Main Cast: Jun Ji-hyun, Ju Ji-hoon
Writer: Kim Eun-hee (Kingdom, Signal)
PD: Lee Eung-bok (Sweet Home, Mr. Sunshine)
Timeslot: Saturday and Sunday 21:00
Streaming site: iQiYi, Viki
Genre: Fantasy thriller
Jirisan follows the story of mountain rangers at Mount Jiri. One of them is Seo Yi-gang, a legend in her field, who at the present timeline wants to solve the mysterious trails left behind at the mountain that leads them to find lost trekkers. She believed it connects to what happened to her and her partner Kang Hyun-jo in the past.
“Jirisan is the land between this world and the next,” this is how a museum narrator (Ryu Seung-ryong) described Mount Jiri in the prologue scene. It was short but this description was running through my mind while I watched the first two episodes of Jirisan.
So when Kang Hyun-jo (Ju Ji-hoon) arrived at the Haedong Ranger Station, I’m already expecting that it wouldn’t be just an ordinary workplace. Hyun-jo’s first day at work wasn’t even close to ordinary as he was immediately pulled into a search operation for a missing boy. In the midst of it, he met Seo Yi-gang (Jun Ji-hyun), a legend on her field. She’s someone who knew the mountains like the back of her hand. The first case they handled – the missing boy – was effective in showing the viewers what do our characters do. In this jampacked exposition, we’ve become familiar with how the rangers operate, the jargons they use, and their individual ground rules as a ranger. In this 2018 timeline, we were also introduced to Hyun-jo’s “visions.” He only briefly described it and I really want more details on how he got this vision and most importantly, why?!
Our two main leads also encountered a coded signal done by “partisans” in the past, which was then adapted by Hyun-jo and Yi-gang as their own coded message for each other. As they close the case of the missing boy, I thought the series would now slow down its narrating pace but the conclusion of the first case was only just a preliminary subplot.
The “real” beginning of the series was when they revealed a second timeline – 2020. All of a sudden, we were told Hyun-jo was in a coma and Yi-gang was left injured after they were attacked in December of 2019. And she decided to come back after seeing the partisan signal only she and Hyun-jo used. Those rock and stick locators led to help the rangers find missing trekkers and solve cases. The question now was who was putting up those locators. Yi-gang isn’t dismissing this as a coincidence.
This time skip between two timelines makes the story more intriguing but it also worries me. Multiple timelines in any type of story are always hard to pull off as there could be a lot of potential plot holes if it’s not written well enough. And I know Kim Eun-hee is familiar with non-linear narrations but it seems the style she’s trying to do with Jirisan is different from her previous works. I thought at first, she’s using the same formula as Signal but I realized later that there might be similarities between the two series but their different because Jirisan is not just a story with a past-vs-present timeline. If we lay down the current pieces we’ve seen so far in a straight line, it feels like the 2018 timeline should be placed in front of the line (or the first arc) while the 2020 timeline would be at the back (the third arc). Now, the rest of the episode should show us the in-between scenes (the second arc). It’s exciting but it’s also worrisome. I really hope they could pull it off in the end.
In the human side of the series, I actually like the rangers so far. Yi-gang and Hyun-jo definitely have their own back stories we’d probably discover later on but I’m also excited to know the other rangers played by actors I really trust. Jo Dae-jin (Sung Dong-il), so far, is someone our main characters can rely on but I’m curious about his motives, particularly when he is trying to convince Yi-gang to take her hands off Hyun-jo’s case. It’s either he knew something about what happened to them or he’s just sincerely concern about Yi-gang’s condition. Jung Goo-young (Oh Jung-se) and Park Il-hae (Jo Han-chul) is a tandem I didn’t know I needed. They have different work ethics as rangers but they are bound by their similar belief and love for their job. Correct me if I’m wrong though but I haven’t seen Il-hae in the 2020 timeline. It’s only Goo-young and the rookie ranger Lee Da-won (Go Min-si). This hoobae-sunbae dynamic is also what makes the 2020 timeline lighter since the main story has now been blanketed with a tinge of heavy feeling caused by the tragic incident.
Overall, Jirisan is presenting an interesting story that could go two ways – an exquisitely done mystery thriller or a downer. I’m putting my bets on the former. I have yet to get attached to the characters and the story but we’ll see if we get there soon. At least the pilot week has piqued my curiosity.
-Theory time: Lee Da-won encountered the “partisan” who have been putting up the signal for Yi-gang to see. But I doubt that partisan is in the same 2020 timeline as Da-won and Yi-gang. Remember the opening line – Jirisan is the land between this world and the next – it seems to me that parts of Mount Jiri could be a Tesseract-like space where this certain “partisan” moves objects in the 2020 timeline from the future. So we might be having a third timeline – the one in which Hyun-jo knew everything that happened in the year 2020 and is now helping Yi-gang to change it. Of course, this is just a wild guess because I never really got anything right in any of the thriller series I’ve watched.
-I’m really happy to see Go Min-si here. I miss her so badly.
Photo credit: tvN