Pretty Boy Wonders: The Iljimae Smackdown!
by Ender’s Girl
It was my best friend who suggested I do a sageuk superhero smackdown — a challenge I’d love to take on, but one that will require a re-watch of Hong Gil Dong and Strongest Chil-woo to jog my memory and thus enable me to be more objective in comparing all four sageuks. But for now it’ll just have to be about these bonny bandits, aka the two Iljimaes.
Iljimae (SBS, 2008)
Lee Jun-ki, Han Hyo-joo, Lee Young-ah, Park Shi-hoo, Lee Moon-shik, Kim Sung-ryung, Lee Won-jong, Ahn Kil-kang, Kim Roe-ha
In a Nutshell:
An insecure king signs the death warrant of one of his closest friends when a prophecy links the nobleman to the monarch’s downfall. The noble’s son, Geom, survives after witnessing his father’s murder and his mother and sister’s enslavement. Though the trauma erases his memory, the boy is rescued and raised by a peasant couple whose own son has been sent to live with the court official Byun Sik, also a party to the conspiracy. As an adult, Geom (now called Yong) vows to avenge the death of his father when his memory suddenly returns, his only clue a specially engraved sword used by the unknown killer. Outwardly he remains the happy-go-lucky village slacker he has been since the childhood trauma, but nights find him transforming into the deadly thief whom the people have dubbed “Iljimae,” for the plum tree paintings he leaves in each house he has robbed.
The Return of Iljimae (MBC, 2009)
Jung Il-woo, Yoon Jin-seo, Kim Min-jong, Jung Hye-young, Lee Kye, Park Geun-hyung, Park Chul-min, Kang Nam-gil, Lee Hyung-woo
In a Nutshell:
Born of a nobleman and a slave girl, Iljimae is taken from his mother and left to die in the icy waters of a creek. In several twists of Fate and Providence, the infant is found by a beggar, rescued by an old monk, and later raised by a wealthy Manchu family. Upon reaching manhood, a revelation about his past spurs Iljimae to leave his adopted homeland for Hanyang in search of his true identity — and the unknown mother who birthed him.
A Tale of Two Cuties: Iljimae vs. Iljimae
Two impossibly pretty K-heartthrobs. Two sets of smooth, blemish-free cheekbones made for… rappelling. Two rival television networks. One Korean folk hero… with a strange penchant for plum blossoms.
As they say, comparisons are inevitable — hence this Smackdown. So when push comes to shove, which Iljimae version prevails — in terms of narrative flow, character development, production values, and other benchmarks? Which Iljimae portrayal is more convincing? Is it the Man in the Iron Mask, or Ninja Assassin? (Or, in Star Wars terminology, is it Darth Vader Iljimae, or the Return of the Joseon Jedi? heh heh)
Based on the criteria provided below, let the Clashdance — er, Smackdown begin! *gonnnggg!!!* First of three installments.
Click to read MOAR!!! MOAR!!!