Drama Recaps
Return of Iljimae: Episode 16
by | April 15, 2009 | 19 Comments

This episode is an example of why I find dramas so much more enjoyable without spoilers, because I’d known what the big moment was going to be and was therefore less affected than I ought to have been.

That doesn’t take away from the overall quality of the episode, though. Just makes it a little less personally moving, but it was still quite good — and you have to give PD Hwang major credit for finding ways to keep the fight scenes exciting and fresh.


Jo Sung-mo – “행복했었다” (I Was Happy). This is Jo’s first single off his new album; the MV for the song features Kim Haneul. [ Download ]

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EPISODE 16: “The sound of the lute from Mount Ilwol”

Wol-hee cries indignant tears over Iljimae’s desertion, and wants to follow him to the southern province of Kyungsang (or Gyeongsang-do). In fact, all our characters head down there this episode, either at Iljimae’s suggestion or to follow him. This includes the police officers, Cha-dol and Bae Sun-dal, the group of thieves, and warriors recruited by Park Bi-su (Minister Kim Ja-jeom’s assassin) to capture Iljimae.

Thus when Yeol-gong arrives at Wol-hee’s new mountain home and finds it empty, he guesses they have followed Iljimae. He sighs, knowing it’s a futile gesture: “How can the clouds chase the wind?”

Following their escape from prison, the group of thieves plan their upcoming robbery of the royal treasure in Kyungsang. The former Bongsuni boss takes the lead again, with Wang Hweng-bo and crazy-eyed Sung-kae in subordinate positions.

The big concern is the possibility that Iljimae will appear to ruin their plans, so he orders the thieves to be on their guard.

Baek-mae recalls her last conversation with Gu Ja-myung, when he had told her that Iljimae came by and ate her food. This brings her to tears, and Gu starts to repeat his promise to bring them together. However, Baek-mae cuts him off this time, because she trusts him to keep his word.

However, she can’t marry him yet, and decides to return to her previous home where she will wait for the day she can live together with her son. Thus she returns to her former house, outside of Hanyang, while Gu leads his officers to Kyungsang to prevent the robbery. He’s certain Iljimae will show up for the same purpose.

Iljimae has indeed traveled to Kyungsang, but is frustrated to have been followed by Yang-po. Iljimae takes exception to being asked, “How long are you going to live like this?” by which Yang-po means chasing thieves and corrupt politicians. Iljimae answers that he has to stop those people before they can hurt others.

Yang-po wonders if he thinks he can change the world that way, but Iljimae answers, “I’m not interested in changing the world.”

Yang-po reiterates that Iljimae is taking on more than he can handle, but Iljimae tells him curtly to either reveal why he’s following him, or get lost. (Yang-po chooses the latter.)

As the caravan carrying the goods makes its way through the forest, the separate parties convene: policemen wait for robbers, robbers wait for Iljimae, and Iljimae takes his time making an appearance.

Gu and his officers have replaced the real treasure with a decoy delivery, to use as bait to draw out the thieves. However, because the thieves are waiting for Iljimae to show first, they don’t immediately strike, which keeps the officers on guard.

Finally, some movement: random bandits are struck down with shurikens that fly out of nowhere. The trio of leaders is watching at a distance from the rest of their crew, and hear their men going down. Down below, the officers also hear screams from the injured men.

This draws the police and the robbers into a fight, and the police easily win because the robbers have already been handicapped by the shurikens. Iljimae, on the other hand, confronts the head trio and asks, “Was it fun impersonating someone else?”

The boss strikes out at him, but is easily unarmed. Next, Wang Hweng-bo attacks — but he’s more aware of his weaknesses and runs away at the first opportunity. (Wang Hweng-bo can be sneaky, but he’s smart about when to back off, which is why I think he’s lasted so long, like a cat with nine lives. It’s also why I think he’s content to be Number 2 instead of the big boss, since it’s a safer position.)

Most of the gang is rounded up, including the boss, with only Wang Hweng-bo and Sung-kae able to escape. As the fight winds down, Soo-ryun spots Iljimae, who is watching, but not fighting. Iljimae turns and leaves without engaging further.

Wol-hee and Keol-chi have something of a rough time of it, having arrived in Kyungsang but without a concrete plan. They visit a fortune-teller, but her prediction is unhelpfully vague: “He is nearby, but also far away.”

Furthermore, they’re kicked out of their lodgings and have to settle for the only available shelter in a lonely room overlooking a cliff. Keol-chi tries to persuade Wol-hee to return home, as they’ve had no luck.

But she’s firm in her resolve. Wol-hee says sadly, “Iljimae isn’t coming back. If he was coming back, he wouldn’t have left alone. If I can’t meet him, I won’t go back, either.”

While Keol-chi heads off to rustle up some food, Wol-hee picks up her wol-geum (lute) and starts to play. Here, the fortune-teller’s words are realized, because as she plays, the sound of the music wafts down into the gorge below, where Iljimae walks — nearby, yet also far away.

He looks up at the sound of the lute, and glances around with puzzlement to locate the source. Even when he finally finds Wol-hee, he’s stunned to see her there, staring at her in disbelief.

All this time, Wol-hee has been driven solely by the desire to see Iljimae again, so she hugs him and is relieved, but doesn’t immediately register his reaction. He attempts to hold back his frustration that she thwarted his wishes — but at her clinging, his exasperation finally spills over. He yells, “You can’t do this!”

Wol-hee asks, “Do I bother you?” He answers yes, so she follows that with: “Does that mean you don’t like me?” He tamps down his temper but doesn’t answer, so she continues indignantly, “Then tell me! So that I won’t follow you anymore.”

With a controlled voice, Iljimae answers, “I don’t like you.” However, Wol-hee doesn’t believe him, thinking he’s just talking out of irritation (and I think he is), and clutches him — so he shoves her back angrily.

Wol-hee starts to see he’s serious, and says, “But you told me I was the only one in your heart now.” Iljimae answers that he’d only said that to save her, and it was a lie: “So don’t follow me around anymore.”

He starts to get ready to leave, but Wol-hee stops him: “You don’t have to go. I’ll go.”

Saying, “Take care,” Wol-hee walks toward the deck. Iljimae starts to get a bad feeling, voice a little alarmed as he asks what she’s doing.

She answers, “You told me to go. I’m going, so take care. If I can’t be by your side, I don’t want to live in that kind of world.”

It’s like he’s frozen in disbelief as Wol-hee peers over the railing — and then steps over it to drop over the cliff. She crashes down the rocky hill to crumple in a heap at the bottom, by the frozen lake.

Horrified, Iljimae rushes down the mountainside to get to Wol-hee, but by the time he reaches the bottom, her body is gone. He hasn’t seen that Yang-po had found her and presumably carried her away.

He shouts her name as he looks around frantically, finally sitting by the lakeside, wondering in self-loathing: “What do I do? I left for her sake. In the end, I killed her. I did that to Dal-yi, too.”

Understandably, when we next catch up to Iljimae, he’s in a foul mood. Bae Sun-dal and Cha-dol have exhausted themselves traveling through the forest for a trace of him, and finally find him as he is confronted by a masked warrior — the bounty hunter sent by Park Bi-su.

The man doesn’t know who he’s working for, nor does he care, since he’s just following orders. He’s also part of a pair, and is joined by his counterpart. Together, the two masked fighters move in tandem as they attack Iljimae from both sides.

I have to admit: Damn, these fight scenes are creative. In a drama series where there are so many fighting sequences, you run the risk of getting boring or repetitive, but somehow, the director and fight choreographer find creative ways to make these moments exciting.

The sword battle remains fairly even, with neither side gaining an appreciable advantage over the other. Iljimae is outnumbered and clearly at the disadvantage because he only has one weapon. However, he also has a keen sense of timing, and anticipates a crucial moment, jumping out of the way to cause the two swordsmen to injure each other. He then finishes the job, slashing them with a deathblow.

Cha-dol runs out from his hiding spot eagerly, but Iljimae fixes a cold look on him and says, “Didn’t I tell you not to follow me around?” He stalks off, leaving his admirers perplexed — something must have happened to Iljimae to make him change like this.

Wang Hweng-bo and Sung-kae laze about, bored — they’re gangsters without a gang, criminals without crime to commit. Therefore Wang jumps at the opportunity to gain entrée to a local secret gambling hall (illegal, of course).

He and Sung-kae look around in enjoyment (so much lovely vice!), and present themselves to the leader of this organization, wanting to be granted membership into the group. The leader agrees, on a condition — they’ll have to prove themselves by going on an errand to collect some money for the boss.

Some time passes as people return home. Iljimae goes back to the mountain hut that had briefly been Wol-hee’s home, and grieves for her, believing her dead (it’s unclear as of yet whether she actually is, but I have to believe she’s not).

Baek-mae still lives alone, while Officer Gu returns to his post in Hanyang.

There’s a new mystery afoot: a dead body has been found. This is no mere death, but points to something graver — the body is headless, which also makes it difficult to identify.

We see who the perpetrator is, although we’re not yet given the reason: the nobleman Lord Kwon has ordered the killing. His servant delivers the man’s head in a chest, which is accidentally seen by the nobleman’s dim-witted son Jang-ho. However, given Jang-ho’s limited mental capacity, he easily forgets what he’s seen when his father hands him money to get rid of him.

The narrator tells us that Jang-ho is Lord Kwon’s weakness, and we see this for ourselves when he heads out for some entertainment. The combination of Jang-ho’s full-grown adult strength and childlike brain make for a pretty dangerous combination, particularly when he’s drinking.

For instance, Jang-ho gets annoyed with his gisaeng companion and slurs at her, “If you don’t leave me alone, I’ll turn you into that head in my house!”

Iljimae, sitting nearby, wonders what that means. It certainly sounds suspicious.

Therefore, Iljimae drops by Jang-ho’s house to investigate later that night. Finding blood on the ground, he follows the trail to a chest, which he opens to see the severed head. Expression growing dark — and likely brainstorming his revenge mission — Iljimae mutters angrily, “Bastards.”


Wol-hee’s suicide attempt (I’m presuming this is an attempt and not a success) was something I knew was coming, and therefore that scene lacked the full effect for me. This is why I assiduously avoid spoilers, because nothing can beat that gasp of shock when you first experience a surprising moment for yourself, right?

That doesn’t take away from the significance of the scene, of course, which is considerable. I think even if you set aside the issue of love (i.e., how much Iljimae does or does not love Wol-hee), there’s another problem inherent in their dynamic, and that is Iljimae’s inability (or unwillingness) to be transparent with her. I actually don’t think he’s necessarily obligated to be transparent with her, but that probably stems from the fact that I’ve never felt that he loves her fully. If he’s in a relationship where he’s still unable to devote his heart fully to her, it’s understandable that he keeps some things to himself.

Maybe I’m being too easy on Iljimae, but I don’t see him as a bad guy — I think their relationship is, rather, an unfortunate result of two people who love each other to differing degrees, who aren’t quite on the same wavelength. Not all relationships can be perfect and epic matches, even in a kdrama.

There’s also the matter of wanting to keep her out of harm’s way (although I think that’s partly an excuse to keep his other activities separate from his life with her). To take a different look at it, Iljimae is like a parent who keeps Wol-hee out of the loop because he provides information only on a “need to know” basis. Ostensibly this is to keep her safe from undue harm. Only, the difference is that they’re both adults, so when one person withholds information, he’s also withholding the other person’s ability to make a choice, which indicates a lack of trust. Even if he’s keeping her in the dark for her own protection, as we see, in the end it’s not very protective at all.

All that considered, I still find myself pulling for them, and for Iljimae to grow up some more. I appreciate how flawed he is, and don’t dislike him for them. Maybe that’s the difference between a well-written character and a poorly written one — when a character is given depth, the flaws make him real, but not hateful.


19 Comments from the Beanut Gallery
  1. jacq

    Thankyou! 🙂

  2. HyeIn

    Wow, that was really shocking.
    I wasn’t expecting her to kill herself(I hope that she isn’t dead though)

    Sighh, I requested to Dramafever that they upload this drama once it’s done airing, so hopefully I can watch the whole drama(because I’ve only watched up to episode two :]

    Once again, thanks for your awesome recapping. It makes me feel like I’m actually watching the drama. Lol.

    – HyeIn

  3. Biscuit

    When Wolhee jumped, I was frozen in disbelief o.o

    I <3 this drama (not because Wolhee attempted suicide, I just like it in general) and thanks for the recaps ^^

  4. Jill4675

    “…and you have to give PD Hwang major credit for finding ways to keep the fight scenes exciting and fresh.”

    The ROI fight scenes have been really exciting…and so well staged and filmed! Just one of the many reasons to love ROI. 😉

    Thanks for yet another excellent recap of this EXCELLENT drama! I know it’s a lot of work, and I for one am truly grateful you are continuing them! 🙂


    Thank you once again for the recap… youre right apbout the spoilers although i can not say much because Im only following the drama because of your recpas so when I’ll see it it wont be that shocking….


  6. Kez

    Can’t wait for the next episode!
    Thanks Javabeans!

    Hyeln – Hopefully Dramafever will grant the request! I’m sure that they not only upload dramas based on ratings (‘BFF’) but also on how well-made they are! (‘Return of Iljimae’)

  7. Lucille

    Loving this series. Thanks 4 recaps.

  8. Pomato

    Yeah… that scene was majorly overplayed during the credits. I think they showed shots of her attempted suicide, as well as her in jail, in previews as soon as episode 7, before they even lived together. I always watched through the credits so I could listen to more pretty music, but it definitely softened the potential impact of those scenes. After a while I was just thinking…. “Is she finally gonna jump? I’ve been waiting for almost 10 episodes…” Which is rather awful, but I guess this is a downside of having so much filmed in advance.

  9. hjkomo

    Thank you for the recap!

    Even though we knew the “jump” scene was coming, I still enjoyed the way it was played out…so we could see Iljimae’s reaction to it. His flaws are what give his character more depth, and it’s great to see his development and growth.

    The PD does know how to keep the fights exciting, and I love the shot of Iljimae and his two opponents framed by the tree. He really knows how to frame shots (with doorways, trees, etc.).

    I also loved the way the characters all stopped at the same inn, one after another, like a cat-and-mouse chase.

    It’s so sad the drama’s over 🙁 , but it’s great to relive the episodes through your recaps and subbing. 😀

  10. 10 elaine

    “Maybe that’s the difference between a well-written character and a poorly written one — when a character is given depth, the flaws make him real, but not hateful.”

    true. that’s why i hate jandi and the rest of the boys over flowers cast? forgettable (don’t hate them but don’t like them either).

  11. 11 Annie101

    ROI is just amazing 🙂

  12. 12 Ilbum noona

    One of the greatest saeguk series i’ve ever known..Great act, Great picture, Great story..Best in everything..They got it all..
    Btw, thanks for the recap, javabeans..It’s too bad knowing not many people watch this drama..They’d been swept away by BOF( which in fact, i can see the poor act from its leading roles; that’s why i can’t see any chemistry between Jandi and Junpyo). Still for me, Return of Iljimae is the best!!! Way to go Iljimae ^_^

  13. 13 yumi-chan

    I’m really loving ROI right now.
    I feel that he way things are flowing is really easy for us the audience to adapt to unlike BOF where I was angry every monday and sometimes tuesday what a let down xD
    But ROI makes sense to me, it isn’t choppy and hectic, even the fighting scene though exciting keeps me calm & collected.

  14. 14 bbm

    i was shocked when i read Wolhee tried to kill herself (i hope it didn’t work out), i was like gasping aloud in the office, and then look around to see if my collegues heard it… and haven’t watched the drama just follow it through solely by reading your recap that scene caught me off guard really hard…

    thanks again for the recap, i didn’t know the drama has ended, did it?

  15. 15 ...

    thank u for the lovely recap as usual!

  16. 16 Fenzonima

    has the drama really ended? does anyone know how many episodes are expected, if it hasn’t? Thanks for all your hard work javabeans. Really, really enjoy your site!!

  17. 17 eclipse

    Yes,the drama ended in eps.24.

    Because i watch the drama without subtitle so i need it to see the recap/summary, but it is minimize the emotional feeling that i should have. That`s why in eps.23 and 24 i stop myself from seeing any spoilers. I get the emotional one but don`t grasp in some scenes that in order to understand you have to know what they says. Yeah there`s pro and cons…

    What i like in this eps. is the angry-frustated face of IJM when he`s fighting those twins, he was so cool!! I don`t know why i kinda like his dark side.. 😛

  18. 18 Angoles

    Thanks for the recap. Eyes are the windows to the soul. From Iljimae (Jung Woo Il)’s eyes I see the complicated emotions of a hero. He is not a god, but a human being, who feels pain, anger, frustration, and in many ways he is a loner, unable to share those feelings with the loved ones. (Like Frodo in The Lord of the Rings, to carry the ring of burden he must suffer alone.) I love this drama from the start, and because of the interest, I find your blog especially valuable and helpful.

    Boys Over Flowers might have a bunch of pretty boys, but they are just boys who try to act like man. The plot does not give the actors much room to mature, and many times I find it’s dragging rather than meaningful (too much unnecessary violence in this modern day drama). With too many characters in the show it’s hard to focus on the main storyline. To me, I lost the interest for BOF after the 6th episode (The best thing about this teenage drama is probably the music in my opinion, and beautiful location shots).

    As for The Return of Iljimae, from beginning to the end, it gives a sense of realism. The plot is focused, well planned, detailed but not dragging. JWI is not just playing Iljimae; he has become the hero thru this drama. Like Bae Yung Joon’s “LEGEND”, this is a drama that I can watch time and time again. A good show that I hate to see it end.

  19. 19 MsB

    Cinematography and fighting scenes=love; love conflicts between characters=on the fence. Wol-Hee is driving me crazy!! I too was surprised when she jumped but don’t think she is dead either. I still like the first better even though I love JIW and the tendative, hesitant love story between Gu and Baek-Mae. But I’m at the point where the drama is too long. I was so enjoying this up to this point. Now, I’m not too sure!!

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