Drama Recaps
Return of Iljimae: Episode 22
by | August 17, 2009 | 13 Comments

Ohhh, this is such a good episode. I freaking love it.

It’s intense, and plot-twisty, and suspenseful. What more could you ask for, really? Well, maybe ONE thing…


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EPISODE 22: “Goodbye, what I yearn for”

Wol-hee and Iljimae are both thwarted in their attempt to escape. But a black-suited ninja comes to Wol-hee’s rescue — and the mere sight of Iljimae raising his arm to throw a shuriken sends the lone swordsman running scared.

Only… it’s Cha-doljimae!

Maybe we should be glad these guys rely on those restricting eye-slots in their bamboo hats, if he’s going to mistake little Cha-dol for Iljimae.

As for the real Iljimae, he has his hands full going up against Park Bi-su. He’s surrounded by Kim Ja-jeom’s men, but Park indicates that this will be a one-on-one.

Park Bi-su throws his sword, lodging it into the wall, sending the two grappling with each other in hand-to-hand combat. They break free, then reach for their swords. They fight.

I’ve said this before, but I do love the fighting scenes in Return of Iljimae — they’re realistic, insofar as these scenes can be realistic, and still suspenseful. I’ve seen more elaborate scenes in movies that use lots of special effects, but it’s the unadorned, plain sparring in this series that is so refreshing.

It’s a fairly evenly matched battle, both men holding their own, until they charge each other and engage in a clash.

They shove away, blades snarling free, and there’s a tense moment as we — and they — wonder who has been injured, if at all. And then something breaks from Iljimae’s abdomen and falls to the ground — it’s the stone figure once given to him by Miyamoto (Episode 7) meant to offer Iljimae protection. He just didn’t know the protection would be quite so literal.

Park looks down at his arm to see blood dripping down his sword — he’s been slashed by Iljimae’s blade. Iljimae says he’d like to kill Park Bi-su, but he swore not to kill again, and warns him not to interfere anymore.

Nervous, the other men give Iljimae a wide berth as he starts to leave — until a drumbeat stops him in his tracks.

Kim’s men march in beating on drums, which have their debilitating effect on Iljimae. He struggles to fight his body’s reaction, but drops his sword and falls to his knees. Kim’s men tie him up and start to take him away.

However, Gu Ja-myung and his policemen arrive on the scene. Kim’s bamboo-hat-wearing henchmen attempt to flee and are shot with arrows by the policemen. Iljimae is roused from unconsciousness.

Gu orders his officers to arrest all the henchmen for their involvement with illegal explosives.

But wait, another reversal!

One more twist is thrown into the mix upon the arrival of Kim Ja-jeom, acting innocent as he saunters by. He says he was in the neighborhood and saw Iljimae fighting with the hat-wearing hoodlums, so naturally he told his men to detain Iljimae, since he’s a wanted man. This is a blatant lie and Gu knows it, but he’s dealing with a powerful lord and must tread lightly.

Kim Ja-jeom and Officer Gu jockey for position over jurisdiction of Iljimae. Gu wants to take Iljimae to the police station, but Kim offers to take him to the royal guard instead. (As Kim is a government official, he has direct control over the royal officers.)

But Gu has the upper hand today, and can prove that Iljimae is his obligation now — Iljimae has already surrendered to them. Gu produces the letter (sent under Baek-mae’s name), which was actually written by Iljimae. It directs Gu to arrest him along with the other men, and details all of Iljimae’s past robberies. Furthermore, he gave Gu the location where he was to be arrested. Therefore, it is the police bureau’s responsibility to arrest Iljimae.

Iljimae, who has been glaring furiously at Kim all along, finally speaks up: “Even if I am caught, I will not be caught by your hand.”

Gu reports to his superior officer, getting counsel on how to deal with Iljimae. The letter records all of Iljimae’s criminal activities, but there is no actual proof linking Iljimae to the robberies. Furthermore, the victims are all corrupt noblemen who will not acknowledge that they were robbed.

Gu cites the law stating that when a criminal confesses and turns himself in, he is given lighter sentencing. For instance, exile rather than execution. In addition, Iljimae helped authorities stop gang activity in the past, earning him consideration for meritorious service. The boss agrees with Gu’s suggestion of exile, but is unsure if the rules will allow it.

Iljimae’s crew laments his capture — Keol-chi wails, while Wol-hee feels awful that this was because of her. Bae thinks Iljimae did the smart thing, and urges Wol-hee to look on the bright side — if he’d been caught by Kim Ja-jeom, he would have been killed.

Wol-hee cries bitterly that she can’t have hope. Her words are cynical, but true: “This country’s laws benefit those [rich] people! They don’t benefit common people. Hope?!”

Gu Ja-myung approaches the case with an optimism that Iljimae does not have — Gu hopes that even if Iljimae is exiled, he’ll be able to meet his mother, but Iljimae has already resigned himself to death. (We know from his goodbye to Keol-chi that he’d been prepared for this outcome before rescuing Wol-hee.)

Iljimae’s pessimism seems more warranted than Gu’s hope, which suffers a blow upon learning that the king has ordered the royal police to take over Iljimae’s questioning. Not only that, the one interrogating Iljimae will be Kim Ja-jeom himself.

Kim accuses Iljimae of traitorous intentions, which is such an absurd charge that Iljimae has to laugh. But Kim holds the power in this situation, and he has the ability to affix a false charge to Iljimae’s name.

First, Kim threatens to drag in Lord Choi if Iljimae doesn’t admit to treason. Doing so will reveal that Lord Choi was illegally developing explosives. Of course, Lord Choi was really working on the king’s orders, but it was a secret project, so it’s likely the king would not acknowledge it, which means Choi would be executed. (If the king were to back up Lord Choi, he would be forced to admit that he’s developing secret weapons, which proves that he’s contemplating war with China.)

Kim gives him the option — Iljimae can take responsibility for everything alone, or drag everyone down with him.

All Iljimae can do is glower, warning Kim that Heaven will punish him for his sins. Kim is clearly unafraid of Heaven.

So it is that Iljimae is given a death sentence of beheading. Gu is horrified — it makes no sense to accuse Iljimae of treason; none of the facts add up. But since Iljimae confessed, the facts no longer matter. The execution is to occur without delay: tomorrow. Gu is thrown into a desperate panic — not only will he not be able to save Iljimae, he won’t be able to keep his promise to reunite mother with son. He has no time.

After deliberating on his dilemma, Gu decides that he cannot tell Baek-mae that he didn’t keep his promise, or that her son was killed. He vows, “I will keep my promise to you.”

As he makes his last-minute plans, Gu writes a letter and seals it. He also sends Soo-ryun home, and heads to visit Iljimae’s cell. He’s not technically allowed to see him — nobody is — but Gu puts on his most authoritative voice and insists that the police department still has a final round of questioning to carry out before the execution. He orders the other officers out to allow him privacy.

Inside the cell, Iljimae is listless, harboring no hope of escape or rescue. Yet when Gu starts to tell him where to find his mother, the details start to ring a bell with Iljimae — how Baek-mae once came to Hanyang to cook the dinner Gu Ja-myung ate with Iljimae, and how he had thought she returned home afterward, but in reality she stayed in Hanyang at a gisaeng house.

He finally realizes the truth of his mother’s identity when Gu describes her current home neighboring a ginseng field. Iljimae breaks down, aggrieved to realize, “My mother was in front of my eyes and I didn’t recognize her. The mother I so longed for.”

Iljimae asks Gu to not tell his mother he died, but to tell her he merely traveled far away. But Gu confuses him by telling him to go find her, and letting him out of his shackles. He removes his policeman’s garb and dons prisoner’s clothing, instructing Iljimae on the route out of the prison.

Ilijmae objects — he can’t exchange his life for Gu Ja-myung’s. Gu answers solemnly, “I made a promise to Baek-mae, that no matter what, I would save her son.” His work as a policeman has been a promise with himself, “but my promise with Baek-mae is also a promise. I do not make promises I cannot keep.”

Thus Iljimae wears Gu Ja-myung’s uniform and slips away.

In the cell, Gu takes out the wedding rings he had bought for himself and Baek-mae and sighs that hers will never reach its owner.

It’s only now that we realize the contents of his last letter, addressed to his police chief — it’s a suicide note. In it, he apologizes for his actions but explains that he had a good reason for saving Iljimae.

Gu kills himself in jail.

Upon receipt of the letter, the police chief concludes that he must keep the real circumstances of Gu’s death quiet. It would be madness to admit that the head policeman let a criminal free. Instead, they will have to circulate the story that Iljimae killed Gu and escaped. (NOOOOO!)

When word gets out about Iljimae’s escape, Kim Ja-jeom is livid. It occurs to him that he’d be Iljimae’s first target, and he doesn’t have Park Bi-su protecting him anymore. He calls the fortuneteller to find out his fate.

It’s better news than expected, however, since she foretells that Kim will rise to the position of prime minister. Happy with this response, Kim doesn’t press when she is reluctant to reveal more, and accepts her request that he stop summoning her. She says that she has revealed too many of heaven’s secrets and will retire to the mountainside.

However, when she heads home, she hurriedly packs her things and tells her new man that they must leave asap: “Those next to Lord Kim will all die.” She couldn’t tell Kim the next part of his forecast — that after he becomes prime minister, he will be dismembered.

With Gu dead, the other officers are given the cover-up story and ordered to capture Iljimae. Soo-ryun is furious to lose her beloved boss and vows to go after Iljimae, calling him thief and murderer.

Yang-po and Wang Hweng-bo are also resolved to capture Iljimae (again), because it would be shameful to return to China empty-handed. (Heh, my first thought was that it’s a good thing Yang-po is the archer because one-eyed Wang Hweng-bo no longer has any depth perception.)

Unaware of any of these latest developments, Baek-mae keeps an ear open for more Iljimae news from the traveling peddler, who tells her that Iljimae was caught by police. Worrying for his safety, she decides to head out for more information, and asks travelers from Hanyang for the latest news.

However, these travelers left the city the day the sentence was pronounced — the day before the escape — and so they believe that Iljimae is already dead. Baek-mae is devastated. All these years, she had lived for the sole hope of reuniting with her son, who is now gone.

And so, while Iljimae makes his way to his mother’s home, Baek-mae writes a letter addressed to Gu Ja-myung, not knowing of his death:

Baek-mae: “Before I met you, my life was just another name for unhappiness. Thinking of it, it was quite an empty life… You told me of my son and asked to live together. You said you wanted to be together, that people like us could be happy. Can that day come? Is that right? I didn’t believe so. But little by little, I began to wonder what happiness would be like, and whether I could feel that too. As I thought that and smiled, I realized that that was happiness. I was happy. While I was yearning for happiness, at some point I became happy. Thank you for valuing me more than I did myself… Goodbye, what I yearned for.”

Iljimae travels onward, the abundance of plum blossoms signaling that he is drawing nearer to his destination. As he makes his way toward Baek-mae’s house, she finishes writing her letter and takes out a small pouch. Inside is a small envelope of powder.

Iljimae is close, but stops by a marketplace to buy a present, a calligraphy brush. He can’t know that time may be ticking against him, that at this very moment Baek-mae is pouring the powder into a bowl of water, believing her son to be dead…

Finally, Iljimae arrives outside Baek-mae’s home. He approaches slowly, ignoring my inner screams to hurry the hell up… sees her shoes by the door… knows that she is inside… takes a breath to steady himself…

…ending the episode, and YOU HAVE GOT TO BE KIDDING ME.


Oh, holy motherluvin’ (ooh, pun) cliffhanger!

Yes, I did have the next episode at the ready, so it’s not like I had to suffer too long to see what happens next… but it’s the principle of the thing! Ending on a moment like that! You know a drama has really got you it its emotional clutches (in a good way) when it pulls out such a deliberately manipulative, intense cliffhanger and YOU LOVE IT.

I said before that I like the near-misses and crossed paths between Iljimae and Baek-mae, and I still do, although today they skirted that line into toying with our emotions. Iljimae, you cocktease!

I kid about that, because while the ending DOES tantalize, it’s not a cheap tease. Actually, it’s more like Shakespearean tragedy. O, woe in the days before cell phones and text messages!

One writing guideline I’ve heard is that a writer can get people into trouble (or cause conflict) through coincidence, but should never solve a problem through coincidence. I think that’s why I don’t mind the use of it here, as Iljimae meets, then leaves his mother without recognizing her. As long as the coincidences aren’t used merely to be convenient, as long as the plot driving them together and then apart again is rooted in logical developments, it feels earned. Even if the ending today was a bit mean.


13 Comments from the Beanut Gallery
  1. Kiu

    Thank you soooo much for all these recaps of Return of Iljimae. I’ve been planning on watching this drama but for some reason I never seem to have the time. Your reviews are amazingly thorough and descriptive and much shorter to read than to watch a hour-long episode. So though I cannot really watch Iljimae, I’m watching it through your recaps and they are excellent. I cannot wait for the next episode!

  2. Qwen

    dangggg i can’t wait any longer…………..so did she die???? holy crap!!!!!!

    I am crying my heart out eventhough i ain’t no watz gonna happen.

    Please hurry up with the next episode pls Javabeans..

  3. Molly

    NOOOO! Never have I heard of such a hanging cliffhanger!

    Gu’s death reminds me of Sydney Carton’s sacrifice for Charles Darnay in A Tale of Two Cities. Dying for an unrequited (well, at least at the beginning, in Gu’s case) love’s family, changing outfits, leaving behind an explanatory letter…

    Thanks, Javabeans! I can’t wait for the next episode!! :O They can’t kill her too!

  4. MEIKO**** ^-^

    ….*sigh, sniff, sniff…* 🙁

    sad, sad…..

    *crossing my fingers..*

    thanks javaB!

  5. kitty

    Sucks that Gu died, but it was for a promise he had to keep, and that was a noble intention. I’d thought he and Baek-mae could end up together, but alas…

    Thanks again for the recaps, as always it is a pleasure reading them. 🙂

  6. Stahi

    Hopefully, it doesn’t end like Romeo and Juliet.

  7. Molly

    Stahi, I’m hoping the same thing. 😐 Too. much. tragedy.

  8. deeta

    Literally, upon realizing Baekmae was going to kill herself, I yelled at my computer screen for Iljimae to freaking hurry up!! I couldn’t believe he stopped by at the freaking market to buy a freaking writing brush!!

    Oh gosh, the last 7 or so minutes were the one of the most agonizing moments I’ve had in my life. And I really wanted to strangle PD Hwang Inroi for executing Iljimae and Baekmae’s movements SO slowly, when my heart was beating fast in anticipation. THAT was so brilliant.

    On the other hand, I really don’t like all the suicides going on in this episode.

  9. L00L

    What does it take to love someone? In this episode, Gu Jeong Ming sacrifices everything to fulfill his promise to his love, Baek-mae: unite her with her son. He releases Iljimae, who is soon to be executed, in turn, surrenders his own life. Gu’s love for Baek-mae is pure, unselfish, and most of all unconditionally.

    Like everyone else, he pursues personal happiness, yearns for the heart of the one he loves, but he does not place his pleasure above the desire of the object of his affection, and he is willing to give all to live up to his promise. (It’s especially important to him, since Baek-mae, who was scarred and abandoned, loses her faith in man.) His action proves that true love does exist, and she is right to trust again.

    Like Officer Gu, Iljimae puts his life on the line to save his girl friend, Wol-hee. The actions of both men are honorable and admirable. They represent the highest eminence of human race. On the other hand, we see Kim Ja-jeom, a royalty, and an important government official, he is willing to sell the country for personal gains. He frames Iljimae for treason, when in fact he is the one who commits the despicable crime. It is a wonderful comparison of good vs. evil, and we, the audiences are the witnesses of what injustice and greed would bring.

    This is an excellent episode: heartwarming, sad, and unforgettable.

  10. 10 sue

    omg all i could think was that this is some sick version of romeo and juliet!! D:
    LOVE/HATE the cliffhanger… gonna wait till tomorrow for the next episode though.
    this show really does not disappoint!

  11. 11 Sere

    I’ve JUST finished watching this ep and the “YOU HAVE GOT TO BE KIDDING ME” was my exact reaction. Freakin’ cliffhanger from hell! I do have the last 2 eps ready to be watched, but alas, it’s late and I can’t do that tonight. Usually, I skip the previews for the following eps cos they’re too spoilery, but tonight, as it is too late and I just needed to know if Baek-mae did the deed or not, I watched it and OMG WHYYYYYY did I do that? aksdjkasd THAT is going to be hard to watch, I can feel it.

    I really wanted Baek-mae and Officer Gu to have their happily ever after although I had no doubt tptb weren’t going to give them one. :*(

    BTW, I did yell at my screen for Iljimae to hurry the hell up, too.

    I looooooooove this drama. It’s so poetic, beautiful, tragic, heartbreaking and yet heartwarming and also sooo pretty to look at. It boggles the mind that hundreds of people didn’t comment on your recaps for RoI. It’s one of the best dramas I’ve ever seen. Thanks for recapping it and for reccing it to me.

  12. 12 Tokonatz

    So does Soo ryun love Gu ja myeong as just a boss or romantically?

  13. 13 Enz

    OH MY LORD!!! I had the same reaction… So tense at the end, just wishing he would walk faster, not knowing if he was too late!!!! Arrrggh but the spoilers for epi 23 gave it away.

    What an episode. How much suffering and pain must the poor guy endure?

    Am watching this cos Jung il woo will be in Malaysia 23rd sept.. So while everyone is going cha chi soo , I shall call out iljimae 🙂

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