K-Drama Review: The Return of Il Ji-mae

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group iljimae

  • English title: The Return of Il Ji-Mae
  • Alternative English title: Moon River
  • Revised romanization: Dolahon Il Ji-Mae
  • Hangul:돌아온 일지매
  • Year released: 2009
  • Episodes: 24
  • Director: Hwang In-Roe, Kim Do-Hyung
  • Writer: Kim Kwang-Sik, Woo-yeong Ko (comic)

  • Based on the serial comic strip “Iljimae” by Woo-yeong Ko, which appeared in the Daily Sports from 1975-1977.

Moonriver-Il-woo Jeong.jpg Moonriver-Jin-seo Yun.jpg Moonriver-Min-jong Kim.jpg Moonriver-Hye-Young Jung.jpg
Jung Il-Woo Yoon Jin-Seo Kim Min-Jong Jung Hye-Young
Il Ji-Mae Wol-Hee Ku Ja-Myeong Baek-Mae


A Robin Hood story set in the Joseon period, the Return of Il Ji-mae is about an abandoned orphaned boy who grows up to fight corruption and greed and side with the poor and marginalised. The story is based on a manga/comic book hero, drawn from Chinese folk lore. While the drama offers all the fun and action of a Robin Hood story, it also avoids all the usual cheesiness that often goes hand and hand with such stories. Instead, it offers a beautifully told story which explores what it is to be human.
While it took me a few episodes to get into the drama, I soon fell completely in love with it.

Return of Il Ji-mae is blessed with a fantastic script, brilliant acting, gorgeous production, wonderful music, as well as reasonably positive gender politics in the portrayal of the female characters. The acting in the series is flawless, particularly from the two main leads and the two sub-leads. Jung Il-woo as Il Ji-mae is just brilliant.  He is an actor I already enjoyed watching, but he has now shot up to being one of my all time favourite Korean actors. This is the first drama I have seen Yoon Jin-seo in, but her depiction of Dal-yi and Wol Hee is just wonderful. Given she is playing two characters, she has done a wonderful job of giving them their own personalities and distinctiveness. I particularly love the fact that the drama also gives the two leads a realistic love story, devoid of all the dodgy gender politics found in many other kdramas.

Return of Il Ji-mae quickly climbed into the ranks of my top 5 Korean dramas. Without a doubt, I love the beauty and wistfulness of this drama, as well as the humour, adventure and nuanced story telling and acting. Definitely a 10 out of 10! My only serious criticism of the show is in relation to the action sequences – while the fight scenes are fantastic, diverse, well executed and a lot of fun, the wire work (at least in the early episodes) is rather amateurish. But if you can look past that in the first few episodes, you will probably also fall in love with the Return of Il Ji-mae.

Opening title sequence of Return of Il Ji-mae

Original Sound Track from Return of Il Ji-mae – Place of My Dreams by Yoon Jin Suh

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