I’m sorry, Return of Iljimae. It’s like you were the good kid, doing everything right, being perfect and thoughtful and all-around delightful, and yet your troublemaking, problematic, charismatic kid brother Boys Before Flowers got all the attention. And you had to sit there being neglected, not because you were loved less but because, well, squeaky wheel syndrome comes into play. You could have gotten outraged at being passed over when you were doing everything right, and thought indignantly, “Why does BBF get all the love? Don’t people know what an overrated douchewaffle he is?” (Yes, we do.) But to your credit, you didn’t complain and just went on being characteristically lovely.
SONG OF THE DAY
Winterplay – “Quando Quando Quando.” This jazz band got its first mainstream exposure after being featured on the Who Are You? drama soundtrack, and followed that with a CM song. I like their take in remaking this Italian classic pop song. [ Download ]
EPISODE 14: “Wol-hee taken prisoner”
After the confession of the previous episode, when Iljimae explained to Wol-hee what Dal-yi meant to him, the air is strained between them. She tells Iljimae in a subdued, cool tone that they can cancel their plans to marry, because “I don’t want to be the moon’s shadow. I want to be the moon that someone looks at.” (Aside from being a poetic metaphor, this also plays on the fact that both Dal-yi and Wol-hee’s names include the word for “moon.”)
Iljimae is taken aback at this. I think that if he’s honest with himself, he may not feel the same degree of attachment to Wol-hee that he had with Dal-yi, but that doesn’t mean he wants to lose Wol-hee, either. Keol-chi, not knowing of their tensions, urges Iljimae not to delay with marriage plans.
The mysterious archer who previously helped Iljimae makes a reappearance; he doesn’t identify himself by name, but the glossary at the beginning of the episode tells us this is Yang-po. He directs the police to Wol-hee’s home and tells them to look for evidence of Iljimae’s presence there.
Acting on that tip, the police barge in despite Wol-hee’s protests, and look through the household until they find the metalworking equipment that Iljimae used to make the gold plum blossoms. They confiscate the evidence and drag Wol-hee away to the police station. When Cha-dol sees her being taken away in the village, she whispers a message to him to warn Iljimae to run.
Wol-hee is brought before Officer Gu Ja-myung, who is immediately struck with her resemblance to Dal-yi. In fact, the other officers are also startled, knowing how Dal-yi came to her end. Wol-hee — still smarting from Iljimae’s confession — insists that she’s not Dal-yi, she’s Wol-hee. It’s kind of poignantly pathetic to hear the tinge of defiance in her voice; she’s trying to assert her own significance as a person apart from the dead girl.
Wol-hee protects Iljimae, though, by sticking to her story that she has absolutely nothing to do with him. However, Gu Ja-myung realizes that it can’t be mere coincidence that a girl who looks so much like Dal-yi is linked to Iljimae. Recognizing basic human psychology, Gu draws the conclusion that it’s very likely that Wol-hee is, in fact, Iljimae’s sweetheart and is therefore lying to protect him.
Upon Iljimae’s arrival home, Cha-dol tells him about what happened, and conveys Wol-hee’s warning to run away. Iljimae grabs some belongings and heads off with Keol-chi, while Cha-dol aids their escape by diverting policemen in the wrong direction.
Meanwhile, Minister Kim hears the latest news and, contrary to expectations, is displeased that Iljimae may be caught soon. Although Minister Kim would love to get his hands on Iljimae and recover his stolen gold, he recognizes the danger of involving the authorities — if Iljimae is caught and confesses the whole truth, a lot of noblemen will find themselves in trouble for corruption.
When Wol-hee is brought before the magistrate for further interrogation, she sticks to her claim that she doesn’t know Iljimae. This is an unconvincing argument and she is to be tortured, but Gu intercedes, perhaps a little desperately. (He wants to help Wol-hee and Iljimae, but he must keep his personal motives hidden and extricate her legally.) He makes a valid point, because they don’t have real proof to link Wol-hee to Iljimae.
Another officer concedes the quandary of dealing with Iljimae — everybody knows what he’s doing but nobody has proof, because the victims are all noblemen who deny everything (because they will be implicated), while Iljimae’s beneficiaries protect him out of loyalty. Therefore, they should make catching Iljimae their priority.
Gu talks to Wol-hee individually, mentioning the possibility of Iljimae coming to save her. Since Wol-hee is wary of Gu (she doesn’t know his personal attachment to Iljimae), he confides in her to earn her trust: He had promised Iljimae’s mother that he would bring the two of them together. Therefore he must find Iljimae first — because if somebody else beats him to it, he can’t do anything to help.
Wol-hee says with sadness, “There’s no reason for him to get caught. He’s already run away,” as though she’s already accepted that he has left her behind. Gu doesn’t think so: “The Iljimae I know isn’t that kind of person. He’d probably come here to save you.”
With a few tears, she corrects him: Iljimae won’t save her because she’s not his sweetheart. There’s a lovely tremor in her voice as she says, “I’m not the one in his heart.”
I think Wol-hee’s pessimism is understandable, but thankfully Iljimae proves himself more devoted than she’d hoped. He lurks around the village for information, where Yang-po the archer finds him and asks, “Are you looking for information on Wol-hee?”
Iljimae talks to him with a mix of frustration at his own inability to do anything and an urgency to figure out a way to save Wol-hee. Yang-po remains close-lipped about his identity, saying merely that he’s here to help. He tips Iljimae off about the police’s plans to move Wol-hee from the jail to a different division that handles higher crimes.
When Yang-po alludes to another “someone” waiting to meet him, Iljimae immediately agrees to meet that person, but Yang-po senses that he’s just talking out of desperation and doesn’t believe the lie. Yang-po also adds, mysteriously, “There’s another young woman besides Wol-hee who is crying, from a very long time ago.”
Iljimae grows irritated with all the vague talk (Yang-po tells him to “think and it should come to you”), but he can’t deny the truth of Yang-po’s warning that it would be foolish to go in and save Wol-hee all alone.
Regardless of the odds, Iljimae makes his decision to proceed anyway. That evening, he takes out his black disguise and prepares to break Wol-hee out of jail. The decision doesn’t come lightly — and Jung Il-woo manages a fantastic bit of timing, his eyes filling with tears at precisely the right moment as he says, “I’ll save her, and die myself.”
Gu Ja-myung expects Iljimae to come to Wol-hee’s rescue, but his two subordinates are against him getting involved. Soo-ryun in particular stops him — Gu must leave Iljimae’s capture to those in charge (i.e., the government department to which Wol-hee is being transferred), because even if Gu finds Iljimae, his fate is already sealed. She tells him, “All you can do now is to wait here.”
As Wol-hee is conveyed in her prison cage (down the same path Dal-yi once traveled, the narrator indicates), Bae and Cha-dol are also on alert, wondering if Iljimae will show. They know he has a relationship with Wol-hee but are uncertain as to its depth; Bae says, “We’ll know the extent of their relationship when we see whether he comes or not.”
Iljimae does indeed show up, using his shurikens effectively to ward off the front-line guards and scare off the rest. Wol-hee hears his voice from under her head covering, which is then removed when he opens the cage and frees her, telling her, “It’s okay now.”
Iljimae leads Wol-hee to a horse, and has a really sweet moment when he tells her that he’s decided to chase the living moon and not the moon’s shadow, echoing Wol-hee’s earlier qualms.
He tells her to hurry to the cave where Keol-chi is waiting, and sends the horse away. He then turns to the rest of the soldiers, and with his characteristic efficiency, quickly beats them long enough to make his own escape.
But something curious happens this time. At the sound of a drum, Iljimae starts to stumble. It’s almost like the drumbeat causes him physical pain as well as emotional; the sound elicits a vivid flashback to Dal-yi’s death.
The injured guards realize that Iljimae is weakened, and gather round to capture him as he collapses. They’re about to seize him when Yang-po interferes, shooting arrows efficiently into the nearest guards. He hoists the unconscious Iljimae upon his shoulder and warns the officers that if they follow, they’ll meet with even worse fates.
When Iljimae wakes up, he explains what happened when he heard the drumbeat, and how the flashback to Dal-yi’s execution strangely robbed his body of strength. Yang-po has seen this happen on the battlefield, where a painful reminder can have a physical effect on a person years later (which I suppose is akin to what we’d call posttraumatic stress disorder now).
Iljimae has been twice helped by Yang-po but remains suspicious — as well he should. For one, the man will not reveal his intentions or his origins (and we know, although Iljimae doesn’t, that Yang-po is the reason Wol-hee’s house was searched, leading to her arrest).
Iljimae’s wariness is heightened when Yang-po lets slip a strange comment — after explaining about the traumatic effect of war, he says, “This country will probably overflow with people like that soon.” Iljimae asks in alarm, “Are you saying we will soon be at war?”
Yang-po realizes he probably said too much, and starts to leave. Iljimae angrily stops him, because he’s tired of being strung along and wants some real answers. But Yang-po is unmoved by Iljimae’s threats, saying merely, “Even if you don’t make an effort to find out, you’ll know in due time.”
Baek-mae finally arrives in the city, and stands in line to enter the gates. She watches a young man interrogated by authorities, hearing from a nearby woman that Iljimae’s recent activities — like breaking his girlfriend out of jail — have put the officials on high alert.
Thus when Baek-mae makes her way through the marketplace, she sees Iljimae walking by, and gives him a friendly warning that he should take a different path — all young men are being inspected, and he would do well to avoid the trouble. What’s nice about this exchange is that it’s reminiscent of an early scene when Baek-mae fed the hungry baby Iljimae without knowing that he was her son. Here, even if she doesn’t know who he is, it’s her kindness that helps him, or maybe an extrasensory sort of maternal intuition.
Wol-hee and Keol-chi both fret, having waited anxiously all night for Iljiame to join them. Wol-hee wants to find out more information, but Keol-chi refuses to let her leave — it’s too dangerous for her to be seen. He offers to go instead, but just then, Iljimae arrives.
Wol-hee rushes at him and hugs him in relief, crying as she apologizes that this was all because of her (although it really wasn’t). Iljimae looks at her silently for a long moment — out of realization? relief? affection? — then kisses her warmly.
Now that everyone’s safe, Iljimae and Wol-hee enjoy some time relaxing together, and Wol-hee tells him of her encounter with Gu Ja-myung. Initial mention of his mother doesn’t startle him; Iljimae has heard she was living in a particular region, but no more. However, hearing that Gu said Baek-mae is on her way here, Iljimae immediately snaps to attention.
Immediately, he wants to head out again to talk to Gu, ignoring Keol-chi and Wol-hee’s pleas to stay here, because he’s walking into danger. But Iljimae can’t sit still; knowing that she’s actually nearby, he has to find out more.
Speaking of whom, when Baek-mae arrives at the police headquarters, she’s turned away because Officer Gu is out, and particularly alarmed when the guard tells her that he’d gone out to catch Iljimae.
Gu and Soo-ryun arrive just as she’s about to leave, but his gladness to see her is overshadowed as she focuses all her attention on the man they’ve captured. She passes Gu without even looking at him and addresses the young man, asking, “Are you Iljimae?” It’s a pretty heartrending moment, because she’s so alert to the possibility of finally meeting her son but has no idea what he looks like.
Baek-mae wonders what will become of Iljimae now. She’s probably already guessed, because she’s not surprised at Gu’s regretful answer that because he’s a criminal now, his capture could lead to death. Baek-mae finishes the thought: “And capturing him is your job.”
However, Gu is still intent on upholding his promise to bring them together. Baek-mae asks bitterly, “If he can’t live, what is the point of meeting him?” But Gu assures her that he will do whatever it takes to spare Iljimae’s life, and entreats her to trust him.
Soo-ryun takes Baek-mae to Gu’s home to settle in, telling her how he had prepared everything for her arrival: “It’s the first time I’ve seen him so happy.” Baek-mae has been mulling over Gu’s words, and asks what Soo-ryun thinks Gu meant when he said he would do “whatever it takes” to keep Iljimae alive. She voices her worry: “If one lives, the other must die, isn’t that it?”
Soo-ryun confirms that yes, knowing Gu’s character, that’s probably what he means. However, she warns Baek-mae that if anything should happen to Gu, she won’t forgive Iljimae. By way of explanation, Soo-ryun relates the story of her own life: She had learned martial arts under her father alongside her brother, who was wrongfully killed. Not only that, but the killer went on to pass the civil service exam and became a respected bureaucrat.
“But I killed him,” Soo-ryun explains. Gu stepped in and defended her as a victim of injustice, and in so doing saved her life. She has served him ever since. Therefore, she reiterates, “If something happens to him, I won’t forgive Iljimae.”
It’s a warning as much as it is an explanation, and Baek-mae takes this in. She asks Soo-ryun what her son looks like. Soo-ryun answers, “He resembles his mother.”
While Baek-mae waits, she looks around and decides to prepare dinner. Thus when Gu checks back in at the station, Soo-ryun (reluctantly) tells him that Baek-mae is waiting at home and has made dinner — and those simple words make him so excited it’s a little heartbreaking. Gu stutters, “Did you say dinner? F-for me? Dinner?”
Soo-ryun’s reaction is a little humorous (although it shouldn’t be) because she mumbles very grudgingly, “Yes.” He rushes home, and it’s so cute — if only it didn’t end so sadly.
Gu arrives home with anticipation, but when he sees that there are no shoes outside, he grows concerned. Looking around his household, there are no signs of activity, and when he sees the dinner table set for him inside, it hits him — Baek-mae has left.
It’s like he was so close to gaining all he’d ever wanted, but now his hopes have all been dashed. Gu runs out to find her, for once breaking out of his perpetual calm and shouting her name desperately. After searching unsuccessfully, he has to concede defeat.
Meanwhile, we see a brief return of Wang Hweng-bo and his former Bongsuni gang boss. The good news for them is that with Iljimae causing all this commotion, nobody is paying attention to them anymore. Wang Hweng-bo is restless at being cooped up indoors and hiding, while his boss thinks the time is right to start building up a new gang.
They’re lacking members, but there IS a pool of potential underlings all gathered in one place, ready to be recruited: jail. Right now the cells are overcrowded with all the thieves who’d been rounded up in the last raid, which includes the dangerously unhinged Sung-kae.
And then, later that night, Iljimae is spotted. Officers shout out the alarm as the masked, black-clad bandit makes another appearance, and they square off for a confrontation. Only, somehow this guy looks a little different…
There are several things I liked about Episode 14, the first of which is Wol-hee’s reaction to Iljimae’s confession. I think her dejection (and withdrawal) is understandable, and also refreshing in the way she backs down rather than clinging stubbornly to someone who doesn’t want her (as we so often see in dramas). It’s a true-to-life reaction, for her to recoil and tell herself harshly that Iljimae cares nothing for her in a form of self-preservation (when we can see that although he may not love her as much as she’d hoped, she does mean a lot to him. His desperation to save her is proof enough of that). Luckily for her, Iljimae feels the loss and comes back to her (which, alas, many kdrama ladies don’t often experience).
But the thing that’s still sad (and sadly beautiful) about all this is, it’s still more about Iljimae himself than Wol-hee. While he does come to rescue her because he cares for her, it can’t be ignored that a key motivator is Dal-yi — he can’t stand to let another person die when he could step in. I think that even if it hadn’t been Wol-hee who was jailed, Iljimae would want to break out whoever it was — say, if it had been Cha-dol instead, or anyone else who was captured because of his or her association with him.
The one strand of hope for Wol-hee, however, is Iljimae’s comment that “I’ll save Wol-hee, and die myself,” since it indicates he’s making a larger sacrifice than he probably would for any other victim.
Baek-mae and Soo-ryun’s conversation is another interchange I like, because it is subtly meaningful. Soo-ryun is an example of a jealous secondary character who works without being annoying, because she is still respectful of everyone involved. She doesn’t hate Baek-mae as a person (just envies her position in Gu’s heart), so she has no reason to treat her poorly. She can’t quite like her, but she is civil and professional, and even her warning that she won’t forgive Iljimae if Gu comes to harm is admirable in that she’s up-front and honest.
Baek-mae’s reaction to all this information is another nice point, because she realizes she has to choose between a potential lover and her son, and for her, there’s no question. Rather than waiting around for things to get ugly, she chooses to remove herself now to spare potential complications. (It probably won’t work, but I can appreciate her intentions.)
- Return of Iljimae: Episode 13
- Return of Iljimae: Episode 12
- Return of Iljimae: Episode 11
- Jung Il-woo is happiest with script in hand
- Return of Iljimae: Episode 10
- 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