tries some of his usual quick-footed maneuvers, but Iljimae is faster and stronger; Wang Hweng-bo notes that Iljimae’s skills have vastly grown.
And then, another figure swoops into the fray — Park Bi-su — and it becomes a three-way confrontation. Wang takes the opportunity to run away; Iljimae tries to follow, but the assassin keeps him there. A fast and furious swordfight ensues between the two, with Wang watching from a distance, behind safe cover. They’re about evenly matched, neither able to gain a clear upper hand.
(Love the look in Jung Il-woo’s eyes!)
Just as Park Bi-su tells Iljimae to hand over the gold, the rest of Bongsuni arrives. Deciding to make a hasty exit, Iljimae tosses a sort of dust grenade, which erupts into a cloud of black smoke. The others look around confusedly, but when the haze clears, Iljimae has disappeared.
The corrupt Minister Kim hears that Iljimae escaped a swordfight with Park Bi-su, which indicates Iljimae’s level of skill, since nobody else has survived an encounter against him. Park promises to catch Iljimae and defeat him.
One of the officers, Kim Kyung-chul, sinks into alcoholic stupor and becomes a belligerent drunk, which gets him in trouble with the others. Gu orders the policeman punished and expelled from the force.
Gu advances his plan to root out the gangs, making preparations to go undercover as a beggar, having heard that someone among the beggars has ties to Haedongchung. Seeing this as his only way in, Gu warns his second-in-command to keep his actions a secret; Soo-ryun will watch his back to ensure his safety.
When Iljimae returns home after his latest black-masked stint, he finds that Wol-hee has left him a trail of notes, which lead him inside to a meal awaiting him (and another note, written rather poetically, letting him know that she’s headed to the booklender). It’s really sweet.
When the blackmailing official drops by to extort his monthly fee from the booklender, Wol-hee speaks up — her tone isn’t defiant, but her serene comments challenge the official and point out his wrongs. The man finds her impudent — but oddly also cute, and orders the booklender dragged away.
There’s some law talk in there as the official counters Wol-hee’s egalitarian views, but mainly this is his way of getting Wol-hee alone to take advantage of her.
But then, Black Mask makes his appearance. The official attacks; Iljimae easily fights back. The official’s men burst in, so Iljimae fights them off as well, then slips out a back window.
In the aftermath, officers and villagers crowd around the booklender’s shop to gawk at the scene. An officer asks what happened, so Wol-hee takes advantage of the timing and politely “threatens” the corrupt official — she offers to tell the whole truth to the police and expose his extortion and blackmail techniques. Since that won’t reflect well on him, the man promises hurriedly to return the money and never return to the shop. (Clever girl.)
Iljimae meets Wol-hee outside, pretending he just arrived. Dressed back in his normal clothing, he feigns curiosity about the hubbub at the booklender’s, acting as though this is all news to him.
As they go shopping in the village, Wol-hee tells Iljimae that if not for the masked man, she would really have been in trouble. He mutters that those kinds of bastards (the corrupt officials, not the masked avenger) need to be punished.
Gu sets out to infiltrate the beggars’ community, and makes a splash by telling the others — who are hostile at first — that he is part of Haedongchung. Upon hearing his powerful ties, the rest of the beggars scurry to do Gu’s bidding, not wanting to get on his bad side.
Only one of the beggars eyes Gu distrustfully, and gets Gu alone later that night to attack him. This is Sung-kae, the killer from the fishing village, who is the real Haedongchung member and therefore knows that Gu is faking.
This is the opening Gu was waiting for, and he immediately grovels, pleading with Sung-kae to let him join. He only impersonated a gang member because he was desperate for the protection the claim gave, and begs for entrée into the group.
Bae Sun-dal and Cha-dol go to the police station looking for Gu, only to hear that he is away on some kind of secret mission. In town, the two watch as a funeral procession passes, and Cha-dol recognizes Gu as one of the members. He starts to shout out a greeting, but Bae shuts the boy up — Gu must be working on his secret project, therefore this must have to do with one of the two gangs.
The procession is to bury a lower boss of Haedongchung, and Bongsuni has caught wind of the funeral. Based on this tip, they formulate a plan to attack the funeral to wipe out all of Haedongchung’s members while they’re gathered in one spot.
Figuring that any issue involving the gangs may draw out Iljimae, Bae and Cha-dol follow the procession into the woods. Thus they’re the first to notice the arrival of Bongsuni gangsters, who lurk at the edges in preparation to ambush.
But instead of Bongsuni gaining the upper hand and catching Haedongchung by surprise, the tables turn. This was an elaborate trap actually set by Haedongchung to draw out their rivals, and they open the coffin to reveal not a body but a stash of weapons. They arm themselves and square off against the intruders.
Thus Bongsuni actually become the prey here; their leader tells his men that they’ll have to see this through. Everyone, fight to the death!
While the two gangs fight, the leaders hang back, particularly Wang Hweng-bo, who strategically waits until his boss is under attack. Then he swoops in to save him from Sung-kae, beating the latter and earning his boss’s favor. It’s also then that he looks into the crowd and recognizes a face — Officer Gu, dressed as a Haedongchung member. Sung-kae hears this observation and files away the information.
Bae and Cha-dol wonder why Iljimae isn’t making an appearance; disappointedly, they conclude that it’s not possible for him to know about every gang occurrence. They don’t see that Iljimae actually IS there, watching silently though not engaging.
As the fight dies, Bongsuni’s leaders retreat. The Haedongchung boss also orders his men to pull back and meet later at headquarters.
The remaining Haedongchung members gather at a hideout, where their leader ponders their new obstacle. Bongsuni’s last special weapon had been Bulgasari, who was defeated, but now there’s a new fighter with swift feet (Wang Hweng-bo). The boss wants to make Wang’s defeat his priority.
Sung-kae is cooking up his own scheme, and volunteers to do the job — along with their new recruit (Gu). The boss instructs them to act tonight, and Gu goes along with the plan, not realizing that Sung-kae is on to his real identity.
A strange sight in town draws crowds and quizzical looks — a high-ranking official has been tied up and is suspended from a high wall. Officers try to bring him down while villagers point and stare.
It’s the official who stabbed Cha-dol and attempted to assault Wol-hee, and from his feet dangle two items: a book, and a golden plum blossom. Recognizing the gold figurine, Wol-hee’s suspicions are triggered.
Back home, she heads for Iljimae’s hidden stash, taking out his katana sword and the bag of black clothing.
That night, she leadingly relates the story of the official to Iljimae, looking for his reaction. The man had been found with a book tied to him, which turned out to be an account ledger recording the sums of money he’d extorted from merchants. With the evidence, he’d been hauled off to jail by the police.
Wol-hee “wonders” who had done this, speculating that it was the same masked man who had saved her, while Iljimae feigns ignorance. It’s like Lois Lane trying to prove that Clark Kent is Superman, and it’s cute.
Wol-hee isn’t offended that he’s not telling her, or even sneaky about the way she tries to get him to admit the truth. Instead, when Iljimae makes no move to offer up information, she prods with a laugh, “Come on, tell me!” (Iljimae: “Tell you what?”)
Sung-kae and Gu Ja-myung set out on their task to kill Wang Hweng-bo, with Sung-kae leading Gu into an isolated passageway. Upon exiting, Sung-gae attacks, choking Gu with a rope, revealing that he knows what he’s up to. Sung-kae raises a dagger to stab him, and is intercepted by a third man — expelled policeman Kim Kyung-chul (the drunkard from earlier).
Sung-kae regroups and attacks again, this time stabbing Kim in the chest. Gu kicks Sung-kae away and urges his colleague to hang in there, and rushes him to get medical treatment. That leaves Sung-kae to be dealt with by Soo-ryun, who has been tailing Gu all this while.
It appears that the whole drunk-officer episode was faked, because Kim has been working all this time to maneuver his way into Haedongchung, as Gu had been doing. (This also makes sense, because Kim had been painted as a loyal and good officer, so Drunk Kim was confusing, to say the least.)
The healer doesn’t think Kim has long to live, and over the course of the night, he does not improve. With his dying breath, Kim tries to wheeze out a few bits of crucial information — he gives the location of Haedongchung’s main stronghold, and then dies.
(It’s kind of touching how Gu continues to talk to Kim Kyung-chul as though he’s alive, thanking him for his help.)
Thanks to Kim’s information, Gu can now lead his officers to the base of operations to clean out the gang in one fell swoop.
The police infiltrate, and a large-scale battle erupts. It becomes clear (because the narrator tells us) that these well-trained officers are superior to the surprised gang members, and those who are not killed are arrested.
All the while, from the outskirts watches Iljimae.
In the action sequences early on, I didn’t like the wire work because it looked so fake, but the actual fighting in Iljimae is pretty impressive — not because of fancy effects or tricks, but because of the lack of them. We get wide shots of fights, so instead of flashy cutting to create energy, we actually just get to see two people sparring for real. Their moves are enhanced by a little wire work and effects, but not very much — it’s the reality of the sequences that makes them interesting.
As with the short-lived relationship with Dal-yi, Iljimae’s romance with Wol-hee is straightforward and not fraught with a lot of angst or conflict. This, by most kdrama conventions, would make it uninteresting, but in fact that’s not the case. This dynamic doesn’t provide some of the standard romance-drama plot twists, but Return of Iljimae is showing that one doesn’t need to hinge upon a “Will they or won’t they?” question to find a romance entertaining to watch.
I find their relationship refreshing, and while I’m sure they’ll have their own share of issues (I’m assuming they must, with so many episodes left to go), I am enjoying watching functional relationships develop for once.
- Return of Iljimae: Episode 8
- Return of Iljimae: Episode 7
- Return of Iljimae: Episode 6
- Return of Iljimae: Episode 5
- Return of Iljimae: Episode 4
- Return of Iljimae: Episode 3
- The Return of Iljimae premieres: Episodes 1 & 2
- Flower boy power
- Return of Iljimae sold to Japan
- Return of Iljimae meets the press