Jirisan (Mt. Jiri): Korean Drama Review

If there is one indication of a successful suspense thriller, it is effective misdirection and boy, does Jirisan have it in spades. From the first moment up to the last, this series, written by Kingdom‘s Kim Eun Hee and directed by PD Lee Eun Bok (Mr. Sunshine, Sweet Home, Goblin, Descendants of the Sun) will keep you at the edge of your seat, literally and figuratively. Its THAT intense.

Synopsis: After losing one of his men in an accident during a training exercise on Mt. Jiri, army captain Kang Hyun Jo (Ju Ji Hoon) begins seeing visions of deaths on the mountain. He decides to retire from the military to become a park ranger to figure out what the mystery behind the visions hold. He is helped along by the park’s ace ranger Seo Yi Gang (Jun Ji Hyun), but the duo son discovers that the “accidents” aren’t quite as innocent as they initially believed.

From the first episode of Jirisan, the show firmly established that it was going to deliver on something epic. It immediately opened with a high impact rescue mission as Hyun Jo is immediately thrust into an operation to save a young boy stranded in the mountain during a storm. After the first episode, I felt like my muscles actually hurt just by watching the rangers running around the steep mountain at almost zero visibility as they scoured the mountains for the missing boy.

Jirisan was the great because it was based on the real life experiences of the rangers. We catch a glimpse of their daily activities and their response when it comes to disasters such as landslides, storms, floods and even wildfire. We also see them dealing with the violators and the consequence that these violations have on the mountain. We see the protocols and the trainings they have to undertake to perform their jobs effectively. Mad respect to the real life rangers who risk their lives day in and day out to protect the mountains and the people. They are often taken for granted but the show gives them the respect that they so rightfully deserve.

It also delivers in somthing else — a layered storytelling that sets the stage for a mystery and a murder as Yi Gang and Hyun Jo try to unmask a serial killer preying on their mountain before he can kill anyone else.

I liked the methodical way that the story laid out teeny tiny crumbs of clues for the viewers to savor and form their own theories. By the third episode, you would have suspected everyone on the base, and even half of the townsfolk.

Each episode revealed another layer to the plot, leaving questions which were addressed as the story progressed. As another suspect is eliminated from the list, another chapter of the plot is revealed, along with another layer of betrayal as another piece of history is uncovered. Each death serves as a puzzle piece to form a complete picture and it takes a lot of them to unmask the killer and his motives.

This, I think was the brilliance of the writing. There are so many murder mysteries that try to misdirect audiences with false clues to lead them away from the real culprit and create a bigger impact for the reveal but Jirisan commits no such nonsense. It does not rely on gimmickry. Instead, it takes note of all the clues it left behind and makes sure that it all makes sense when the entire story is told completely.

Another of Jirisan’s strong points was portraying the teamwork among the rangers. Its true that Yi Gang was built up as the ace of the series but she was not shown as a superhero. She was always supported by her team when it came to difficult rescues and she was also prone to injury and mishaps just like the rest. Each member of the team was portrayed as competent in their own right and that makes them formidable when they mobilize. Building this relationship was a core part of the series to the end.

While the series was topbilled by Jun Ji Hyun and Ju Ji Hoon, they were backed up by a stellar cast of actors like Sung Dong Il (Jo Dae Jin), Oh Jung Se (Gu Yeong), and Jo Han Chul (Park Il Hae). Oh Jung Se delivered one of the most powerful dramatic scenes in the series in the aftermath of one tragedy and it tore my heart to pieces. Jun Ji Hyun also earned her paycheck as the highest paid Korean actress in another one of the series’ dramatic moments.

I was also a big fan of the treatment of each episode and how the series transitioned from 2019 to 2020 as Yi Gang continued the investigation of the incident, aided by Hyun Jo in a different way (I will try not to give this away but viewers will be privy to this in the earlier episodes). With the new challenges, it got very frustrating to watch how even more dangerous things got for the duo but it just added more fuel to the suspense. It was interesting to see how the relationships of the characters changed from 2019 to 2020. Yi Gang’s sense of isolation and helplessness as she tried desperately to connect with the one person who understood her, and Hyun Jo’s desperation to reach out to his sunbae while dealing with his own limitations made it more difficult for them to work together.

One complaint I would have to share about the series was the lack of a romantic development between Yi Gang and Hyun Jo. Sure, its understandable when you are in search of a serial killer, you would be more focused on stopping the murders but these two had such strong chemistry. Buuuutttt!!! They looked great together and their characters depicted such a special bond, both in the natural and supernatural aspects of the series. During the flashbacks, I was tickled pink by the slightest hint of flirtation (Hyun Jo holding Yi Gang’s hand, him telling her about their first anniversary, and staring longingly at her from a distance when they had a falling out). The drama gods owe us a romantic comedy featuring these two. Just watching them look at each other already made by heart flutter like mad. Apart from this, I only questioned the rapid decomposition of the corpses found in Jirisan (do they really turn into skeletons in a month’s time?) but as for the rest of the details, I’m all good.

Jirisan will keep you guessing until the very end but it definitely served up a satisfactory finale well worth the watch. It provided closure for all the characters we have come to love and delivered poetic justice to those who deserved it. I’m actually glad I decided to wait for the final week of airing before I got started on watching the series because I don’t know if I could have stood waiting for the weekly episodes to come out to find out what happens next. Jirisan is definitely one series I wouldn’t mind watching all over again and one that I would definitely recommend to everyone.

Jirisan is available to stream on iQiyi.

PS. I am happy to note that my early guess on the identity of the murderer was correct. I feel especially proud given all the layers that were established before the reveal. LOL

PPS. I am manifesting a rom com for Jun Ji Hyun and Ju Ji Hoon in the very near future. I know that they will work together on Kingdom again but I’m not holding out for a romance there because of their backstories. Manifest this with me.