Drama Recaps
Return of Iljimae: Episode 20
by | August 15, 2009 | 14 Comments

Return of Iljimae is back! I know, I know, it’s been ages since I started this drama. I’ve been determined to finish it for a long time, but time kept slipping away from me. I figured that having a goal to shoot for would help move things along, so in honor of Jung Il-woo‘s upcoming new drama My Fair Lady, I will be wrapping up Return of Iljimae just in time to welcome him in his new series, which premieres next Wednesday.


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EPISODE 20: “The big explosion”

Per Iljimae’s plans, his crew settles into a deserted mountain stronghold, along with workmen provided by the upright nobleman Lord Choi Myung-gil. Lord Choi also introduces them to a Dutch man who will teach them the ways of their secret weapon: explosives.

Over the following days, the team learns how to develop and operate various weapons using gunpowder (cannons, small explosives). However, Iljimae must still remain careful and keep out of the way, which is a source of growing anxiety for Wol-hee. She feels useless and annoyed that he remains so well hidden (that’s the point, but it’s not a comforting prospect for her) and immerses herself in the day-to-day work of cooking and doing the laundry.

As she takes another load of laundry to the creek, she is approached by two of Kim Ja-jeom’s hired men, who have been keeping a lookout for suspicious activity. They don’t know what Iljimae is up to, but find it odd that Wol-hee does so much laundering — what is she hiding? What’s going on behind the gated area? They demand that she tell them and threaten her with force.

A rock thrown at the men stops them and gives Wol-hee the chance to slip free. The men run away when they are chased by Choi’s guards.

Kim’s henchmen report to Kim Ja-jeom that they’re pretty sure that Iljimae had intervened (and we see that it was him), but they couldn’t see his face. However, one man now recognizes why Wol-hee’s face was so familiar — she’s Iljimae’s woman.

Iljimae steps in to issue a warning, leaving a letter in Kim Ja-jeom’s room, held to his pillow with a dagger. His intention is clear: “This means, if I wanted to, I could have killed you.” If not for the lessons learned at the hands of the monk, Iljimae would have killed Kim tonight.

Kim loses his temper upon reading the letter, which warns him not to mess with Wol-hee. But he calms himself, reminding himself that he can’t forget how strong an opponent Iljimae is. He decides he must meet him face to face. He sends a servant to the mountain hideaway with a message for Wol-hee.

Officer Gu Ja-myung knows that Lord Choi has met with Iljimae and asks for information. Hoping to gain the nobleman’s confidence, Gu admits that he hasn’t yet reported this knowledge to his superiors. He doesn’t want to find Iljimae as a policeman, but for Iljimae’s mother’s sake. But he exerts a little pressure, saying that if Lord Choi doesn’t tell him, he’ll have to report what he knows to the police bureau.

The attempt is weak, and Lord Choi answers that if it’s true that Iljimae was seen entering his house, he knows nothing of it, and has never met Iljimae. Although he is lying about not knowing Iljimae, the rest rings true with Gu Ja-myung as Lord Choi tells him that he is doing work on the king’s order — it’s important and secret, and cannot be stopped. This work has nothing to do with Iljimae and is for the country’s welfare.

But he does leave Gu with the hint that if his work is successful (which means that Gu should stop interfering), Iljimae may be pardoned.

Baek-mae, as usual, is keen to hear news of Iljimae, and asks men traveling out of Hanyang for the latest. She’s disappointed that there’s no new information, but is uplifted to receive a letter from Gu Ja-myung. Based on her reaction to the note, we can see that Baek-mae has developed affection for Gu Ja-myung and worries for his health as well as for Iljimae’s.

The message tells her that Iljimae is doing important work for his country, and that if it is successful, he may be pardoned. Baek-mae is greatly relieved and comforted to hear this.

Wol-hee receives the letter from Kim Ja-jeom, which is meant to be passed to Iljimae. He is aware of this, and quietly enters Wol-hee’s room that night to retrieve the letter as she sleeps. But as he starts to head out, she sits up and tells him that she’s awake, growing upset that he was going to sneak away without so much as saying a word to her. Iljimae reminds her that he can’t be seen by the others, but she holds him close, and he stays for a while.

(I’ve come to like the drama’s narrating, but it can still sometimes grow a bit obtrusive. However, every so often it’ll come up with a poignant gem: “The hand grasping him was slender but strong, and the hand holding her was heavy but trembling.”)

With morning encroaching, he soon has to leave, but she grasps him tighter and pleads for him to stay longer. A budding argument is interrupted by the arrival of Yeol-gong, who has disregarded Iljimae’s warning not to come here and brings Wol-hee some medicine for her overworking.

In the morning, Iljimae accompanies Yeol-gong out, and reads the letter from Kim Ja-jeom (yep, lotsa letters in this episode!). It says simply: “Iljimae. I received your present. I have something to discuss with you. Let’s meet, just the two of us.”

Kim Ja-jeom prepares for his secret meeting and arrives first at the appointed spot. When Iljimae arrives, Kim opens with flattery, saying he understands that Iljimae is working for the good of the people. Then he shocks him by asking: “How about working with me?”

In exchange for stopping his acts of vigilantism, Kim offers Iljimae power and prestige, promising him a future in government. It sounds like a cushy life…

…but Iljimae narrows his eyes, grabs his sword, and holds it to Kim’s neck, causing the older man to burst out, “I’m not lying about any of it!”

Not for a second does Iljimae entertain this offer; he reminds Kim of the secret message belying his traitorous intentions. Iljimae charges him with treason, an unforgivable crime that makes him unworthy to live: “Shall I drive a hole into your chest? Or your neck?”

Kim says he believed in Iljimae’s sense of loyalty, but Iljimae replies that he has no loyalty to a traitor like Kim, and slashes at his midsection — cutting loose Kim’s hidden dagger.

Iljimae walks away, leaving Kim breathing heavily, having thought for a second that he was dead.

Still, one positive thing has come out of Kim Ja-jeom’s encounter with Iljimae: he can now deduce that Iljimae doesn’t have the incriminating secret letter. This is good news for him! Furthermore, he receives a report about the mountain hideaway, where firearms are being made. Knowing that explosives are regulated by the state, Kim makes the connection that Lord Choi must be acting on secret orders of the king.

That can’t be good, because if anyone can use this knowledge to his own advantage, it’s Kim Ja-jeom.

Meanwhile, the development of the explosive weapons is advancing nicely, and Lord Choi’s crew working at Iljimae’s hideaway are pleased with their swift progress.

Kim Ja-jeom isn’t the only one with an eye on the hideaway; Wang Hweng-bo and Yang-po have also decided on a plan to capture Iljimae, whom they’ll take back to China with them. They make their preparations and pack their secret weapon: a drum.

It’s Iljimae who first becomes aware of a group of intruders on their way up the mountainside. He bursts in to warn Wol-hee of the danger, and instructs her to tell the others to hurry and take their stores of gunpowder and weapons.

She doesn’t grasp the importance of the moment right away, feeling petulant that Iljimae is only here to issue orders and leave, but he grabs her and tells her that this is urgent. If they are caught now, if their weapons are found and taken, they are all doomed.

Iljimae tells her to leave with Keol-chi, and promises, “Whatever happens, I’ll definitely come for you.”

With that, Iljimae faces off against Kim Ja-jeom’s men, standing in defense of his people and his hideaway. Park Bi-su steps to the front, recognizing him from their brief clash a long time ago, and takes on Iljimae alone. He orders his men to proceed without him.

However, Iljimae knows that protecting their work is the priority, so rather than engage Park Bi-su, he runs after the other men. Park gives chase as he heads into the stronghold, and a full-on fight breaks out between Park’s men and Lord Choi’s defenders.

Iljimae heads to the shed housing their weapons and sees that one single fuse has been lit on a keg of gunpowder. He races toward the shed to intervene before the fuse ignites — but suddenly, a drum is struck, bringing him to his knees.

Iljimae clutches his chest in pain, staggering as he tries to keep going… but his reaction to the drum is overwhelming. It paralyzes him, then knocks him unconscious.

Then the fuse sets off the explosives — and the entire shed goes up in a huge explosion.

Iljimae is blown into the air and crashes to the ground. From a distance, Lord Choi is crushed to see their great hope go up in literal flames. Wol-hee, meanwhile, only thinks of Iljimae’s safety and is impatient to get back to the hideaway to search for him. When she gets there, Iljimae is nowhere to be found. Keol-chi urges her to seek safety, but she refuses to leave.

Kim Ja-jeom receives the news and cackles happily. He would rather that Iljimae died instead of being merely injured, but he’s comforted by the news that he is badly hurt. He also loves the irony of the royal police having to cover up the incident, because if news gets out about the explosives, a lot of people are in trouble, since it would bring the king’s participation into question.

Iljimae’s body is taken away by Wang Hwang-bo and Yang-po, who also drug him for good measure. Iljimae mumbles in pain, but is too weak to resist as they force his own paralysis drug down his throat.

Then, the two Chinese men take shelter in a shack in the woods, getting comfortable after eating and drinking, knowing they are close to going back to their homeland.

Iljimae awakens, but he is injured, bound, and still suffering the effects of the drug, so he is unable to move as they discuss their plans. Iljimae struggles to ask, “Where are you taking me?” Wang Hweng-bo just feeds him another dose of the drug, then settles back and relaxes.

Feeling secure, the two men take a nap — but, the narrator reminds us, these two men suffer from a blind spot. Someone sneaks in as they sleep… makes his way around an immobile Iljimae… and peers down at the sleeping men…


Sung-kae may be a mildly psychopathic loose cannon, but he’s not a dummy. Okay, maybe he’s kind of a dummy, but he’s not a placid dummy. He sneers, “You’re going to steal one of my countrymen to benefit your country? I also know how to act patriotic.”

And he stabs Yang-po in the chest. Wang Hweng-bo startles awake, and Sung-kae stabs him in the eye. (I’ll spare you the screencap.)

As they gasp in pain, Sung-kae tells them that he may be a common criminal, but he’s not going to stand idly by as they kidnap his fellow man. Leaving them injured, he picks up one end of Iljimae’s makeshift stretcher and starts to head out.


Again, apologies for the massive delay. I’ve felt super-guilty about it, because normally I’ll fall behind when I get bored by a drama or its quality drops off… which isn’t the case with Return of Iljimae. But once you slip behind, it becomes harder to make up ground.

I do think that the past couple of episodes were a teeny bit slower, which may be why my viewing habit slowed around episodes 18-20. They’re not bad episodes, nor are they boring — but they were more heavily focused on the political machinations. While I find those elements interesting on an academic level, they don’t always make for exciting, emotion-filled television.

But I’m happy to be back, and I think the drama really swings into high gear with this episode as we head into the final stretch. And just in time to see Jung Il-woo transition from fierce Joseon vigilante to a fancy modern human-rights lawyer! Oh yeah.


14 Comments from the Beanut Gallery
  1. jacq

    Thankyou!! 🙂

  2. Kez

    Yay! The Return!
    Thanks Javabeans!
    Been waiting…

  3. Peeps

    I LOVE YOU!!! Ah! Thank you! Thank you!

  4. all4movies

    Thanks for the song.

    It’s time to rebuild my music library since the last crash.

  5. amhrancas

    Hooray!!! ROI recaps!! I’m so glad you were able to start these up again, thank you!!

  6. annio

    haha. hek yeaa!!! are you gonna recap my fair lady or lady castle or take care of the young lady or WHATEVERRR??!! but yea, are you gonna recap it? it sounds like you were going to, but I don’t know. haha. i don’t interpret well ;]

  7. Soobi

    What a nice surprise! I started to watch Return of Iljimae just a while ago and your recaps are really helpful! So thank you. ^^

  8. Anonymous

    Thank you for returning to this.

  9. Anonymous

    The juxtaposition of the screencaps you decide to use, especially for this particular series, is lovely.

  10. 10 deeta

    OMG, Sarah, thank you so much for the recap!!

  11. 11 hsinya

    Javabeans, I love the No Reply song you posted along with this recap. Do you recommend their CD? assuming that you bought it. If you do, I just might pick it up on my trip to S. Korea at the end of the year. I love their soothing sound.

  12. 12 L00L

    Welcome back, it is worthwhile waiting for.

    It’s fascinating to watch the maturation of Iljimae. When his birth father abandoned him (not once, but twice), he questions the reason of his existence. Later on, as he puts his martial art skills into use and fights off the corrupted officials and elites, in the process of helping the weak and poor, he finds his purpose in life. Although, at the time, his only interest is to correct individual wrong doings, and not necessarily to save the world as he tells Yong-po in episode 16.

    His attitude changes, however, after he discovers Kim Ja-jeom’s treason plot. In episode 19, his involvement in creating a cannon raises his action from a simple heroism to the level of patriotism. For the first time in his life, Iljimae wants to assist the country, the general public, and not just the unfortunate individuals.

    Iljimae’s thoughtfulness, caring, and loving nature clearly shines through here. He has learned how to love others, and turn his hatred, anger, and passion to strength, to aid a more worthy cause – helping the country. At this stage in life, he is no longer a pitiful young man, confused and lost, but a mature adult, who carries a great sense of responsibility on his shoulders. His actions are sincere, honorable, and solicitous.

    What a great drama. Thanks a lot for the recap.

  13. 13 zakiyeh


  14. 14 haikuwarrior

    Though commenting way after the fact (way WAY after) I just want to say after watching Episode 20 how surprised I was by Wang Po being ambushed like that (by Sung Kae, no less.) He has been built up, in my opinion, to have the skills, awareness, and general know-how to not let a low-level thug like Sung Kae sneak in and get the drop on him like that.

    Hweng Bo, on the other hand, I would rather see dead or at the very least out of the picture. His presence in this drama has been driving me nuts – though some might argue that his characterization treads the line between unique and simply annoying – for me his character is so out there I can’t empathize with it at all. The only redeeming quality of having him still in the drama was the knowledge that the great Korean Sageuk Karmic Circle would come around and bite him. GRR.

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