Saturday, March 10, 2012

Iljimae Review (2008)

Drama Rating: ***
Personal Rating: Loved It!

Set in the Choseon Dynasty, Yongee is a happy-go-lucky kid who appears as carefree as the wind. However, as he starts to learn more about his own background, he gets drawn into what appears to be a complex political plot. In an effort to investigate further, Yongee takes on the guise of Iljimae, a thief who steals from corrupt government officers and gives to the poor. With this disguise, Iljimae targets his true aim of getting to the root of the conspiracy and finding out the truth about his father's death.

*Spoiler warning*

This kdrama begins with a short prologue detailing the events of the past for the audience and while that was intended to portray what exactly happened, it was still a bit confusing as there were too many children shown within too short a time frame for the audience to really register and map them to their older selves. In this aspect, Queen Seon Deok and The Moon That Embraces The Sun do a much better job. Stylistically, this drama takes a more lighthearted approach overall in an attempt to keep the drama balanced with the darker undercurrents that develop. This was certainly a wise decision and paid off quite well!

There are a few great individual performances in this drama but unfortunately some of the key supporting cast members don't really meld with the style of the drama that well. Notably, Park Shi Hoo's Si Hoo feels a bit too stoic, stiff and serious with an almost permanent stone face. This wasn't so bad in Prosecutor Princess, where he's supposed to be more serious, but it was just a bit too much here as it really gave the drama a lop-sided feel when contrasted with the cheerful Yongee played by Lee Jun Ki. Jun Ki, on the other hand, is full of vitality as the charming rascal in this period drama about Iljimae/Yongee, a sort-of Korean version of Robin Hood. Another cast member who doesn't quite fit in is Han Hyo Joo's Eun Chae. Her noble air feels quite out of place after supposedly growing up in Lee Won Jung's greasy Byeon Sik's household. Additionally, you don't really feel any strong emotional/romantic attachment between her and Iljimae even as the writers try to pen one in. Lee Won Jong's Byeon Sik is a delight to watch, providing plenty of comedic relief although at times, one does wonder how he became the King's most important advisor. The last performance of note is Lee Mun Shik's excellent take as Yongee's talkative adoptive father - somehow, I just feel Lee Mun Shik's talkative nature is remarkably well suited for period drama characters like these, similar to his role in Queen Seon Deok.

The music for the drama ranges from suitably whimsical to strangely mysterious to being full of anticipation. The sound effects and music combine together to form a superb supplement to the drama itself, embellishing various scenes and used only when necessary to avoid overuse.

Iljimae was the second Korean period drama (after Damo) and my expectations were neither high nor low. I hadn't read the summary before watching so I was going in completely clueless. Aside from the slightly confusing prologue when going from the younger to older versions of the characters, the main storyline was genuinely intriguing. Lee Jun Ki's Iljimae was probably the main draw of the drama however, with his great take on this Robin Hood-esque character. The drama also included great performances from veterans Lee Won Jong and Lee Mun Shik but sadly, this was also matched up to some mediocre depictions from Park Shi Hoo and Han Hyo Joo. Given this discrepancy, I'd have to rate this a little below Queen Seon Deok although I definitely loved the folksy storytelling of this tale. Will have to watch the MBC version at some point to see how that measures up!

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