Aw, look at that smile. It’s what made Jung Il-woo famous, but we haven’t seen much cause for it lately. (I remember reading in an old interview — before his Iljimae days — that he’d been cast in High Kick because at his audition, he’d accidentally messed up a line and smiled unexpectedly, and surprised producers with how different he looked when he smiled.)
SONG OF THE DAY
The Return of Iljimae OST – “매화가 흐드러진 날” (A Day the Plum Blossoms Were Beautiful). I’ve harped on how great the music is in this drama, and thankfully the Powers That Be have released a score soundtrack, which includes gems like this one. [ Download ]
EPISODE 15: “Meeting Mother”
With Wang Hweng-bo impersonating Iljimae and distracting the police officers, his Bongsuni boss is free to break the prisoners out of their cells. He first frees the former Bongsuni thieves, but another group of former Haedongchung members beg to be released as well, swearing allegiance.
The breakout isn’t discovered until it’s too late, because Wang Hweng-bo does a good job stalling the police by demanding to see Gu Ja-myung face to face. As Gu is currently off-duty, the head policeman orders someone to send for him.
Officer Gu returns home dejected from his unsuccessful attempt to find Baek-mae, only to find Iljimae waiting for him. Having heard that his mother has arrived in Hanyang, he’s here to get information from Gu, but has to face the disappointment of hearing that he’s too late — Baek-mae left after finding out that Iljimae is a wanted criminal. (His eyes! Iljimae’s reaction is so pained at this remark.)
Gu further explains, “She left because meeting you would mean that I would have to arrest you.” Surprisingly, Gu makes no attempt to overpower Iljimae or capture him; rather, he sits down in front of the dinner table and invites Iljimae to join him. After all, it was prepared by his mother: “She may not be here, but it would make her happy to know we were eating this together.”
After a long moment of hesitation, Iljimae sits and starts to eat. Gu tells him, “Eat up. And make sure you are never caught by my hand.” Iljimae asks if Gu could really catch him and/or turn him in, to which Gu replies, “Don’t take me too lightly. I may not know anything else other than catching thieves, but on the other hand, there’s nothing I don’t know about catching thieves. In any case, you are a thief, and I’m a thief-catching officer.”
Tonight, though, they’re both disappointed men who attempt to fill the void left by Baek-mae’s absence by sharing her food. There’s something so basic and primal about eating that it’s quite moving simply watching these two eat in silence.
They are interrupted by the arrival of an officer outside. Gu speaks to his subordinate through the closed door while Iljimae moves to hide, and both are shocked to hear that (Fake) Iljimae has showed up and is demanding to see Gu.
Gu tells Iljimae to finish eating before he goes, then turns to leave with the last words, “This will be the last meeting for you and me.”
Of course, by the time Gu arrives to confront Fake Iljimae, he’s gone. But there’s a bigger problem on their hands: the jail is empty. Gu orders his men to mobilize a search and scour the area for all possible hideouts.
When Iljimae returns to the cave, Keol-chi and Wol-hee ask curiously what happened. Did he meet his mother?
Iljimae, in a morose, quiet mood, tells them no; his mother has already left.
Iljimae tells Yeol-gong he is going to go after his impostor, and also asks a favor: “I don’t need a house, but Wol-hee and Keol-chi do.” The wording pricks Yeol-gong’s curiosity, and the monk asks if that means Iljimae is planning to leave.
Iljimae: “Because of everything, I realized that I was afraid I would lose Wol-hee like I did Dal-yi. Please watch over the two of them.”
Yeol-gong sighs, “Poor Wol-hee. Then again, there’s nothing that does not have a shadow.” Those words echo Wol-hee’s (about being a mere shadow) and strike a chord in Iljimae.
What I particularly enjoy about this next storyline is that we get to see a completely different side to Iljimae, who arrives at a gisaeng house (which doubles as an inn) and acts completely out of character. This is all an act — the reasons will become clear soon enough — but it’s still nice to see Iljimae smiling and light-hearted, even if he is just playing a role. (It’s actually funny, because it’s almost like he’s playing Lee Junki’s version of Iljimae — carefree, playful, a little irresponsible.)
He carries a large box and brags that it’s full of money, asking the gisaeng madam flirtatiously for a quiet room in the corner. All this gives the impression that he’s a frivolous, rich, skirt-chasing playboy.
The madam sees the opportunity to bring in lots of cash, so she’s happy to welcome him. She’s about the same age as Baek-mae and an acquaintance of hers (they were gisaengs in the same house back in the day) — and in fact, this is where Baek-mae now works, following her departure from Gu’s home.
The madam assigns the gisaeng Chun-wol to attend to Iljimae, and reminds her to do well so they can make lots of money. Chun-wol, like the madam, is driven by mercenary motivation and promises to work the guest for all he’s worth.
However, her gold-digging intentions die a swift death as she spends time serving Iljimae. As is wont to happen, Chun-wol falls for him almost immediately (oh, the perils of a beautiful face) and is subdued, almost girlishly shy. Iljimae abandons his playboy act and broods all night (no doubt contributing to the mystique that Chun-wol falls for), until finally Chun-wol gives in to the impulse and holds onto him.
Iljimae renders Chun-wol unconscious with a quick jab at a pressure point, so when she awakens in the morning, she assumes they spent the night together. (I admit, my first thought was to wonder if Iljimae had done this all to steal her gisaeng’s clothing — hehe! — but no, that isn’t it.)
Chun-wol is uncertain but hopeful that their night together meant something, and is therefore offended when Iljimae tosses her a large coil of money. Ironically, earning this payment was precisely her intention at the start, but now she no longer wants the money — she’d rather have his heart.
Iljimae acts the part of uncaring womanizer and dismisses her, rubbing salt in the wound by requesting a different girl for tonight. Chun-wol is hurt, but he says he doesn’t spend the night with the same woman twice — and in a fit of outrage, she beats him over the head with a pillow. (It’s kind of hilarious.)
Iljimae’s act is rather mean, but you can’t quite blame him since she’s the one who jumped to conclusions. Still, Chun-wol bawls her eyes out, and the madam admonishes her for allowing herself to develop feelings for someone who should have just been a guest.
Baek-mae has had her share of experience with men like this, and is particularly disappointed that Iljimae has turned out to be one of them. As she tidies up his room, Iljimae mentions having met her before in the village. She shoots him a disapproving look, saying, “I didn’t think you were that kind of person. Why did you turn out like this?”
Iljimae’s attitude here is more like his real (serious, thoughtful) personality, even as his words reflect his playboy character: “When you could die at any moment anyway, that’s neither here nor there, is it?”
Baek-mae doesn’t accept that excuse: “Even when a person dies, his name lingers as a scent.” Iljimae: “A scent. But what can I do? I’ve become a name that leaves behind a dirty stench.”
She gets up to leave in disgust, but he stops her: “Actually, I’m not such an awful man. There are some things we can’t express in words, aren’t there? So please don’t hate me too much.”
The reason for this whole charade becomes clear that night. Once again, Iljimae spends the night with another gisaeng (presumably after knocking her unconscious). He pretends to sleep as a pair of thieves sneak into the room and carry out his money box. Iljimae’s bragging has had its intended effect: word has spread that there’s a rich guy staying at the gisaeng house. These thieves anticipate the box being full of riches, only to find it weighted down by rocks. Seeing that his rucksack contains black clothing, they realize, “We stole from Iljimae?”
At that point, Iljimae arrives to confirm their suspicions, and demands to know who is impersonating him. They confess that the impersonator has left Hanyang and has arranged to meet up with them in Kyungsangdo province. They’re also planning a big robbery of something to be presented to the king.
In the morning, the gisaengs find that Iljimae’s belongings are gone, and he is nowhere to be seen.
The madam figures it’s not worth reporting to the police (and he already paid anyway), because the police are busy with the matter of the escaped prisoners. Baek-mae looks up in shock when they say that Iljimae was the one to set them free.
Cha-dol lurks around, as is his habit, angling for news. Iljimae comes upon him and tells him to go back, but as the boy is eager to be of use, he is entrusted with an errand. Cha-dol delivers a message to the police informing Officer Gu of the impending robbery in Kyungsangdo.
Bae wonders why Iljimae would free prisoners, and then alert the police to their location. Cha-dol guesses that a fake Iljimae must be on the loose, which clears up the confusion.
Iljimae sneaks into Wol-hee’s house, which has been ransacked by the authorities in their absence, and retrieves his box of golden plum blossoms. He had the foresight to hide it well — he opens a trapdoor in the ceiling, retrieves a stick with a hook, and uses it to drag out a chest.
All the while, Wol-hee worries over Iljimae’s continued absence. She asks Keol-chi to plead with Iljimae not to leave again, since he’s the closest thing to a father figure.
When Iljimae comes back, she’s initially relieved, but also a little miffed. Her mood clears up when he presents her with her lute, which he retrieved from home.
With Cha-dol’s tip, the officers narrow down their search for the escaped prisoners, but Gu drags his feet — he’s reluctant to leave, because he’s waiting for word of Baek-mae. He had sent someone to her former home and should be hearing back soon. Soo-ryun tells him that Baek-mae is still in Hanyang, however — she’s reluctant to give up the information, but she can’t lie to him, either.
So Gu finds Baek-mae at the gisaeng house. Their conversation is watched by curious gisaengs, who consider Gu to be incredibly handsome and find this whole situation rather romantic.
Baek-mae tells him that their fate has already passed them by, and turns him away. Gu can’t let her go again, and says, impassioned, that he will not move an inch until she agrees to go back with him.
Baek-mae isn’t immune to his emotion, but she sticks to her conviction, telling him that it’s a futile exercise. To Gu, doing nothing is worse than doing something even in the face of failure, and he insists he’ll wait anyway: “Even if it’s useless, I have to do it!”
Despite feeling sorry, Baek-mae goes inside and leaves him standing out in front. She continues to be plagued by conscience, however, and finally sends out a gisaeng to bring Gu inside. Pathetically, Soo-ryun has also been waiting outside the whole while, and her eyes fill with frustrated tears as he is invited indoors.
Baek-mae offers him food, and for once her tone is soft and less defensive as she relates a story from the past. She speaks of Gu himself, although she doesn’t identify him by name, recalling how a man would come to wait outside her room at the gisaeng house every night. “That man was different from the other men,” she says. He was not violent, or a drunkard, or always trying to throw around his power.
Instead, “He simply stood there. I was crushed and broken down, and felt bad for the man who came to see me. But there was nothing that I could do.”
They sit for a while in silence, until Baek-mae asks for a drink, and tells Gu to sleep here tonight. That offer carries a whole lotta meaning, as it means more than just a one-night invitation; it signifies that she’s willing to change her mind and give him a chance.
Minister Kim Ja-jeom gathers a council of noblemen — all robbery victims — to discuss what’s being done to catch Iljimae. Minister Kim introduces Park Bi-su (above right), the warrior hired to catch Iljimae.
To this end, Park Bi-su has recruited a group of fighters and has been training them to fight Iljimae — for instance, giving instructions on ways to avoid being hit by shurikens.
Thanks to Yeol-gong, Iljiame brings Wol-hee and Keol-chi to their new house.
It’s smaller and shabbier than their old house, but Wol-hee looks around in excitement, eager to settle in. In her enthusiasm, she doesn’t notice how bothered Iljimae looks, particularly as she tosses out ideas for making the place homey, speaking of their future together like a foregone conclusion.
Iljimae points out that this place is so much less grand than her old house, and it seems like he speaks out of guilt — her happiness makes him feel worse for what he’s about to do.
Wol-hee’s response doesn’t assuage his guilt, though, because she answers cheerfully, “It doesn’t matter. Actually, I didn’t even hope for a house like this. I don’t need a house, and I can live in worse places than this, if only I have you.”
But that last bit is a pretty big caveat, at least for Iljimae. He talks to Keol-chi, saying, “Please take good care of Wol-hee. And if anything happens, talk to Yeol-gong.”
Keol-chi asks what he means by this, and Iljimae answers that there’s some place he needs to go.
Therefore, when Wol-hee calls the men in for dinner, Keol-chi has to tell her with a grave face that Iljimae has left — he’s headed to Kyungsangdo.
Wol-hee tries to remain calm as she asks when he’s coming back, but her tears overcome her — on some level she had to have been expecting this. She runs out into the forest, crying Iljimae’s name and chasing after him despite knowing it’s too late.
It has definitely occurred to me that Gu Ja-myung could be perceived to be…. well… kind of creepy. I don’t think he is, and there’s a lot to admire about his character, but I think he’s certainly one of those characters who works much better in fiction and not so much in real life.
For instance, it’s romantic and poignant that he has been steadfastly in love with one woman for twenty years… never mind the fact that his “love” is based on very little. And also rebuffed several times, very definitively. (This is a conversation I’ve had with real-life friends, and we tend to agree that at some point, if these fictional characters were real people, it would behoove them to really listen to the advice that “DUDE, she’s just not that into you.”)
When he first fell in love with her in an early episode, I thought the moment was shown in a lovely, touching way, and the acting by both Kim Min-jong and Jung Hye-young enhances this. Of course, that’s the difference between fiction and reality, and I’m all for accepting certain things in fiction that aren’t so acceptable in real life — it’s just that this one point definitely requires a hefty suspension of disbelief.
All this aside, the scene when Baek-mae finally accepts Gu is an example where the quiet, careful pacing makes it a lovely moment, particularly when you see how tenderly Gu treats Baek-mae. I would have liked to have seen Baek-mae a little more conflicted in their previous encounters, because it made it appear she really had NO interest at all in him, when it’s really more that she was so damaged that she couldn’t trust any man (and if she could trust one, he would be the one).
As for Iljimae… It’s interesting to have read Jung Il-woo’s 10 Asia interview prior to watching these latest developments, because he described Iljimae as a “bad guy” to Wol-hee. While PD Hwang argued that Iljimae does care for Wol-hee, Jung saw Iljimae’s feelings for Wol-hee in a more selfish light — as in, while Iljimae likes her and perhaps cares for her more than any other person who’s still alive, their relationship is not balanced.
No matter how much he likes Wol-hee, Iljimae is still able to leave her. I don’t interpret his departure as a “goodbye forever” move — it’s just feels like he’s putting her aside while he does his hero thing, and he assumes he can come back whenever he wants to. He seems to appreciate her worth, and yet also take her for granted — which means that his love is there but not perhaps full-hearted, all-encompassing, indispensable. I wonder if this is indicative of his basic character, or merely an aspect of his mentality that has not fully matured yet. (He’s still young. He has time.)
- Return of Iljimae: Episode 14
- Jung Il-woo talks about acting, fame, and the future
- 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