Home > Korean Dramas > Character Guide for Iljimae

Character Guide for Iljimae

Sunday, June 29, 2008 Leave a comment Go to comments

So Lyn dearest asked for a clarification on the maze that is the relationship between people in Iljimae – I remember drawing charts for a friend about Hong Gil Dong, and uh, being deprived of a scanner, I shall have to explain in words. (It helps me keep things clear too.)

Okay, first off, we’ll start with the person the show’s named after:


  • He’s more commonly known as Yong, son of Dani and Swe Dol. To those in the know, he’s actually the adopted son of Dani and Swe Dol. His real name is Lee Kyum and his father was Lord Lee Won Ho. He also had an older sister named Yeon. He lost his memory at a young age due to the trauma of watching his father die and then having to save himself by injuring his mother – Dani comes upon him and takes him home. When he grows up, he has no memory of who he really is, and is constantly picked on by a pack of young nobles he goes to school with. One day, in desperation to save Swe Dol’s hand from being chopped off, he accepts to fight. While being beaten into the ground, he remembers his past. As he doesn’t know who killed his father but does recall an etching on the man’s sword, he becomes Iljimae to search the houses of nobles who are part of an association called Friends of Heaven. He learns his thieving skills from Swe Dol and has mastered impressive martial arts skills from Kunghe monk. On the romance side of things, Bong Soon is helplessly in love with him, while Eun Chae only loves Iljimae, thinking Yong to be an uncouth thug and mourning Kyum as her dead love. (Interestingly, she’s the only character who’s met all three personifications – Bong Soon came too late for Kyum and has yet to come face to face with Iljimae.) He shows a partiality for Eun Chae but sees Bong Soon like a friend (and treats her like an annoyance). In daily life, he acts as a useless hooligan and frustrates the life out of his adoptive parents.

The Main Protagonists (aka, people who help Yong)

Swe Dol:

  • A kindhearted and somewhat failed thief who raises Shi Hoo (until he was 9) and Yong like his own sons. He was hired by Lee Won Ho’s mother to get rid of Dani (see below), who was by then pregnant with Lee Won Ho’s child. LWH himself pays Swe Dol to take Dani away and keep her and her child safe. He does so. Later, Byun Shik forces him to plant evidence of treason in LWH’s yard, and in a strange twist of fate, Shi Hoo does so, to save Swe Dol. He’s felt guilty towards Yong ever since, and considers nothing too much for the repayment of his deeds against Yong.

Prime Minister and servants

  • Close friend of Lee Won Ho. He never accepted the fact that LWH was conspiring against the king and discovered that his friend was actually framed. This leads to the annihilation of himself as well as his family at the hands of the people who plotted LWH’s murder.

Minister Kim

  • A famously upright minister in the king’s cabinet who keeps an eye out for the frequent nonsense that occurs in court. When he hears of the prime minister’s death, he begins investigating (but is frustrated at every turn by Byun Shik) and eventually comes to the conclusion that LWH’s death was the result of foul play, not suicide, and rallies nobles behind him to put his surviving son, Lee Kyum, on the throne.

Eun Chae

  • She who is perfect, the daughter of Byun Shik, but so radically different in temperament and mental capacity that many fans have proposed theories ranging from adoption to androids. She met Lee Kyum at a young age and has been in love with him ever since, and even at the news of his untimely ‘death’, has never forgotten him. Later on, she meets Yong and is enchanted at first, but due to a misunderstanding, is disgusted with him for being a common street hooligan. She admires Iljimae’s work and has met with him several times. Within her own family, her father lets her handle all the important documents and allows her an unprecedented amount of freedom in regards to a hotel she is building. She’s known for being kind to the poor and does whatever she can to help, even going to an epidemic-striken village and nursing the sick there. (Also, very pretty.)

Bong Soon

  • Her father was a soothsayer who predicted a glorious new era for Korea under the reign of a red sun – the king takes this as a prediction that Lee Won Ho will take his place. In addition to killing LWH, the king also has her mother and father killed. She and her brother escape, not knowing the cause of their parents’ deaths. They later bump into Lee Kyum while he’s being hunted down by assassins and this indirectly causes both her brother’s death and her own adoption by one of the assassins. While running from the killers, Kyum promised to never let go of her hand – she remembers this kindness with clarity, and when she realizes that the ‘oppa’ who helped her is Yong, she does everything in her power to be of use to him. (It is hinted that she will sacrifice her life for him.) She also learns fighting in hopes of avenging her older brother’s death, not knowing that her adoptive father is the one who killed him.

Kunghe monk

  • As one of the three assassins (the best, according to the other two) who served the king, he was partly responsible for LWH’s death (actually, this reminds me, LWH was amazing, withstanding attack from three of the best fighters in Korea for as long as he did). However, after chasing down Kyum and Bong Soon, and killing Bong Soon’s brother, he tires of life as a killer, and quits. He saves Bong Soon’s life by preventing her from jumping off the cliff after Kyum. At her request, he also adopts her and raises her as his own daughter. Now he’s an eccentric monk who peddles in sexualized products, and through a series of coincidences, ends up working for Yong. One day, caring for Yong’s wounds, he notices the tattoo of the etching on the king’s sword and realizes just who Yong is. He decides to leave, but is nabbed by Yong and teaches his skills to the young man. He feels enormous guilt for his past deeds and decides to reap his harvest (so to speak) as it comes. From his attitude regarding Bong Soon, it’s clear that he loves her.

Shi Wan (for now)

  • Before you all go WUH?!, let me explain: he’s helping Yong and thus Iljimae, and he’s far too stupid to be of any use capturing the latter, so net result on Iljimae = help, not detriment. He’s an asshat who believes every piece of elitist spew that comes out of his own mouth. He frequently mistreats both Shi Hoo and picked on Yong in the past. Now that Yong saved him in a gambling incident, he treats Yong as a very close friend and indeed, better than he treats his social equals. He is the unwitting source of much information for Yong.

The Main Antagonists (aka, people who most likely want to kill Yong)

The king (real name Lee Myung Bak, but you’re not allowed to call him that, on pain of death)

  • Formerly sworn brothers with Lee Won Ho (well, still is, but having killed him personally, d’you really think that still applies?), dastardly coward who doesn’t rule his country properly and lets his greedy nobles run wild. He’s very quick to defend himself, however, and is not a person to cross, especially as he still retains the services of two very deadly assassins and a bevy of bootlicking nobles with power. He struck the death blow to Lee Won Ho and is in possession of the sword Iljimae is looking for.

Byun Shik

  • A brutish sycophant to the king, who hops to when he’s told to and throws rages at anyone who is inferior in rank. Offspring: the lovely Eun Chae and the idiotic Shi Wan, assumed offspring the dashing Shi Hoo. Married to someone who is just as idiotic he is. Responsible for planting evidence that condemned Lee Won Ho as a traitor in the public eye, by using Swe Dol and then Shi Hoo.

Shi Hoo (also for now)

  • He used to be called Cha Dol when he was still living with Dani and Swe Dol. He’s actually the son of Dani and Lee Won Ho, but Dani passed him off as Byun Shik’s son to save his life after Byun Shik used him to plant fake evidence in Lee Won Ho’s yard (and was presumably going to kill him to silence him). As an illegitimate son, the best he can hope for is a lowly position in the imperial guards, but he wants to make his mother happy (she wanted him to attain nobility and not suffer like she did) so he tries his hardest to climb up the social ladder. Constantly picked on at home by Shi Wan and his stepmother, his only source of comfort is Eun Chae, his kind little sister. (Although the audience notes a disturbing trend in his somewhat unconventional affection for her. We know they’re not related, but he doesn’t, and he is still in love with her?!) As part of the king’s special police force, albeit as a foot soldier, he uses his brain to solve many of Iljimae’s heists and has come close to capturing him twice. He’s also concerned by Iljimae’s attention to Eun Chae. If he captures Iljimae, the king will bestow noble status upon him, and that is his ultimate goal. He doesn’t know anything about his real heritage. (Brother vs brother, thanks, writers.) Also unofficial king of angstmuffins in the show.

The king’s assassin (Sa Cheon)

  • The second of three assassins and leader of the king’s imperial palace guards. He passes on his skills to Shi Hoo because he sees the young man’s promise and because they have similar philosophies in life: to obliterate all obstacles in the view of their own goals. (Needless to say, this makes them less than stellar friends.)

The Side Characters (the ones that hang around and make the show sparkly)

Lord Lee Won Ho (who didn’t hang around for that long)

  • Possibly younger brother to the king, thus carrier of royal blood. He helped Lee Myung Bak ascend to the throne after a coup overthrowing the former king, Gwanghaegun, who was illegitimate, and thus less worthy. Was killed because the king’s a paranoid creep who believes prophecies rather than his own ability to govern. Offspring: Lee Kyum, Lee Yeon, and Shi Hoo.


  • Bitter but beautiful, Dani once loved (and still does) Lee Won Ho but believes him responsible for trying to kill her (Swe Dol, you liar, you). She raises her son(s) as best as she can, but gives Cha Dol up to Byun Shik in order for him to have a better life. She takes in Kyum because she feels sorry for him and also because he’s Lee Won Ho’s son (though she’ll never admit this). She has hidden Yong’s past as Kyum from the rest of the world with Swe Dol and continues to protect him ferociously, disappointment in him not withstanding.

Yong’s mother

  • A noblewoman of some fortitude, she bore the death of her husband remarkably well. She urged little Kyum to throw and rock at her to convince the investigators that he was not her son. Since then, she has been doing menial labour as an indentured slave. When fire broke out at her workplace, she took the opportunity to escape. Assumed as dead, she makes a living cooking at a brothel. Shi Hoo visits her occasionally as she helped him in a brawl. Both Shi Hoo and Yong have tasted of her cooking and really love it. She and Yong have yet to meet.

Lee Yeon (didn’t hang around that long either)

  • Older sister of Yong, worked as indentured slave somewhere far away from Seoul. When she heard that her brother was still alive from the mafia dude, she rushed to run away. She escaped to Seoul successfully, but was reported by Shi Hoo (cause of eternal hatred for Shi Hoo on Yong’s side of things) for his own personal gain. She spent a night in jail with Yong, but he didn’t know who she was, so he pushed her away. The next morning, he figured it out and rushed to try to save her. However, he was too late and she was hung to death, after refusing to say where her brother was under torture.


  • Kyum’s best friend. Was accidentally implicated when Yong tried out his thieving skills and abandoned a valuable painting near his house. Yong’s subsequent actions trying to free him led to the creation of the character of Iljimae.

Leatherworker dude and father (Heung Kyeong and Kyeok Doo)

  • Another friend of Yong, mainly due to his father’s friendship with Swe Dol. They are smarter than Daeshi (or, should I say, he is smarter than his father and Daeshi) and help keep Yong’s secret.

Mafia dude (Hwa Bong)

  • One of the most powerful gang leaders in Seoul, he serves mainly to gather ‘tax money’ for the different nobles. Yong hired him to look for his sister, and he fell in love with Yeon as a result. After her death, he vows to help Yong however he can.

Alehouse owner (Shim Deok)

  • Lascivious older woman who lusts after Swe Dol and employs Daeshi.

Hunter dude (Chang Po Kyo)

  • A fur trapper who lives in the middle of nowhere. He rescued Yong twice, the first time after being tied on a tree and the second time because assassins dumped him in a frozen lake. He’s convinced that Yong is Lee Kyum, and looked poised to reveal him for the reward money. He hung around for a long time, making everyone jittery, but he seems to have dropped into the background for now. (With the hunt for Kyum renewing under the leadership of minister Kim, there’s no saying he won’t be back.)

Friends of Heaven:

  • A political organization that gets together to boast once in a while. Lee Won Ho was part of this organization, and Yong’s convinced that one of them killed his father. He robs nobles on the list and inspects their swords, and he even takes the trouble of taking the list of members from Eun Chae’s room and copying it.

Pictures of who I’m talking about:

I assume you know what Yong, Eun Chae, Bong Soon and Shi Hoo look like. If not, leave me a note.

In order of appearance: Byun Shik, Shi Wan, Prime minister, the king, the king’s assassin (Sa Cheon) and another assassin (Mui).

Kunghe monk, Daeshi, Mr. Leatherworker (Heung Kyeong), the alehouse owner (Shim Deok), the hunter (Chang Po Kyo), the hunter’s son (Eun Bok), the mafia dude (Hwa Bong), and Mr. Leatherworker’s father (Kyeok Doo).

Swe Dol (sans tooth), Dani, Kyum’s mother, Lee Won Ho, and Lee Yeon.

Name romanizations courtesy of Frequentflyer120.

Uncertainties (plot threads that the writers have tossed at us)

  1. Shi Hoo and Yong – when will they find out their relationship? Or if? How with each react?
  2. How will Yong react to his adoptive parents knowing, and how will they react to him knowing his past?
  3. What will Bong Soon and Yong do when they discover Kunghe’s role in both their loved ones’ deaths?
  4. What are Yong’s intentions regarding Shi Wan?
  5. When, if ever, will Yong meet his mother? (and tell her of Yeon’s death?)
  6. Will Eun Chae and Yong get together? Will he mind that she’s Byun Shik’s daughter? Corollary, will he end up with Bong Soon?
  7. What will Yong do about the king once he finds out?

Let’s have a group discussion. ๐Ÿ˜€

(Um… that’s it for now, though I may update as new information comes to light. Hope that helped, lyn!)


P.S. I’ve got to learn how to respond to comments without writing a whole crabapple of posts.

  1. lyn
    Sunday, June 29, 2008 at 2:30 pm

    thank you so much..that makes more sense knowing everyone’s background..i was so confuse on why would they kill LWH…and which nobles are on yong’s side or vice-versa..thanks for the carifications…hiope that wasn’t a trouble for you..

  2. Da
    Monday, June 30, 2008 at 6:19 am

    WOW thanks so much ^^ the characters in this drama really make me confused but it’s the great drama anyway !!!

  3. Monday, June 30, 2008 at 11:16 am

    Thats a whole lot of uncertainties, i hope they better settle it properly or have the decency to do a sequel.

    thanks, you’re so hardworking, making the relationship charts and all.

    i have a gut feeling that they’re going to capture Yong under suspicion that he is iijimae, and Bong Soon’s gonna disguise herself as iljimae to remove him from being suspect and ends up being killed herself…(what with the show highlighting that she’s also a kungfu master of sorts)

    As for Shi Hoo, i think Kyum’s gonna let him off on account that he will save his real mother. (Lee Won Ho’s wife)

    For the King, i’ll bet he will bring him before the plum tree where is father as killed and make him apologise, Yongi has highlighted this as his ultimate goal in a previous episode, and so far, the drama has been emphazing on the fact that Yongi is now trained in the “do-not-kill-on-all-accounts” school of thought by Kunghe.

    Yongi will be too depressed after Bong soon’s death to date Eun chae, but nevertheless, they will end up meeting under the plum tree one day.

    I think Yongi and Bong Soon will not get to react much to Kunghe’s detrimental role to their past, because by the time they knew, he would have redeemed himself by being dead. (it is of popular belief that he will be killed by the other assassin dude)

    I do not want to think about what will happen to the Yongi-Swedol-Dani dynamic, I have a bad feeling something bad will befall Swedol which causes Yong and Dani to bond and forgive each other…. *touch wood*…..

    here you go, a whole toilet break’s worth of imagination.

  4. sevenses
    Monday, June 30, 2008 at 2:12 pm

    I don’t think it’s in them to do sequels, but extensions and maybe a surprisingly good paced wrap-up. ๐Ÿ˜€ No probs! Like I said, writing this helped me clear things up too.

    I think Swe Dol’s too good to die though. I mean, he won’t die before he tells Dani that LWH really loved her, I’m sure. And Dani already loves Yong, she just won’t tell him. It’s far more likely that Dani stops Shi Hoo from striking the death blow to Iljimae/Yong and then die after telling him the truth of his parentage. Then we wait for the earthquake.

    I’m not sure about Shi Hoo. I think either he could go either way, though Dani and Swe Dol would totally be able to control him from harming Yong, if not Iljimae (we haven’t got Eun Chae for that, unfortunately, as he seems to have arrived at being big brotherly just when we want him to listen to her). He might just turn Kyum’s mom in, and that’s what I’m really afraid of.

    If Eun Chae knows who Yong really is, she might also find out what her father and ‘brother’ did to Lee Won Ho and thus Kyum/Iljimae and feel super guilty. That, added to Bong Soon and a load of stuff, might put a stop to their relationship, but the girl’s unconventional. She’ll figure something out. (I think they might just hide themselves away in the end. Sort of like at the end of Hyang Dan.)

    I love Kunghe! He’s so … squishy and sad. I think Bong Soon might run away and be really shocked at first, and then get used to the idea, but return to find her father killed by the assassin (who is … looking for Kyum?), which leads her to go after the assassin, which leads to her getting killed, which leads to Yong getting pissed off, and etc. (I doubt Yong would super mind, as the king is the one, in his mind, who killed his father.)

    I think Kyum will just let the world know of his father’s innocence. And possibly humiliate the king, while he’s at it.

  5. Frequentflyer120
    Tuesday, July 1, 2008 at 4:52 pm


    Here is the romanizations of the names of the characters you didn’t know, from the pictures you provided…

    The King’s Asssassin: Sa-Cheon
    The Other Assassin: Mu-i
    Mr. Leatherworker: Heung-Kyeong
    Alehouse Owner: Shim-deok
    Hunter: Chang Po-Kyo
    Hunter’s Son: Eun-bok
    Mafia Dude: Hwa-bong
    Leatherworker’s Father: Kyeok-doo

    Although I love the names you’ve given them too, I thought I’d tell you incase you didn’t know. ๐Ÿ™‚

    BTW, LOVE your recaps for this drama. It leds itself to playful ridicule way too easily, no? Your fun recaps are getting me thru the slow subbing. (Not that I’m in a great hurry, but I couldn’t help but watch ahead when I found your site!) Thank you for your commentary!

    a new fan,

    P.S. I am able to romanize any korean/hangeul, but I still have a limited vocab, so translations are out. I wish I could read classical chinese like you, tho. Comes i handy with these period dramas. Let me know if I can help out with anything.

    THANK YOU! ๐Ÿ™‚

  6. sevenses
    Tuesday, July 1, 2008 at 8:24 pm

    Oh my goodness, such a detailed list! Thank you, sweetheart! *updates post*

    I’m glad you like them! I write them to avoid talking my friends ears off (“And then he did this! Which was awesome! But then that happened, and was bad! There was nakedness of the shirtless variety! Plus love geometry!” Could you imagine? ๐Ÿ˜€ ).

    Let me know what your reactions are after seeing the episodes. I assume you’re at 6 – there are good times ahead.

    And I will indeed ask for help from you in the future. As in, right now – could you romanize Yong’s mother’s name too? She gets called by name once and that was 11 episodes ago. (Funny thing is, they’re not using classical Chinese – they’re using Traditional script, which is different, but then that’s the closest to classical without dragging in a history teacher. ๐Ÿ˜› )

  7. Frequentflyer120
    Tuesday, July 1, 2008 at 10:52 pm

    Ahh. My mistake about the chinese. Well I said I didn’t know it… lol

    I love to help out if i can. I mooch off people’s work all the time, (like watching dramas i didn’t sub..etc…) but at least i can contribute a little. : )

    Well according to the picture above, that isn’t Yon’g mother. It’s Han-ssi Puin, which means, Mr. Han’s wife. and As I look at the picture, I think it’s Byunshik’s wife. the asshat’s mother. ๐Ÿ˜›
    Yong’s mother isn’t pictured above, so if you could find her name in hangeul, I’d be happy to romanize it for you. I’ll have a looksie at the offical website for the drama at SBS. to see if I find her. do you remember which episode her name was said in? I could also try to listen for it. I have a general understanding of korean grammar, and i’d know where to listen for the word that would be her name….

    This may all be overkill for just a name for a woman who hasn’t shown up much… (of course i’m only in episode 9) but whatever. it’s summer and i have the time.

    I know I’m posting this here, but I’ll just reply and maybe post somehwere else later… liek i said, I’m actually in the middle of eps. 9. So yeah. I’ve been getting more and more excited. And I am SO THERE with you on the lack of logic thingy. Gotta love it, no? I swear you send me into fits of laughter with your recaps.

    ok i’m gonna go now since i’ve written you another book. lol
    thanks for your work.

    your continued fan,


    P.S. if it’s easier, you can email me too. would love to hear from ya!

  8. Frequentflyer120
    Tuesday, July 1, 2008 at 10:58 pm

    oh yeah, and as for the discussion about what’s to come….

    I know he’s against Kyum/Yong/Iljimae right now, but I’m rooting for him. He seems to truly be the king of angst. (and i’m a sucker for the sad ones… :P) I know I’m gonna be moved to tears when he finds out the truth. And I don’t have any doubts that he won’t. I mean, this IS a korean drama we’re watching here. the more tears and hair-pulling the better right? (well…better for the producers…not necessarily for all our heads…)

    as for KYI (kyum/yong/iljimae all in one) i just get such a kick out of lee jun ki’s overacting. I was a bit surprised at first having just come off of TODAW, where he holds back (most of the time….i admit there are some moments…) but mostly i’m enjoying it.

    what do the rest of ya’ll think???

  9. Il-Ji-Mae hot fan
    Tuesday, December 30, 2008 at 6:24 am

    Well, I have seen the full episodes of Il-Ji-Mae but I wont reveal any spoilers… just that the last 5 episodes are damn damn sad!! >< overall, the actors and actresses are so good in acting. i was so moved to tears. yong is like so funny when he confronts bong soon. the ending is of what i expected and somehow not what i expect…

    Il-Ji-Mae forever! ๐Ÿ˜€ though the ending makes it kind of impossible for production of Il-Ji-Mae II…

  10. iljimae-lurves
    Monday, June 8, 2009 at 2:10 am

    i love iljimae. i m at episode 17 now. i m curious.!! super! im at the part where eun chae and iljiame/yong “break up” under the tree. will they meet again? will eun chae find out why he did tht and will she come to know of lee woon ho…omg!! im freakin out. i m so anxious. i have to know! they must meet again…!! sigh…

    REPLYSOON!! thks. =)

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