Return of Iljimae: Episode 16
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.
SONG OF THE DAY
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.
- Return of Iljimae: Episode 15
- 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