“This mountain was a land of hope for someone, but a spiteful land of death for another.” That’s how a presenter at an ecological museum (Kingdom actor Ryu Seung-ryong making a cameo) explains Mount Jiri, the mountain at the centre of new mystery series Jirisan. It almost sounds too dramatic – just how much power can one place hold? – but Jirisan doesn’t take long to unravel the mountain’s macabre secrets.
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Right off the bat, viewers contend with the perilous nature of Mount Jiri as protagonist Kang Hyun-jo (Joo Ji-hoon), a park ranger on his first day at work in 2018, is tasked with rescuing a middle school boy who has disappeared into its depths. The moment Hyun-jo sets foot in the station, commander Jo Dae-jin (Sung Dong-il) pairs him with experienced ranger Jung Gu-young (Oh Jung-se), and he later meets team ace Seo Yi-kang (Jun Ji-hyun).
The team battle inclement weather as the “golden time” for rescue slips away, leading Hyun-jo and Yi-kang to peel away from the rest of the group in a last-ditch attempt to save the boy, all based on a hunch Hyun-jo gets after a strange hallucination. The two succeed and become an unlikely team, the skeptical but skilled Yi-kang supplying the know-how as Hyun-jo gleans clues from his strange visions. The pair soon discover that someone, or something, is intentionally luring oblivious visitors of the national park to their deaths.
Jirisan sets out with an ambitious plot that features two timelines – scenes set in 2018 focus on Yi-kang and Hyun-jo’s pursuit of a killer on the mountain, while Yi-kang seeks to uncover their identity when she returns to the mountain two years later. The frequent back-and-forth between the years can make for a confusing watch if you’re not paying close attention, but even then, the compelling tale keeps you on the edge of your seat as our protagonists draw closer to the danger that lurks within Mount Jiri.
Now, four episodes into a 16-episode order, Jirisan is still teetering on the edge of supernatural territory, and hasn’t gone as far as to introduce anything truly otherworldly. Some might be frustrated at how long it’s taking, but this actually plays quite well with the mystery of the series.. The lore and superstition surrounding the peak (which is a real mountain in South Korea), coupled with its grisly history and the unpredictability of mother nature, breathes life into Mount Jiri and makes it the perfect location for this thrilling drama to unfold.
Whether driven by fear or awe, Jirisan’s characters hold the titular mountain in almost religious regard, each drawn to the land for reasons that we slowly discover. Perhaps Kim Sol (Lee Ga-sub), a park volunteer who happens to be a cultural researcher, puts it best: “People have been serving Mount Jiri from before the Three Kingdoms. Being an object of faith for such a long time can’t just be superstition.”
There’s lots for viewers to dig into with Jirisan, which boasts a massive cast of characters and focuses on a new search mission each episode. But it takes care not to stray from its central mystery as the duo draw closer to uncovering the secrets of the mountain. From its star-studded cast and team (writer Kim Eun-hee, who wrote the source text and screenplay for Netflix’s Kingdom, while director Lee Eung-bok has helmed hits such as Sweet Home and Mr. Sunshine), to its upcoming theme song sung by BTS member Jin, tvN has certainly pulled out all the stops for what has been dubbed its “most-anticipated drama of 2021”. So far, it has yet to disappoint.
Jirisan is now airing on tvN and streaming on iQIYI.