Jirisan had an ambiguous premiere and I got some parts of the premise wrong. And it was just the first of many misreading I had throughout the run of this supernatural thriller. I think it was mostly because Kim Eun-hee chose a non-linear narrative to tell the story of the mountain rangers of Mount Jiri. Surprisingly, she was able to make life in the mountains dramatic.
The story centered on the mysterious events after Seo Yi-gang (Jun Ji-hyun) and Kang Hyun-jo (Ju Ji-hoon) got attacked one winter day in Mount Jiri. This main plot was stretched-out throughout the sixteen episodes of the series with multiple cases filling up the airtime in between. The cases they solved are actually all connected to the main plot so I can’t fully dismiss them as mere filler stories. But my issue with it lies with the pacing for the main plot and these sub-cases. The main plot only had its progress at the latter part of the series as if they jam-packed every revelation towards the end instead of thoughtfully laying it out on the storyline. So some episodes felt lull then the next one would put you at the edge of your seat. I think the narration would have been more consistent and concise if they have fewer episodes but oh well, the other side stories that filled up the series were worth watching anyway.
More than the main mysterious case they have to solve, what I actually enjoyed watching in Jirisan is the characters’ past and side stories. Seo Yi-gang’s past was pretty solid. They even showed her story with her first love, Im Cheol-gyeong (Son Suk-ku). I think this is one of my favorite episodes in this series. But aside from this, the tragic death of her parents, Kim Nam-sik (Ji Seung-hyun) and Yoon Soo-mi (Kim Bi-bi), is also a heart-wrenching episode. And it kinda explained the actions of Yi-gang in the present timeline. But I’m glad though she found a good partner in the persona of Kang Hyun-jo (Ju Ji-hoon). I like their dynamic mostly because Hyun-jo was able to change Yi-gang’s mind and make her trust the mountain again. It was clearly evident in the finale scene where Yi-gang knew that whatever supernatural being resides and protect Mount Jiri, they don’t and would never side with evil people. That line, for me, was one of the best parts of the finale.
Hyun-jo’s story, meanwhile, didn’t make any impact since his military story turned out to be connected to the villain origin story of Kim Sol (Lee Ga-sub). I actually suspected a lot of characters in Jirisan. And I don’t think it was because of my lack of detective intuition. I believe the hints we got are made to confuse and mislead us. And one by one, the false suspects cleared their names. My first suspect was actually Jo Dae-jin (Sung Dong-il). And I think his character was set up to have that suspicious aura in him. Fortunately, he wasn’t because I learned to eventually like how he handles our beloved park rangers.
The characters of this series are not hard to love. As I’ve said earlier, I quite enjoy their stories more than anything else. The bickering between Jeong Gu-yeong (Oh Jung-se) and Park Il-hae (Jo Han-chul) was a welcome comic contrast to the oftentimes serious conversations between Yi-gang and Hyun-jo. But they weren’t just there for comic relief. These two characters were some of the most reliable companions of our main leads in solving the murder case in Mount Jiri. In the earlier parts of the series, I was kind of nervous when Il-hae is nowhere to be found in the 2020 timeline. I thought something worse happened to him so it was a relief seeing him reunite with the rest of the rangers and put an end to the killings in their sacred mountain.
Gu-yeong’s subplot though has been a delight to watch. I enjoyed watching his love line with Lee Yang-sun (Joo Min-kyung) bloom from a simple work crush to a full-blown workplace romance. And they could have left that story like that. But of course, they had to make character sacrifices to take the suspense and tension a notch higher. And Lee Yang-sun was an easy target. To be honest, I didn’t see this one coming although I was wondering why Yang-sun wasn’t on the present timeline. Their ending was bittersweet and my heart broke for Gu-yeong – who definitely deserves a happy ending!
Another character sacrifice made in this series was Lee Da-won (Go Min-si). It was kind of obvious that she’s just a plot device in this series but the heartache from her death still pained me. She has good chemistry with her sunbae Yi-gang but it seems like Yi-gang’s character attracts death to those around her (sadly!).
Actually, this series doesn’t hold back in killing its characters for the sake of plot progression and drama. And by the end of the series, I was already numbed seeing the rangers’ set-up funerals for their friends or family. But as the main case becomes clearer, my focus actually shifted from the human stories to the actual case itself. Looking back, the clues that I misread did really hint at the real killer. The main case was a cobweb of connected killings and disasters. And that’s when I knew exactly why this series would appeal to those who love this genre. Watching Jirisan felt like hiking up an unknown mountain trail filled with confusing signs and thorny paths. But the view at the end was at least worth the journey.