The story is about a man fighting against the selfish and corrupt government to save the ordinary peasants. Iljimae was abandoned by his birth father and adopted by a Chinese couple. He returns to Korea to find his birth family and realizes how unjust the world really is. He watched as his first love, Dal Yi, was wrongfully put to death. Iljimae then vows to help the commoners from the corrupt government officials.
Cast & Credits
Intentionally structured like a storybook (complete with an initially over-intrusive narrator), the show jettisons many of k-drama’s structural clichés as it follows the growth of its protagonist from innocent young man to wiser hero. Jung Il Woo gives a lovely (in more ways than one) restrained performance full of moments of quiet sweetness and pathos. Jung Hye Young, as his mother, is also exceptional, radiating warmth and longing. There are plenty of fight scenes and large helpings of occasionally distracting slapstick comedy, but the show never loses its contemplative feel. The characters find fleeting moments of connection in sex, friendship, compassion, and sacrifice but the world’s injustices are always there, calling them away from comfort. The show suggests that heroism is not a natural gift, but something learned and struggled for and easily lost if the passion for justice tips over into hatred. There are occasional missteps, including a bizarre first episode, but once the show finds its rhythm, it becomes a hero’s journey very much worth the taking.
Having watched 'Iljimae',I must say, there is very little in common between these two dramas, other than the 'Robin Hood' nature of Iljimae and his rather misfortunate connection to his parents.
The return of Iljimae has a broader framework,is more well written, and explores the identity of Iljimae as a hero of the times, working against injustice than for any personal quest. I felt that the story and the characters were more complete in this.
The action sequences are good. There must have been plenty of rope and pulleys used in the making, as Iljimae and numerous others are always flying and leaping about in these scenes.
The episodes are all interesting, and keep you moving forward without boredom.
Regarding the cast: I had wanted to watch this initially for Jung Il Woo, and he didn't disappoint. He is good as Iljimae, truly the 'pretty girl-like-boy' as often referred to in the drama (I loved his ponytail hair).
The supporting cast is good,with many strong performances except that some secondary characters were made annoying by over-acting.
Despite all this, I didn't feel really satisfied with this drama. There wasn't so much plain fun or happy-energy associated with it.
Iljimae's character is mostly solemn/sad/serious/angry. Very rarely do we get to see his smile, let alone hear a laugh. There are so many things happening, we can near feel him carrying the burden of the world on his shoulders.
The romantic relationship is developed on realistic terms, along the sidelines of the plot.
The ending too, although happy, has a solemn, contemplative feel to it.
To sum up, although lacking in story and character development, character Iljimae in the drama 'Iljimae' evoked more happiness than the one we find in 'The Return of Iljimae'.