Iljimae (2008): “Wait and See What I Steal Next”


I’m always excited to see a wuxia drama from Korea; we get so few.  They got the historical drama on lockdown, tho!  Like a lot of Korean popular culture, Iljimae can be a little brutal. Many wuxia stories require the elimination of the parents, sometimes the entire family, but the WAY the drama introduces you to the brutal world of the Joseon Dynasty is ridiculous!  It’s one thing to have your father killed, it’s another to have to watch it go down. It’s one thing to have to not acknowledge your mother in the street, it’s another to have to throw a rock at her head! No wonder dude has a nervous breakdown.

And here’s where my love of  Iljimae comes in:  Lee Jun Ki! This guy is off the chain!  He emotes like no one else I’ve seen in a while, cause there is even more tragedy when Geum/Yong grows up.  In true Korean fashion, he’s got to watch his sister die too.  So sure, he’s a little angry, little bitter, a little vengeful. That’s understandable.

The class tensions between the common people and the royalty are felt everyday, and it seems that regular people can rarely catch a break.  So while you feel for Geum/Yong, your heart also goes out to his half-brother Shi Hoo.  For most of the series, I wanted him to just leave his adopted house and go home.  But I suspect that like his half-brother, he is emotionally scarred by what the social structure forces people to do. (Although I admit, his mother could have made better decisions).

I’m also intrigued by the extended family dynamics, and in some ways the series does not address some of those ramifications, like when Shi Hoo drops a dime on his half-sister, and as a result, she gets killed. We never get to see Shi Hoo really process that, or Yong for that matter.  And I know we are in the middle of dramatic break-in at the palace, but when Shi Hoo finds out that Yong is his half-brother, I would have liked to see them process that as well.  But I do like the fact that Yong honors both his birth parents and his adoptive ones too.  Which isn’t easy to do, cause Dani his adoptive mother is hardcore!

But it wouldn’t be a kdrama, or a wuxia drama for that matter, without a little love triangle.  I’m just going to put it out there: Bong Soon is my girl! Yeah, Eun Chae is rather virtuous for member of the royal society: helping the poor, feeding the sick. But as so many of my kdrama sisters and brothers across the ‘net have pointed out, she is otherworldly, and falls for Iljimae, the hero, not necessarily Yong, the street urchin.  My girl Bong Soon has known the same kind of tragedy, and falls for Yong, and immediately gets with the Iljimae plan.  She’s so much better for him. She is feisty, yeah and violent, but persistent and helps him out on more than one occasion. Really.

Here’s an interesting thing: I read somewhere that Bruce Lee made Asian eyes sexy.  Lee Jun Ki must have taken notes, because there are a bazillion shots of him, that mask, those eyes….

Sadly, Lee Jun Ki is doing military service and will not be done until February 2012! *snif* That’s ok, I’ll be waiting, and when you come back, you owe us!

7 thoughts on “Iljimae (2008): “Wait and See What I Steal Next”

    1. Yeah, movie wise there is The Shadowless Sword and Bichunmoo, which I’ve never seen. I did see the series, tho. Also, Iljimae is a series, and since the Koreans own the drama, I think that’s the way they decide to go. They have really good production value, and there are several Korean wuxia series I’d like to see.

      1. I’ve seen the Shadowless Sword and Bichunmoo and they were great. I too have been impressed by the production values in Korean movies. Another really good film was called (I think???) The King and the Clown. It is not a wuxia film, per se, but still very gripping. It provides an interesting look at medieval Korean street theatre

  1. I don’t think I’ve ever seen one of these. How did you get started with Asian film? Could you maybe do a primer post for those of us who might want to dip our feet into your Asian film pool?

  2. dangerous meredith, don’t get me started on The King and the Clown. Because Lee Jun Ki was in Iljimae, I recently saw it. This is what I mean when I say Koreans are hardcore! Very gripping indeed and tragic, tragic, tragic. I know Lee’s character is pretty, but at some point I may have had to leave his trouble-making self behind! 🙂

  3. This drama is sitting in my queue on Drama Fever. But I do want to see it. So many dramas, so little time. Bruce Lee does have fantastic intense eyes. My strong attraction to Asian men started with Russell Wong and Vanishing Son. lol

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