Led by megastars Lee Joon Ki (My Girl, Time Between Dog and Wolf) and Han Hyo Joo (Spring Waltz, Shining Inheritance), Iljimae was a smash hit drama in 2008, with ratings in the high 20%. Lee Joon Ki won two drama awards for his performance as the titular hero. A fusion historical drama (much like Hong Gil Dong) set during the Joseon dynasty, it tells the story of a figure of legend who rose from humble beginnings to become a hero who fought for the poor and robbed the rich – a man known only as Iljimae.
When his father is killed as a child, Yong takes to the streets and becomes a beggar, searching all the while for what remains of his family. When he finds his sister again, only to see her executed before his eyes, Yong embarks on a mission: revenge. Tattooing himself with the black emblem he saw on the sword of his father’s murderer, he sets out on a life of crime. Relying on skills learned from his foster father, a small-time thief, he robs corrupt government officials and gives to the poor, leaving behind each time a painting of a plum tree branch.
Soon, the people embrace him, nicknaming him “Iljimae” for the branch he uses as his mark. When he stumbles across a conspiracy having to do with his father, Iljimae decides to use Eun Chae (Han Hyo Joo), the daughter of a government official, to get the information he needs. He doesn’t plan on falling in love with her, however, and soon finds himself torn between his life-long mission to attain revenge and protect the poor versus his forbidden passion for a woman who knows him only as “Iljimae”.