So many shows, so little time. How do you know what’s hot and what’s not?
That’s where our first impressions come in, where we watch the first episode of the latest series to hit your screens and tell you whether it’s worth your time.
This week, we’re looking at…
Jirisan (iQiyi, tvN)
What is it: It’s heralded as Jun Ji-hyun’s (also known as Gianna Jun) big return to full-length TV drama since her romantic series Legend of the Blue Seas with Lee Min-ho five years ago.
In Jirisan, she’s paired with Ju Ji-hoon, and if you’re a true dramaphile, you’d remember both starred in Netflix’s Joseon zombie hit series Kingdom, though they didn’t share any scenes together. Not coincidentally, both scripts are written by Kim Eun-hee.
Ji-hyun plays Seo Yi-kang, nicknamed Demon Seo, a capable, experienced and sassy ranger at Mount Jiri National Park. The debut episode opens in 2018 with former army officer and rookie ranger Kang Hyun-jo (Ji-hoon) reporting for work at the Haedong Ranger Station. He’s immediately roped in to a perilous search-and-rescue mission for a boy believed to have suicidal tendencies.
Amid a thunderous typhoon wrecking destruction on Mount Jiri, Yi-kang and Hyun-jo manage to find the boy alive with the help of — gasp — paranormal visions.
Is this for real: Yes, the spiritual visions that Hyun-jo experiences and which leads him to discover the boy in the nick of time blindsided us. “I keep seeing where lost hikers are in this mountain,” he tells Yi-kang, who, understandably, laughs and calls him crazy.
And in case you think it’s just a joke or passing remark, it’s not. Before the end of the episode, the story jumps to 2020 with a very serious-looking Yi-kang returning to the ranger station in a wheelchair and her former teammates regarding her with wariness and displeasure. We learned that Yi-kang and someone else were stranded on Jirisan during winter and their teammates almost died rescuing them.
Yi-kang asks the team leader to search for a missing man in a specific spot in Mount Jiri and indeed, his corpse is discovered there. She reveals she knew about the body’s location through special signals — made using small rocks and sticks — seen in photos taken by the volunteer fire department.
“Only Hyun-jo and I know this signal,” Yi-kang says. “We decided to use this to signal where the lost hiker is when there’s no reception.”
But as we found out, the signals couldn’t possibly have been placed by Hyun-jo because — double gasp — he’s been comatose in a hospital ward since December 2019.
All eyes are on: Everyone, basically. Apart from Ji-hyun and Ji-hoon, the supporting cast are all seasoned veterans and familiar faces to regular K-drama viewers: Jo Han-chul who just played the lovable Oh Yoon in Hometown Cha-Cha-Cha and the despicable law firm boss in Vincenzo; Oh Jung-se as the autistic Sang-tae in It’s Okay To Not Be Okay; and Sung Dong-il in Sisyphus: The Myth.
What we like: It looks a bit like a travelogue documentary at times, but after being stuck in Singapore for so long, scenes of the beautiful and majestic Mount Jiri are very appealing. Seeing Yi-kang and Hyun-jo hopping over sharp cliff faces makes for great armchair mountaineering.
To watch or not to watch: I would be fully content with a straightforward story of heroic rangers saving careless hikers, with perhaps the token backstory of a tragic past, so delving into the paranormal is a tad too wild for me at this point. Still, the plot’s interesting so far, so I’ll be catching the next episode for Ji-hyun. Heroic adventures and mystery make for an exciting evening after work, too.
Catch Jirisan on Saturdays and Sundays at 8pm on the iQiyi app or iQ.com, and on every Sunday and Monday at 9.15pm on tvN (Singtel TV CH 518, StarHub TV CH 824).