Jung Il-woo stars as Iljimae in the new drama ``Iljimae Returns.'' It will start airing at 9:55 p.m. on MBC Jan. 21 / Courtesy of MBC
By Han Sang-hee
Young star Jung Il-woo is back as the stylish and righteous warrior Iljimae, the Joseon Kingdom's Robin Hood. Originally a comic strip, it has been made into dramas most recently last year. But MBC is aiming to bring the popular storyline to the next level with ``Iljimae Returns'' (working title).
``It's an old story, but the plots and characters are very modern. I just thought Iljimae was charming and cool, but as I started to get to know him better, I realized that he was actually a very sad person. I still need to analyze him,'' Jung said at the press conference for the drama last week.
``Iljimae'' was a comic serial strip series in the Daily Sports, a daily newspaper focused on sports and entertainment, from 1975 to 1977. The work of famed cartoonist Ko Woo-young, its catchy plot and interesting characters helped it become a hit and it's only just reached its peak in popularity.
Jung will be the third actor to portray Iljimae after fellow actors Jang Dong-kun and Lee Jun-ki. Jang appeared in a 1993 drama and Lee in the SBS drama.
The two Iljimaes ― Jung and Lee ― are drastically different in terms of their clothes, personalities and objectives, but comparisons are inevitable.
While the previous Iljimae was focused on the fight between conservatives and progressives and other social matters, the new Iljimae will look more into his personal life, including the love story between him and the heroine, Weol-hee, played by Yun Jin-seo, while still offering his journey to justice and peace, just like the original comic.
When asked about the pressure he might have experienced by playing a character who was already popularly portrayed by someone else, Jung was up and ready to receive the criticism.
``I am fully prepared to receive viewers' and fellow actors' criticism'' he said.
Born in China, Iljimae was sent to Japan, where he spent his early years before heading to Korea for his acts of heroism, still trying to find himself and the love of his life. Due to having lived in three different places, the drama took Jung to Taiwan and Japan for more realistic settings.
Jung had a particularly difficult time getting used to his character, as it was his first portrayal of an athletic warrior and the main character of a historical drama.
``I was overly exhausted after working non-stop for more than five months. I had to pay a few visits to the emergency room and sometimes the medicine was so strong I didn't feel like myself. But now, I'm trying to keep myself fit in order to continue filming,'' said Jung.
Being such a versatile character, Iljimae could be interpreted in many ways, but for producer Hwang In-roi, the original was the way to go.
``The cartoon is more than 30 years old but the characters has more than just literal value. The power of the original work is so strong that many may start reading it again. We have strived to make our Iljimae totally similar to the original character and I hope viewers enjoy our efforts,'' Hwang said.
Amid high anticipation and the fun of comparing Iljimae's different incarnations, ``Iljimae Returns'' will start airing at 9:55 p.m. Jan. 21 on MBC.