The majority of the opening scene is a hook without hooking the audience. See for yourself:
– Episode one starts in a dark, secretive lair of the bandits where Iljimae’s ambitious plot is shot down to the ground. Despite the obvious opposition, Iljimae decides to act anyway. “Because I am Iljimae.” This whole orienting his face and angling it at the camera with a half smirk follow by the “Because I am… (dung dung dung) Iljimae” is so over-the-top cheesy that it elicits an automatic eye-rolling response. Sorry, can’t help it.
– So Iljimae disguises himself as the ice merchant to delivery ice to the target site, all by himself. What happened to his fellow bandits? Oh I forgot, they are just for show so Iljimae can do his trademark “Because I am Iljimae” thing. Let’s just pretend they all chickened out so our corny Iljimae can look more heroic in contrast.
– Iljimae smashes his large colorful ice with a thin hammer out of nowhere and manages to change into Iljimae’s robbery clothes and put on the ugly mask that he pulled out of thin air. This is real magic. Magicians, learn from him!
– He crawls out of a tunnel and jumps onto the roof. The guards on the ground must’ve learned how to sleep standing still with their eyes open because none of them detected the motion of a full figure swooshing past them a little above.
– Having jumped from roof to roof, Iljimae stops to throw golden balls at the guards baseball-style only so that he can anchor a wire to the roof top of the neighboring building. Guess he can’t jump That far.
– While the guards assured their superiors that the night is so quiet, not even a little rat can be found, our Iljimae is crawling across the wire right on top of them. No wonder Iljimae is so confident that he can get to his prize. The guards are idiots.
– Iljimae reaches across and busts out his invisibility cloak out of thin air again. Yes, an invisibility cloak. I’m glad J.K Rowling didn’t just make it up, it’s been around as early as ancient Korea! But wouldn’t it be easier to just walk in with the cloak on the way Harry always does?
– He enters the building and walks into an unguarded chamber. Then all of a sudden, guards drop down from the sky and surround him. This is the perfect time to put on your invisibility cloak! Instead, he fights them.
– Iljimae extinguishes the torches. When more torches are brought in, he has vanished. Then the sound of metal clanging from the next chamber lured the guards over. More fighting. Iljimae is down on his butt. One of the guards pulled down his mask, it’s a fellow guard dressed in Iljimae’s gear, wearing Iljimae’s mask, his hands tied behind his back and his mouth swallowing an egg. The treasure is gone, what’s left in its place is Iljimae’s trademark handkerchief with a plum-blossom embroiled on it. Iljimae is seen again on the roof, wearing the guards’ attire. Someone is FAST at changing himself and dressing other people while remembering to tie the other person up and stick an egg in his mouth. I am so impressed that I can’t help but to roll my eyes at him.
– Iljimae throws his hat away and does his oh-so-familiar half about phase and spits out the eye-rolling “See, there’s nothing that can’t be stolen. Because I, am Iljimae.” Okay, we get that.
– The guards swoop in and line up to shot 239457486 arrows at Iljimae. He easily escaped throw gliding down the wire, which, takes him OUTSIDE of the place. He lands beautifully in a sea of plum trees and starts to reminiscent his childhood.
To make a long story short, Iljimae is born into a noble family under the birth name of Lee Kyum. He was a smart and honest kid who took a particular appreciation for plum-blossoms since childhood. One day in town, when a spoiled noble son Shi Wan frames a poor peasant boy Cha Dol for stealing, Kyum saves Cha Dol from trouble. Cha Dol promises to repay the kindness.
A soothsayer made a prediction of a raising sun (son) that will replace the currently king. The prediction not only killed the soothsayer and his wife, it also endangered his children and Lee Won Ho, Iljimae’s father. Because of this prediction, a man of high power orders Byun Shik, the spoilt young noble Shi Wan’s father, to frame Lee Won Ho as the head of the conspiracy group. Byun Shik gives the task of burying a conspiracy letter to Cha Dol, Swe Dol’s step father. Cha Dol declines the task at the last minute, earning himself a beat that dislocated his shoulder, putting him in a situation where he is no longer able to complete the task and needs to be eliminated to protect the safety of the political scheme. Swe Dol followed his father that night because other youngsters have repeatedly accused him of being a thief’s son. He witnesses the entire scene and volunteers to bury the letter in Lee Won Ho’s house in place of his father in order to save him. Meanwhile, the same man who ordered the plot brings three warriors to the Lee household, ready to execute Lee. Lee Won Ho hears noises in the yard and sees a number of men with swords. He locks his little son in the cabinet and makes Lee Kyum promise to live on no matter what happens to him before facing the intruders.
They fight, and Lee Won Ho dies. When his body is discovered along with the letter, his name goes down to history as the traitor and his corpse needs to be dismembered by four horses. Is it necessary to make it so gruesome?
The story is not nearly as simple as that.
Dani, Cah Dol’s mother used to be Lee Won Ho’s maid and lover. However, once Lee Won Ho finds out she is pregnant, he asks for thief, Swe Dol, to steal her away and treat her well. Swe Dol steals her away and treats her well indeed, but he never tells her Lee Won Ho arranged it so she can live happily. Not knowing the entire story, Dani lives in resentment of Lee Won Ho and sleeps with Byun Shik as a way of revenging Lee Won Ho. Silly woman. But because of that, when Byun Shik decides to kill Cah Dol and Swe Dol, Dani lied that Cah Dol is Byun Shik’s son and saved them both. In short, Cah Dol buries the letter in his biological father’s yard in protection of his step father. And now he has to call the man who caused his biological father’s death father. Some twist huh?
Swe Dol returns to Lee Won Ho’s house shortly after Lee Won Ho’s death to retrieve the letter, sensing an ominous plot. He is a little too late; Lee Won Ho has already fallen in a puddle of blood. What he wasn’t late for was saving Lee Kyum before the troops arrive at the crime scene. He carries the cabinet on his back and returns home. Lee Kyum is saved for the present but he’s not safe yet – he is wanted.
After waking up, Lee Kyum wanders home and vows to avenge his father. He is discovered by the guards. While running away, he runs into the soothsayer’s two children. To hush them up from exposing his hiding place, Lee Kyum hands the brother his father’s medallion and follows the two to the beggar’s village. The older brother takes the medallion to the pawnshop for money to buy food and medicine for Lee Kyum, but is unfortunately mistook as Lee Kyum and killed. Lee Kyum escapes with the sister, Bong Soon, until they are at the end of a cliff. Lee Kyum holds Bong Soon’s hand, ready to jump off the cliff into the ocean – their only route of escape. A warrior comes in time to stop Bong Soon from jumping, but Lee Kyum has already jumped. The warrior eventually resigned his job, tired of the endless killing. He has a soft spot for the crying little Bong Soon and eventually took her along with him.
Lee Kyum survived the jump and begs on the street for money. He is recognized by one of the guards. To confirm whether he is the son of Lee Won Ho, the guards brings him to see his mother who is being shepherded away for questioning. The two make eye contact, before Lee Kyum could crumble and expose his identity, his mother jumps onto him demanding him to return her son. The guards interpret this as her being out of her mind. To further confirm, the sinister guard insinuates for Lee Kyum to throw rocks at his mother. He hesitates. His mother assures him with her eyes. Finally, he musters his courage and throws the rock at her, hard. It hit her head, a stream of blood flows down her face. Again, is the blood even necessary? Hitting his mother with a rock at all is heart wrenching already.
Meanwhile, Cha Dol is standing in a distance, repaying the kindness. He confirms to the guard that the boy is not the one they are looking for, saving Hyum.
Hyum collapses and is taken back by Dani. The consecutive trauma has caused Hyum to lose his memory. He is hence renamed Yong.
13 years later, Yong is grown up. He is a spineless idiot – the foil of his former self, but at last carefree. One day while wandering on the street instead of going to school, he buys a porn drawing book from Bong Soon, now living off swindling others with her stepfather. The porn book turns out to be a simple flower drawing book. Realizing that he has been cheated, Yong finds Bong Soon to get his money back but gets caught by his father who drags him back to school.
Other than it’s blatant similarity to Hong Gil Dong, whether in plot or execution, and the fact that it makes you roll your eyes every five minutes, it has been uninteresting. I have to admit, episode two does get a little better than episode one. Maybe because the kids are too irresistibly cute!
What I do like is the background music. Although, personally, if the composer features French Horn, the music would sound a lot more grandioso.