Set during the Joseon Dynasty, Yong acted as a hooligan in the marketplace by day but at night he was a thief who robbed corrupted government officials to give to the poor. After each robbery he left behind a painting depicting a plum tree branch to make his mark and was thus named Iljimae. His main purpose was not so much to rob but to search for the owner of a specially designed sword which he saw as a child was used to kill his father, a loyal subject of the emperor. Eun Chae is a government official's daughter who despite her upbringing has a lot of empathy towards the poor. She met Iljimae by chance and couldn't help admiring him for what he stood for even though she had never seen his face.
Cast & Credits
The story is similar to Robin Hood, but it's more sophisticated, powerful, moving and gritty than the traditional English folk tale. It is, without giving anything way, a revenge story. However, unlike most revenge stories, it has a heart. Our hero isn't some morally conflicted guy who can't tell right from wrong - in fact, the drama does well by clearly defining the hero's morals and making sure that he never strays too far away from them. It is beautiful to watch the story unfold and see our hero grow.
The father/son relationship was also incredibly moving. You can tell that Seo Dol has this completely unconditional love for Yong (despite him not being his biological son), and their relationship is so special and beautiful. I haven't seen a father/son relationship, like that, in K-Drama - ever. The impact Seo Dol and Yong have on each other just pulls on my heartstrings, and I am usually a person who remains highly unmoved by fiction.
I also have a lot of admiration for Yong's adoptive mother Dan-ee. She appears to be cold and indifferent towards both Seo Dol and Yong (and even her own biological son, Ja Dol/Shi Hoo), but that's just way of trying to protect herself if anything bad happened to either of them. You can tell that she truly loves them.
Overall, the story was very good; however, the romantic aspect of the plot really did weigh it down. I saw no true purpose, asides from being a romantic tool, for Eun Chae; yes, she was caring, kind and seemingly selfless (well, at least that is what she liked to think) but her character lacked development, depth and heart. Every time she would pop up on screen, the story would end up slowing down. She was an unnecessary character, in my opinion, and her romance with Iljimae was highly unconvincing. The second main girl - who actually had a more significant impact, and had a purpose in the story - had much more convincing chemistry with Yong and I would have preferred her to be his primary love interest. She was a brilliant 3-dimensional character - like Yoong - and she had true depth.
I didn't have a problem with Ja Do/Shi Hoo, though. I thought it was kind of weird how he loved Eun Chae (not a spoiler, this is pretty much obvious from the outset of the drama) because he believed her to be his sister, although she wasn't (again, not a spoiler), so that incest-but-not-incest thing kind of grossed me off him for a while. However, his moral conflicts and his struggles with his identity were quite touching, and although he didn't have the same impact as Yoong, I did sympathise with him a lot.
The drama does not suffer from bad acting at all. The cast fully suited their roles, and although Lee Jun-ki is partial to some overacting, it wasn't anything that detracted away from the drama. The actor who played Seo Dol was amazing - that guy put me through emotional highs and lows, and he had amazing chemistry with Lee Jun-ki. I actually felt like I was watching a father/son team whenever those two were on screen with each other.
The best performances, in my opinion, came from Lee Moon Shik, Lee Yong Ah, Lee Jun Ki and Kim Sung Ryung, Lee Won Jong (who was perfect as the delightfully self-serving and wicked, Byun Shik) and Park Shi Hoo. There wasn't really anything that I could call a 'bad performance' in the drama, and though I didn't like Eun Chae, Han Hyo Joo did what she could with such a bland character.
The only reason why this drama doesn't get a perfect 10 from me is because I felt that the romance did actually weigh things down quite a bit and whilst the ending was good, the slight openness of it did irk me off because I prefer more defined endings. (Especially after watching a drama for 20 hours!) However, it was a beautiful story with beautiful characters (and great action scenes) and I recommend it to all. It has heart, humour and depth and it has really perked an interest in the saeguk genre, for me.
To me, I really liked this drama because the story made me feel like I was apart of the drama. There were so many moments of laughter, crying, angriness, etc. The acting was amazing, I really felt what they were feeling that it actually made me cry through the drama. It is amazing how a drama can give you so much emotions. And again this was my opinion, what I was feeling watching this drama. If you didn't like it and didn't feel the same then I guess that's that.