The newest highly anticipated Korean drama just premiered this weekend, everyone is absolutely hyped, and you should be, too! K-drama Jirisan follows the daily lives of the national park rangers as they search and rescue lost trekkers across the titular mountain. Sounds simple enough, doesn’t it? But the first episode definitely hints at a bigger story than that.
Warning: Spoilers ahead! Stop now if you still haven’t started the drama! Also, note that this is review is just about the first episode.
Slow yet informative introduction
In the first few minutes, we were treated to a montage of photos and videos in and of the mountain. These images and clips are taken from real-life people and events, with a mix of happy trekkers, devastated families, and the rangers who watch over all of them. The slideshow is presented as an educational tour in the Baekdudaegan Ecological Education Museum, while a man who seems to be the museum’s curator (played by Ryu Seung-ryong; Kingdom) narrates a monologue about the history of the mountain as “a land of hope for someone, but a spiteful land of death for another.” It was a good and informative few minutes, but it felt a little slow as a start to what had been hyped as a thrilling, action-packed drama.
Delving straight deep in the mountain
But once we got past the historical introduction, things quickly picked up the pace. In the year 2018, a man in a military uniform enters a station of the Jirisan National Park. He tries to introduce himself as Kang Hyun-jo (played by Ju Ji-hoon; Kingdom, Princess Hours) to station head Jo Dae-jin (played by Sung Dong-il; Reply series), but he’s quickly instructed to gear up. Because guess what? The team’s already scrambling to head out for a search and rescue mission for a student missing in the mountain. The team only has 30 hours of golden time to find the student, and there’s even a typhoon heading their way. What follows is a montage of a mix of park rangers, rescue team members, and K9 units scouring Jirisan for the student.
And now you find yourself instantly being pulled into a glimpse into the daily life of our mountain rangers. It’s an amazing shift of pace from the calmness of the museum to the craziness of a search and rescue mission. While the museum voiceover served as an introduction to Jirisan, this search and rescue mission was the introduction to its inhabitants and how the rangers operate and work together to save lives.
A+ cinematography and soundtrack
Of course, because this drama *is* about a mountain, there must be indulging shots of the beautiful scenery surrounding Jirisan. It could be a little too much at times, but honestly? Those breathtaking shots of that piece of nature some of us might not get to see in our lifetimes are well worth a few minutes of indulgence. Pair all that with the dramatic background music that’s perfectly timed with each thrilling scene, and we’ve got a drama so in tune with itself that I’d personally love to rewatch it again the first time just for that experience of awe. Some parts were a bit more obvious in terms of their CGI, but those kinds of scenes are pretty difficult to replicate safely in real life, so it’s understandable. The rest of the scenes are still beautiful anyway.
Nearly a whole hour pulling you into the mountain
All the breathtaking cinematography and perfectly in-tune soundtrack cues make the almost one hour we spend on this search and rescue mission alone feel like time flying by. But it *is* a nice peek into the personalities and dynamics of the ranger team. Case in point: experienced ranger Seo Yi-kang (played by Gianna Jun; Kingdom, My Love From the Star), nicknamed Demon Seo, makes her entry by rappelling down a steep cliff being rained down by rocks to save one of her colleagues. All this while everyone else was struggling just to save themselves from the rocks.
At first, when Kang Hyun-jo and Seo Yi-kang end up working together as a pair, they seem like polar opposites. But when they brave the storm to continue looking for the missing student despite the risks, they find themselves in tune with one another. One of my personal favorite glimpses into their dynamic is when Seo Yi-kang scolds Kang Hyun-jo for saying they’re searching for a dead guy and telling him that they’re going to find the missing student before he dies. The little smile Kang Hyun-jo makes after Seo Yi-kang’s remark tells me he appreciates that mindset and he subconsciously agreed with her, even if he didn’t know it yet. They’re in tune with one another, just like how in tune the both of them are with the mountain itself — but in different ways.
And pulling you into the mystery
Throughout the search and rescue mission, you witness how knowledgeable Seo Yi-kang is about Jirisan. But you also get a glimpse of the ~mysterious~ visions Kang Hyun-jo sees within the mountain — visions which lead him to locations of the missing trekkers like the student.
Just when you think things are already crazy enough, you find yourself immediately getting confused about where these visions of his are coming from and what kind of supernatural entity is putting those visions in his head. It’s not even going to be a slow uphill battle to learn about the mysteries of the mountain, but we’re going straight into the mystic and supernatural that might just give you goosebumps.
If the mysteries of the mountain and of Kang Hyun-jo aren’t enough for you yet, the last 20 or so minutes take you straight into a timeskip two years later, so now we’re dealing with two timelines: 2018 and 2020. And we don’t know what happened in between.
Most of the team seem like they’re still working in Jirisan. But there are two faces notably missing in the crew. Similar to the 2018 timeline, a new member arrives at the station, but she’s not exactly new, because it’s just Seo Yi-kang coming back to the team. This time, in a wheelchair.
You might be asking: how could she work as a ranger if she’s in a wheelchair? But it seems Demon Seo’s still got it because she quickly finds the solution to the team’s month-long unsolved case. Huh?!? How?!?!?! That’s our question, too. But Seo Yi-kang quickly explains how she did it, and it’s through a secret signal code that she and Kang Hyun-jo made us rangers. The catch is, it’s a signal that only the two of them know. But who could have sent it — when Kang Hyun-jo has been lying in a coma all this time?
There’s still a lot of questions left to ask
We’re only on Episode 1, so there’s still many stories to tell about Jirisan and its rangers. We’ve got a lot of questions to ask. What happened to Kang Hyun-jo and Seo Yi-kang? What kind of accident did they get into to be in a coma and be bound to a wheelchair? Where does Kang Hyun-jo get his visions? What are those mystic figures popping about the missing student? Who is using their signal codes? Or is the more appropriate question, *what* is using their signal codes? I’m pretty sure I missed a number of questions, but this episode was quite the information overload. Nevertheless, viewers are given a chance to breathe every now and then with a cute or LOL moment between the rangers.
Skip or stream?
Short answer: Stream!
We’re hoping to see more of the double timeline of both past (2018) and present (2020) and how this kind of storytelling will create a more thrilling mystery for us as viewers. The first episode was pretty much a setting up of the entire storyline, but that high-paced rescue mission instantly pulled us into the mysterious mountain and the instant timeskip that followed got us deeper into its mysteries with the many questions raised. So we’re sure we’d be following this drama to get answers to all the mysteries we’ve encountered so far. Good thing there are 16 episodes in total.
Episodes drop every Saturday and Sunday at 8 PM. You can watch this thrilling series only on iQiyi.com and the iQiyi app.