Drama Recaps
Return of Iljimae: Episode 19
by | May 31, 2009 | 16 Comments

I love this shot.

The camera sharpens just a moment after this to focus on the couple in the background, but I like the imagery of leaving them blurred. It’s a rather effective way to create the illusion of intimacy in an understated way.


My Aunt Mary – “Goodbye Day” [ Download ]

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EPISODE 19: “Loyalty and treachery”

After Kim Ja-jeom’s consultation with the fortuneteller, he feels relief at the assurance that Iljimae won’t attack for ten days. Taking advantage of this chance to relax, he holds a series of parties.

While Kim’s household is letting up its guard, Iljimae comes by dressed as a nobleman in time to converse with Park Su-dong, the lead hunter hired to catch Iljimae. Park Su-dong feels uncomfortable with Kim Ja-jeom’s revelry and has stepped outside, where Iljimae speaks to him in a vague metaphor (whose meaning will only become apparent later) about the fidelity of a dog to its owner, who doesn’t care about the worthiness of his master.

All the while, Iljimae plans his raid with his team, since this operation will require everyone’s help.

At the end of the ten days, he sends a message to Kim Ja-jeom (a note wrapped around a dagger is shot into his house), which accuses Kim of his crimes of selling out his country. That night, Iljimae appears at the property, where he is anticipated by Park Su-dong and the hunters. But he’s not there to fight, and heads off into the woods, where the hunters follow his trail.

They track him all night, and by morning, Kim Ja-jeom is anxious at the lack of news.

It seems Iljimae is purposely drawing out this chase, since he’s watching all the while and could easily make himself known. But he waits until morning, allowing the hunters to come close to his trail, and then drops into their midst to take one man hostage.

As he holds a knife to the man’s neck, Iljimae tells him what Kim Ja-jeom’s crimes are. This is where the allusion to the blindly loyal dog comes in, because Park Su-dong is essentially a mercenary and hasn’t bothered to question Iljimae’s motives, but hearing that Kim Ja-jeom is a traitor to his country, we see that Park Su-dong has a moral code. This is reprehensible even to the hired murderer, and he withdraws his hunters. Furthermore, he returns all of Kim’s gifts and leaves Hanyang, leaving the message for Kim that next time he will be his target.

Another shock greets Kim Ja-jeom when he opens his locked storeroom, only to find it completely empty. It had been heavily guarded so they are bewildered at the cause, until Park Bi-su discovers a hole dug into the building from underground.

While Kim Ja-jeom had been making merry for ten nights, complacent in the knowledge that Iljimae would not attack, Iljimae’s team had been busily digging a tunnel underground from Bae Sun-dal’s next-door property.

Thus while Iljimae had been drawing the hunters away, Cha-dol and Keol-chi had been able to travel the tunnel that connected to the floorboards of Kim’s storeroom and rescue Wol-hee. (And also divest Kim of his treasures, naturally.)

To keep suspicions away from Bae Sun-dal’s property, they had taken precautions to throw off the trail, blocking their escape path and setting up a decoy trail in the opposite direction. This sends Kim’s men off on the wrong path.

Back in safety, Wol-hee takes a look at Bae’s drawings chronicling Iljimae’s adventures, which include her first meeting with Iljimae. She had believed Iljimae would come for her, but wonders now, “Where are you?” A voice says from behind her, “I’m by Wol-hee’s side.”

Seeing him in person, Wol-hee starts to cry, although she assures him that she knew he would come for her.

As for the matter of the traitors, Bae suggests that Iljimae visit with a government minister, Lord Choi Myung-gil, who is in the unique position of both trying to make friendly relations with their Chinese neighbors while simultaneously preparing to defend themselves. As Iljimae has no proof of Kim’s plot, he may be able to hit upon a solution by talking to Choi.

That evening, Iljimae overhears as a drunk Lord Choi drowns his sorrows with a friend (and asks for an exorbitant amount of money, jokingly). Choi seems like a good man, but something must be troubling him to make him drink nightly, as the narrator tells us.

Iljimae sneaks into the man’s quarters over the next several nights, until he finds what he’s searching for. It’s a hidden letter — a secret royal order that instructs Choi to develop firearms to use in a future war against China.

On his way out, Iljimae is caught by patrolling policemen, but perhaps he has learned his lesson and uses logic — rather than fighting — to settle this conflict. It’s pretty hilarious, actually, how he appeals to the officers’ fears by saying that if they must have heard of his famed accuracy with shurikens, so they should know they can’t win against him. Therefore, to avoid him having to throw the shurikens and them having to be hit by them, he offers that if they promise not to move, he won’t attack.

Iljimae shares his information with Bae Sun-dal, who makes sense of the royal order. He’s heard of these new weapons, which would be a huge asset to the country in defending against invading powers. However, the dilemma Lord Choi faces is that their development of these cannon-like weapons must be kept a secret — news of Koreans developing them would anger the Chinese and perhaps provoke war. This means that the national treasury is afraid to issue funds for the project, in the event that the news would leak out.

Therefore, Lord Choi finds himself between a rock and a hard place: he received the order to raise funds, but can’t actively raise the funds. Hence the nightly drinking.

Iljimae comes upon Wol-hee as she’s sewing and pricks her finger by accident. He’s immediately worried, and fusses over her pinprick, which makes her laugh at his overreaction. But her laugh soon turns into tears, which causes Iljimae to worry that he made her cry for scolding her.

Wol-hee tells him she’s crying out of gladness, “Because I’m happy you’re thinking of me.” Iljimae holds her and says assuringly, “Don’t cry. I’m here, with you.”

It’s cute how Wol-hee can occasionally be immature from time to time (particularly now that her larger fears are assuaged by Iljimae). This reminds me of the time she tallied up Iljimae’s delirious fever ramblings (Wol-hee vs. Dal-yi), as she comes to bed to find him already asleep. She prods him gently to wake him, but he doesn’t stir, and she starts to blow on his face, less and less gently. She even forces open an eye and blows on it, annoyed, but has to concede defeat.

In the morning, Gu Ja-myung and his officers drop by Lord Choi’s household to check on a report that Iljimae had been seen jumping over his wall last night. Choi is unworried, laughing that there is nothing worth stealing in his home. However, a thought occurs to him, and he rushes inside to check on his hidden papers, breathing a sigh of relief to find they are still there. However, he finds another paper tucked behind his, marked with a golden plum blossom stalk, informing him that Iljimae will be dropping by that night after the curfew bell has rung.

Choi reassures Gu that he has not lost anything — which is true — and dismisses the others’ concern. After all, Iljimae is said to only hurt bad guys and help the poor, right?

Jung-tae feels that Choi is lying — like all the other noblemen Iljimae targeted in the past — but Gu feels it’s not important whether he lied. The important point is finding out why Iljimae went to Choi’s home in the first place.

He finds it curious because Choi is an honorable man, so it’s not likely that Iljimae is planning him harm. Still, Gu orders men to watch over Choi.

That night, Choi prepares to receive his important visitor, and finds Iljimae waiting inside his chamber. In contrast to all his other midnight raids, Iljimae bows in respect, kneels before the man, and removes his mask.

Iljimae first asks forgiveness for stealing into the man’s home to read his papers. He says that he has something in his possession that may be used for evil purposes, and will hand it over to Choi, which could fulfill the royal order. He refers to the money and goods that had belonged to Kim Ja-jeom, which would have been used by traitors to sell the country to China.

Iljimae is about to confide the name of the traitor, but Choi stops him. He tells Iljimae gravely that words, once spoken, cannot be unheard. Does Iljimae have proof backing his claim?

Regretfully, Iljimae has to say no — he once had proof, but he thoughtlessly destroyed it. He agrees not to say the name, but continues with his proposal: He knows of a place hidden in the mountains where he can hide the materials. He asks a favor of Lord Choi: a team of workmen to develop the weapon/technology.

Iljimae confers with his team, planning to transfer Kim’s goods to the hiding place tomorrow. Each person will have a specific role; for instance, Wol-hee and Keol-chi are in charge of feeding the workers.

Iljimae plans to make the trip with them, but unlike the others, he has to remain out of sight, since Iljimae is a wanted man. Aside from being in danger of capture, his presence might make things difficult for Lord Choi, being a government minister.

This makes Wol-hee unhappy, as well as uneasy. Iljimae has assured her that he’ll stay with her, but her fears of him leaving her are deep-rooted, and this brings them to the surface again and makes her petulant. (I suppose it might be seen as a childish reaction, but you kind of have to feel for Wol-hee after what she’s been through, just as you can’t blame a child who’d once been abandoned for being skittish.)

Iljimae tells her gently that this is something he has to do for this country, and she sulks, “But this country has done nothing for you. This country merely abandoned you, hurt you, and tormented you. Why do you have to do this for this country?”

Iljimae: “When I was younger, I saw people lose everything — their family and homes — in one morning of war, who were dragged off as prisoners. Those people weren’t treated as people and had to live, sleep, and eat like animals. Back then, that was a matter of concern for someone else’s country. I thought it was something I couldn’t do anything about. But now, it doesn’t concern someone else’s country. Those are things suffered by people of my country. If war breaks out again, the situation back then won’t even compare to disaster that will occur. That disaster always befalls the weakest, poorest people first. People like my mother. People who are already living arduous lives. Even if I can’t make them happier, they must not become even more unhappy than they are now.”

Lovely scene!

Wol-hee ponders his words that night: “When will we become happy? When will we be able to live lives full of love? Will that day come?”

Iljimae lies next to her, awake. He tells her, “The day will come.”

While Wol-hee shops for provisions in the village, she pauses in front of a ginseng stall, unsure how to pick out good stalks. Baek-mae happens to see her hesitation and helps her, picking out a few for her, since she’s spent a lot of time growing the crops herself.

The exchange is brief, but Wol-hee is grateful for the help and gives Baek-mae a nod of respect as they part ways.

Meanwhile, Choi Myung-gil’s secret meeting with Iljimae turns out to be not so secret: both Kim Ja-jeom and Gu Ja-myung hear about it. Kim is adamant that they find out what it was about, while Gu orders his officers to keep the news from leaking (too late!).

Gu knows that something is up, but isn’t convinced it’s necessarily something bad, given Choi’s reputation for integrity. Still, he worries over what the meeting could indicate.

Wang Hweng-bo is one of those characters whose relevance I’ve questioned in the past, although I haven’t minded too much because I find him funny. (He sometimes borders on annoying, but he usually shows just enough wacky humor to keep him entertaining.) But finally, his presence takes a more significant role as it again converges with Iljimae. He is visited by a man proclaiming to be fellow countryman: Yang-po.

Wang Hweng-bo isn’t inclined to be helpful in Yang-po’s mission to capture Iljimae — Yang-po did ruin his medicine business, after all — but Yang-po points out that it’s because of Wang’s actions that Iljimae came to Korea in the first place.

When Iljimae left China, his abandoned fiancee’s father was so angry that he’d ordered Iljimae killed. However, his heartbroken ex-fiancee, Moran, sunk into depression and refused to marry. Furthermore, she became distant from her father, who despaired over what to do.

Therefore, he brought in Yang-po to retrieve Iljimae through any means necessary. Yang-po vowed that he would not return unless successful.

The problem, then, is that Iljimae has no intention of returning to China of his own will, and Yang-po can’t drag him off by his skills alone. As Wang hweng-bo points out, Iljimae is too strong to overcome by sheer force.

Yang-po suggests one method: They must first render Iljimae unconscious, then feed him medicine to keep him asleep, and drag him off. He knows Iljimae’s weakness — the drum sound, which recalls his past trauma and affects him physically. If Wang Hweng-bo helps get him back to China, Yang-po promises to recommend that Wang receive the noble title that had been promised to himself.

Meanwhile, Iljimae and Yeol-gong travel the mountain path on the way to the hiding spot. Iljimae asks the monk not to come by this place anymore, because he’s fairly certain that there are evildoers following Lord Choi (probably ordered by Kim Ja-jeom).

The monk asks Iljimae what he plans to do with Kim, as though to prevent him from lapsing back into his old ways by killing him. He reminds Iljimae that the man is powerful, and if the country believes he was murdered, that could cause an uproar and result in instability.

Iljimae says he understands, but his expression is grim as he turns and looks back at the valley (and the city) below.


There’s a short conversation between Bae and Cha-dol (during which Cha-dol is gleefully making “Iljimae rocks!” posters, ha) wherein both express relief that Iljimae has made a turn for the better. They both state their faith in Iljimae, and admit that back when Iljimae was going on his angry rampage, they’d been worried for him. Cha-dol had feared that Iljimae was done for, that he had been consumed by his anger as Bae had predicted. But now, he’s happy to see that Iljimae has figured out how to operate not through anger but by a love of his fellow countrymen.

Although Iljimae’s unconvincing reply to the monk’s reminder at the end of the episode gives me pause, the rest of the episode marks something of a turning point in his character. The scene where he wards off officers by threatened violence rather than actual violence shows that he’s at least willing to work to find alternative solutions. Another example is when he reasons with Park Su-dong rather than launching into a fight, instead using the truth against Kim Ja-jeom. Therefore, not only does he strip his enemy of his supporters, he actually wins them over to his side. (They haven’t sided with Iljimae, necessarily, but they have switched their allegiance away from Kim.)

As he shifts his focus away from individual scenarios (and specific corrupt evildoers), Iljimae’s philosophies have to broaden to accommodate his new motivations. Like Bae says, he’s learned to operate out of love rather than anger, and has also learned to be smarter in picking his battles.


16 Comments from the Beanut Gallery
  1. Kez

    I have stopped watching the videos so I always look forward to reading your recaps & thoughts about each episode.
    Thank you Javabeans!

  2. Ilbum noona

    I’m always waiting for your recaps since it’s so difficult for me to find the dvd with English subtitle here in my country..I don’t like watching online though..
    But anyway, thanks for the recap..I love this drama..

  3. hjkomo

    Love this song!

    Thank you, Sarah!!!!! 😀

    The posters were a hoot, and I also loved the “Ocean’s Iljimae” Operation to save Wol Hee. 😛

  4. Peeps

    Oh yeah! Another Iljimae recap!

  5. Kathy

    YES! Another Iljimae recap~
    Thank you! Please, PLEASE finish recaping this drama!

  6. shelter

    Thanks a lot 🙂
    The drama is getting more serious now

  7. twing

    yeheey…i’ve been wating for this…thank you so much….I haven’t watched the series yet but i’m determined to follow it through your recaps…then later with subs…thanks again.

  8. Jill4675

    Another great recap ~ reading the recaps is like watching again, and that’s especially enjoyable because of the details and explanations. Thank you! 🙂

  9. gphoenix

    Aren’t we over Iljimae yet? The series was boring and confusing, and doesn’t deserve the attention it is getting on dramabeans. Look at the ratings. It started around 20 and ended with 8’s. Even the Korean viewers gave up on this series.

  10. 10 lin687

    ” Aren’t we over Iljimae yet? The series was boring and confusing, and doesn’t deserve the attention it is getting on dramabeans. ”
    If javabeans likes the drama then of course it does deserve the attention because it’s her blog! I don’t get why people think they can come on a blog and tell the writer what she should or shouldn’t like. If you don’t like the drama then nobody’s telling you to watch it. People seriously need lessons in basic etiquette.

  11. 11 jojo

    Finally, another recap……been looking out for it every other week. Thank you very much. l hope the recaps will keep coming…* ^ ^ *

  12. 12 Cee

    Even if you don’t like it, there are plenty of people who do enjoy the drama.

    Thanks for the recaps!!

  13. 13 L00L

    Bae and Cha-dol often provide comic relief in this drama, to lighten up the air so do speak, and they do a wonderful job like all other less significant characters in Return of Iljimae. As the story progresses, the dual become more and more involved in Iljimae’s personal life. They find themselves unwittingly draw to the dynamic hero.
    Thru the eyes of Mr. Bae and Cha-dol, we uncover the strength of Iljimae (when he engages in brilliant fights and wins out in the end), the vulnerability of Iljimae (when Dal-yi was executed, he cries out in despair), and the wrath of Iljimae (as he grieves over Wol-hee’s death, he turns his sorrow into anger and kills without mercy).
    The fascination over this intriguing young man grows with time, the dual take on a mission of their own: to share Iljimae’s story with the world. They trail him to many of his battles, spread words of his heroism, and shed sorrowful tears as they learn the narrative of his heartbreaking childhood.
    I think in a way, they understand their hero more than anyone else. As Iljimae’s unofficial biographers, not only they capture his greatness, but also divulge his weakness. It is their unwavering trust and devotion that inspire the tale of Iljimae. Ironically, when those who are close to Iljimae question his sincerity and honor, Mr. Bae and Cha-dol are the ones rush to his defense (in episode 17), and lend their conviction and support undoubtedly.
    In this episode, Iljimae admits that for the first time he is collaborating with someone (before he always acts alone).
    Iljimae says himself in the final episode: “As I think back now, there are many people like Mr. Bae and Cha-dol who really care about me.”
    True friendship upholds when no one else believes in you. It’s comforting to know that someone will always stick by your side no matter what. And lucky for Iljimae, Mr. Bae and Cha-dol are such friends.
    I love this drama because of the wisdom it displays “To learn the way of people thru people.”

    Thanks for the recap. I am looking forward to the next episode. Great Job!

  14. 14 Quel

    Hi, Javabeans!

    Thanks for the wonderful recaps. I don’t speak Korean, so I have been relying on your recaps to make sense of this series, as I wait for the subs to be released.

    Which brings me to this question: Are you going to keep recaping this series or your new found love for Triple bumped it off your radar? No pressure here, I’m just curious (and hopeful that you haven’t deserted this series).

    Thanks a million!

  15. 15 deeta

    Hi JB, I am wondering too if you’re dropping RoI or not, mainly because I want to know if I can wait or simply go ahead with my watching. RoI is harder to understand than most dramas I’ve seen, with other dramas I can at least get some of the dialogues, but I guess because RoI’s a period drama so there’s a lot of foreign vocabs and speech style. So yeah, are you thinking of dropping this one?

  16. 16 rollercoasterlove

    hi javabeans.
    first off, i want to thank you for recapping the return of iljimae, but its been a while since you started ep20. are you going to write on it anytime soon?

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