The pilot episode of any series can make or break it. The first episode should grab the attention of viewers right away with a concise setting-up of the plot and introduction of the characters. It should already show us the personalities and abilities of the characters and have a good idea about the mood and story of the series. If the maiden episode was too slow or too convoluted, it can be a turn-off. I had given up on a few series, even those with a great reputation, because of an uncompeling first episode.
"Jirisan" is an original IQiYi production which premiered on the streaming service on October 23, with two episodes every week released on Saturdays and Sundays. A sneak peek of the first episode was granted to members of the press to promote the upcoming series. This is the current project by director Lee Eung-bok, who had earlier done famous series such as "Descendants of the Sun" (2016), "Goblin" (2016) and "Mr. Sunshine" (2018) and writer Kim Eun-hee, who created "Kingdom" (2019-present).
The title Jirisan is Mount Jiri, the tallest mountain in mainland South Korea (the tallest one Hallasan is on Jeju Island). The series aims to immerse viewers in the natural beauty of the mountain to serve as a soul-healing experience. The first few scenes were montages introducing the mountain, its scenic spots and various activities, and also about the gallant park rangers on patrol duty, who also serve as the rescue team when there are reports of hikers who meet accidents or lose their way on the treacherous slopes.
It was the first day at work of Kang Hyun-jo (Ju Ji-hoon) as a ranger at the Jirisan National Park. Because of an emergency call to rescue a lost boy during a raging storm, he was immediately thrust into work even without time to change into proper climbing outfit. He met his superior Seo Yi-kang (Jun Ji-hyun), with whom he shared the same fearless passion to serve and rescue even if it meant going against rules. Their close partnership and connection with each other would even go beyond physical realms.
Jun Ji-hyun broke through early in her career, scoring lead roles right away in films like "Il Mare" (2000) and the iconic "My Sassy Girl" (2001). More recently, she was the lead actress in two acclaimed series "My Love from the Star" (2013) and "Legend of the Blue Sea" (2016). Ju Ji-hoon achieved fame in the series "Princess Hours" (2006), and in films like the two "Along With the Gods" films (2017, 2018). Most recently, they were both in the cast of "Kingdom," Ju as the Crown Prince Lee Chang and Jun as Ashin of the North.
The supporting cast consisted of three easily-recognizable character actors. Dong Il-sun, famous for playing one of the dads on "Reply 1988" (2015) played by he head ranger Jo Dae-jin. The other members of the rangers team were played by the multi-awarded actor Oh Jung-se (as Jung Goo-young) for his roles in "When the Camellias Bloom" (2019) and "It's Okay Not to Be Okay" (2020); and Jo Han-cheol (as Park Il-Hae), who just finished his latest role as a former one-hit wonder pop singer in "Hometown Cha Cha Cha" (2021).
The potential of the series for action was already pushed early on, with all the precarious rock climbing stunts done at night and in inclement weather. The potential for potent drama was already shown by their encounters with an emotional grandmother.
As the story jumped two years later by the end of the episode, and we see the present situation of the characters, a much-different, more mysterious plot dimension was laid out for us viewers. This surely struck my curiosity on how the story will proceed from there, and I will definitely watch on.
This review was originally published in the author's blog, "Fred Said."