Ahh, this is the feeling I remember. Ever since Iljimae returned from Japan, something felt different, although I didn’t put my finger on it until about halfway through this episode. It isn’t necessarily a bad change because I’ve enjoyed the past few episodes, but I realized that they weren’t as emotionally evocative as the first seven, and I am very happy that the feeling has not been forgotten.
SONG OF THE DAY
EPISODE 10: “The man on the rooftop”
Following a large-scale fight at Haedongchung’s main base, Gu Ja-myung and his officers arrest the thieves. However, they are not so lucky with the other gang — the officers sent to storm Bongsuni’s headquarters arrived to find the place deserted. Bongsuni had already packed up and left. Other than a funeral procession, there was no activity in the area.
At mention of a funeral, Gu realizes that Bongsuni must have taken a page out of Haedongchung’s book, and faked a funeral to evade suspicion. The tactic has successfully delivered Bongsuni away from their hideout and out of danger.
While the relocated Bongsuni members settle into their new digs, Wang Hweng-bo is restless, wanting to venture out to the marketplace to see what’s going on. The boss reminds him of the need to stay out of sight since he is recognizable to the police, but Wang points out that they need provisions anyway. He’s also confident in his ability to remain unnoticed.
Wol-hee and Iljimae take some time to enjoy being out and about, and are looking over some trinkets in the marketplace when Cha-dol spots them. Excited to recognize Iljimae, he rushes off to retrieve Bae Sun-dal, but returns too late to catch Iljimae.
Meanwhile, Iljimae also glimpses a familiar figure — a dispirited Keol-chi (the beggar), wandering among the shops begging for food. Wang Hweng-bo takes notice and offers the beggar food and money in exchange for helping him carry his purchases home.
Keol-chi happily agrees, and accompanies Wang Hweng-bo to the new Bongsuni hideout. Wang tells him to wait to be paid, and leaves the beggar standing outside the gate — which is when Wol-hee comes by to urge Keol-chi to run away. The beggar isn’t swayed by her warnings until Wol-hee adds that she is acting on Iljimae’s orders — and at mention of that name, Keol-chi immediately snaps to attention.
It’s a smart move, because Wang Hweng-bo orders a subordinate to kill the beggar waiting outside — there’s no use in leaving him alive since he knows where their base is.
But the gangster finds nobody outside, because Keol-chi has been led away by Wol-hee, who tells him he can meet Iljimae in town tomorrow. In the meantime, he should go to the police and lead them to the thieves’ lair. Hearing that he had been described by Iljimae as a father figure, Keol-chi is touched.
While the other officers meet Keol-chi’s claims with skepticism, Officer Gu remembers him from the past and believes his story. He mobilizes his men to raid the den immediately.
Bongsuni’s boss hears of Keol-chi’s sudden disappearance with unease, and instructs Wang to search for the missing beggar. By chance, they happen to be outside when the police storm in, and therefore manage to escape while the rest of their ranks are surrounded.
Having narrowly missed capture, Wang Hweng-bo’s sideways shuffle makes a return — he explains that it’s a nervous habit because “the man I most fear in the world is Gu Ja-myung!” (We know Gu is formidable, but it’s kind of awesome to hear Wang — the master of bluster and self-aggrandizement — acknowledge it.)
Throughout the brief skirmish with the thieves, the police have things under control for the most part. Officer Gu is holding his own when a man sneaks up on him, ready to stab Gu in the back, but is stopped short — a shuriken flies into his back, thrown from a rooftop by a figure in black.
Iljimae retreats, but Gu has recognized him and follows him into the woods, where he calls out to Iljimae.
Gu: “After all this time, you should greet an old friend.” (Awwww.) Perhaps it’s not surprising that Iljimae turns back suspiciously — Gu has always harbored affection for Iljimae, but hasn’t ever gotten the chance to show it directly, so Iljimae remembers him as an authority figure who cannot be trusted.
Gu thanks Iljimae for his help, and for sending the beggar to tip him off about the stronghold: “You’re the Iljimae I know, aren’t you?”
Iljimae makes no response, but his eyes are wonderfully expressive in the moment that Gu asks, “Have you met your mother yet?”
But he recovers, and answers that Gu has mistaken him for the wrong guy. He throws a shuriken into tree, next to Gu’s head, and leaves with a warning not to follow.
Despite the denial, Gu remains sure of his conviction that this is Iljimae, because he could see the change in his eyes at the mention of his mother.
The news that Bongsuni has been taken down should be a relief to Minister Kim, because it ought to mean his gold is easier to track down. However, his temper flares when he hears that one of the leaders did manage to escape capture (Wang Hweng-bo). He orders his men to hurry; their time is running out before they need to use the gold to secure their supplies.
A notice is posted alerting the citizens to the disbanding of both gangs. While this is good news, it comes with some disappointment to Cha-dol and Bae Sun-dal, because without these bad guys causing trouble, Iljimae may no longer have a reason to make an appearance. (They briefly toy with the idea of impersonating bandits to draw Iljimae out, but thankfully — for them — they drop this idea.)
Bae wistfully thinks of how Iljimae reminds him of his own youth — not because he was like him, but in fact because they were so different. Iljimae fights baddies heroically, but Bae had been weak and lazy, preferring to stay in his room reading books all day. But the moment he saw Iljimae defeat Bulgasari, he realized that’s what he wanted to be: “So to me, Iljimae is what I could not become.”
Cha-dol shares the sentiment, because Iljimae makes him want to be like him. Bae muses, “To me, Iljimae is my lost past. To you, he’s a future that hasn’t arrived yet.”
Although both characters are usually played for comic relief, this scene has a touch of unexpected depth. Not only do both admire Iljimae and feel drawn to his character, they’ve been brought together — in some measure finding their place in the world via the other person — because of Iljimae. And I don’t think that last bit is me reading too much into the situation; the narrator had described Bae in the past as drifting along with no purpose in life until he took in Cha-dol, whereas the orphaned Cha-dol had been longing for some kind of stability, which he finds with Bae.
Despite the hints of Iljimae’s undercover activities, Wol-hee has been treating Iljimae perfectly normally, and he finally asks why she hasn’t questioned him about it.
She answers practically, “Because there may be something you can’t tell me. And because you might leave because of that.” At that second part, Iljimae smiles at her reassuringly, telling her there won’t be any cause for that.
Although the two large gangs have been dismantled, this doesn’t mean crime is gone — in the absence of one form, another rises to take its place. This time, a loose band of thugs go around in broad daylight, wreaking general havoc.
For instance, they steal a cow from one woman, then blackmail a local nobleman into selling his land. Acting as leader of this gang is a nobleman named Yoon Bang, or as I think of him, the Mole Man (clearly marked by a large mole on his face for ease of recognition). He bullies the other nobleman into selling his land for far less than its worth; he takes the land deed and issues a promissory note (IOU) in exchange for the land’s (lowered) value.
Iljimae waits until the roughnecks finish their celebratory meal and stumble drunkenly along the road, at which point he calls out to them. Iljimae’s careless attitude and address rankles them, and when one man advances aggressively, Iljimae takes him down. More follow, and more join their friend on the ground, until two are left standing.
Iljimae points at the leader in blue, Yoon Bang, and instructs him to take off his clothing. Yoon is flustered at the command, but hurriedly complies when Iljimae holds his sword to his neck.
After all the men have been divested of their outerwear, they’re tied to trees. While the leader complains, Iljimae stealthily takes the land deed from the pile of clothing, then replaces it with a different piece of paper. He sets fire to their clothing, and makes a show of finding the (fake) land deed and adding it to the pile, saying, “You don’t need this.”
Helpless, the thieves wail at the waste of perfectly good stolen land, and watch the paper burn before their eyes.
Iljimae then takes the real land deed and delivers it to the rightful owner.
In town, Keol-chi waits at the appointed spot for Iljimae, who is late. Wol-hee comes by again to deliver a message on Iljimae’s behalf, who has been held up on business and has instructed her to give him something. It turns out to be the promissory note from Yoon Bang, which I presume Iljimae recovered from the landowner. She tells him that it’s worth 470 nyang, which is a sizable amount of money.
Keol-chi protests, insisting he doesn’t need money — just Iljimae. Wol-hee, clever girl, finds an easy way to convince him to accept by asking innocently where Keol-chi would live with Iljimae without money. Why doesn’t he use the money to buy a house? He perks up at that idea — that sounds mighty good to him.
She instructs Keol-chi to trade in the note for its worth, with which he can then buy her house, which she’s intending to sell. Wol-hee offers to show him around, and the beggar looks around in wonder.
All this has been planned in advance by Iljimae, because he’s not really out on business — he’s inside one of the rooms, listening in amusement as Keol-chi exclaims excitedly how he’ll share the space with Iljimae. Wol-hee is playing accomplice — and a very good one, at that — and when Keol-chi heads off to claim his money, she jokes with Iljimae and refers to Keol-chi as her “father-in-law.” It must be noted that Iljimae looks up sharply at that — not exactly upset at the words, but not happy, either. More like completely taken by surprise?
A problem arises when Keol-chi tries to collect the money from Yoon Bang. Having lost the land deed, he’s not about to hand over any more money on top of that, debt bond or no. He refuses, and orders his servants to beat the beggar up and kick him out.
Thus when Officer Gu happens upon an indignant and injured Keol-chi, he looks on him in concern and hears his story. Gu goes to Yoon’s home and confronts him with the story, but Yoon lies and says (ever so pleasantly) that he would be happy to exchange the note for its monetary worth — but the beggar took the debt bond with him. He doesn’t have it.
Gu doesn’t believe the nobleman, but there’s nothing he can do, while Keol-chi cries because his dreams of living with Iljimae are dashed.
But like THAT’S going to slip by Iljimae’s notice. That night, he infiltrates Yoon’s home, slipping inside the man’s inner chamber while Yoon sleeps, oblivious. Iljimae quietly searches the the chest of documents, and takes out the bond while the man sleeps.
A little later, the man awakens in the middle of the night and calls for a servant. When she leaves the room, she sees Iljimae’s dark form moving outside, and shrieks about a ghost. That sends the entire household into an uproar, and everyone scrambles nervously to find the ghost.
Yoon, meanwhile, discovers that his box of documents has been raided, a gold plum blossom there in place of the bond. Realizing he’s just been robbed, Yoon yells for his servants to apprehend the thief, but as they’re still afraid he’s a ghost, they hang back nervously.
When Iljimae appears on the roof, an irate Yoon orders a servant to get him.
A servant clambers up a ladder, telling Iljimae he’s made a big mistake… to which Iljimae wonders, isn’t the servant the one who made the mistake? Placing a foot on the top rung of the ladder, Iljimae asks, “What would happen if I pushed this?” Now on the defensive, the servant stutters, asking Iljimae to be nice; after all, he’s just acting on his master’s orders.
Hilariously, Iljimae calmly pushes the ladder a few inches from the roof, then gives it a big shove, sending it flying back to catch on the opposite rooftop. Yoon growls at his men to catch Iljimae, then demands to know who his burglar is. Iljimae answers simply, “I’m Iljimae.”
Yoon gloats because thinks he’s got Iljimae cornered on the rooftop, but Iljimae proves him wrong — he takes off, jumping easily from rooftop to rooftop.
Wol-hee encounters a bruised and dejected Keol-chi in the marketplace, and pretends to “find” a paper he’d dropped on the ground. It’s the lost debt bond, and she hands it back to Keol-chi, making the beggar think he’d had it with him the entire time. He may not be the brightest bulb, but the man is all heart, and he doesn’t stop to overthink the logic. With hope renewed, he just accepts this as truth and rushes off in excitement to claim his money.
He has enough foresight to go to Officer Gu first to show him the document, and this time, Yoon Bang cannot deny the claim. He definitely can’t assert that the bond was stolen from him in the middle of the night, because he had sworn he didn’t have it. Stuck in his own lie, he’s forced to pay up. (As this money is the amount he was swindling the original landowner, we don’t need to feel sorry for the dude.)
Carrying his sack of money, Keol-chi arrives at Wol-hee’s house, intending on buying it straightaway.
Only, instead of Wol-hee, he’s greeted by a beaming Iljimae. Keol-chi is stunned speechless to see him, then rushes to grab him in tearful joy. His love of Iljimae is so pure and strong that even Wol-hee is taken aback at the emotion. Just like their earlier reunion in the fishing village, the sheer happiness of the meeting completely makes this scene.
And now, the time is finally right for Officer Gu to do what he’s waited for so long to do — to find Baek-mae and tell her that he’s found her son. He takes Soo-ryun on the journey with him, telling her on the way that Baek-mae is Iljimae’s mother.
Baek-mae has been carrying on much the same as before, living on her own and harvesting ginseng for her livelihood. As with the care she gives her ginseng, Baek-mae seems to approach everything with a mother’s heart — when she feeds a hungry kitten, she wonders what kind of mother could have left it to fend for itself.
Gu arrives, happy to see her, asking if she remembers him. She does — but her reaction is the polar opposite. Her initial guarded reaction turns to disregard — she has no faith or trust in men. Soo-ryun, not knowing of their history, is affronted at this lack of respect shown to her superior, but Gu isn’t surprised. In fact, he seems to have expected a reaction like this.
She starts to brush him aside, but stops in shock when he tells her, “I’ve come to tell you about your son.”
Yay, Jung Hye-young (Baek-mae) is back!
I’d been missing her in recent episodes. I understand she’s not needed in all the story lines, but Jung has a really wonderful air of melancholy about her, and brings across so much pathos in her expressions that I have loved all her scenes.
She’s only in the last five minutes here, but they make an impact. For example: Her expression takes on its own wistfulness as she watches the kitten eat, much as it does when she cares for her ginseng crops. Maybe it helps that Jung Hye-young was pregnant with her third child during filming, or maybe she’s just a very emotive actor, but that maternal conflict is always very alive in her acting. She also harbors an intense distrust of all men — which she has earned the right to, I think — with the exception of her son. I find this dichotomy intriguing, particularly since the loss of her son is at the root of her issue with men — will Iljimae’s recovery to her then heal her in more ways than one?
Regarding Keol-chi: I’m not entirely sure why Iljimae rustled up this elaborate scheme to help him — any good theories? — but I don’t as yet feel bothered by it. The thing about Return of Iljimae is, even when there’s something I’m not quite sure of, I never doubt that there IS a good reason. I may just not know it; perhaps the story hasn’t reached that point yet. The question is never whether something makes sense, but how it eventually will.
So for now, I look at this as a way of Iljimae restoring balance to their relationship — Keol-chi is, face it, not really all that capable of caring for Iljimae. Thankfully, he doesn’t have to, and he’s simple enough that I don’t think he’s hindered by a sense of pride. But maybe this is Iljimae’s way of killing several birds with one stone — giving his father figure the ability to feel he’s caring for Iljimae, as well as dealing with the corrupt nobleman.
And lastly, I love the moment where Wol-hee confides that she is afraid of knowing the truth because it may prompt Iljimae to leave. I’d had the same thought, because she could have very easily put the pieces together, but was choosing to remain in the dark because she feared the alternative. Willful ignorance in pursuit of that bliss, if you will.
- Return of Iljimae: Episode 9
- 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