I had no idea what Iljimae was until I saw dangermousie’s post on the Chinese version of Iljimae. I was looking for a Chinese drama to watch and went for it. It did not disappoint! The Chinese title is 怪俠一枝梅 (guai xia yi zhi mei), meaning “strange hero one plum branch” but is translated as “The Vigilantes in Masks.” It is about a group of four heroes who search for justice for the poor and helpless. They fight greedy noblemen and corrupt officials. The small plum branch is their signature.
Initially I was really confused by the different versions. The original character 一枝梅 appeared in Ming dynasty folktales. There are a few drama and movie depictions of the character before 2000. A Korean manhwa artist drew 일지매 (Iljimae) using the 一枝梅 character. “Iljimae” (the kdrama) does not follow the manwha story. The drama “The Return of Iljimae” follows the manwha. In this latest Chinese drama, 一枝梅 is a group of four: three men and one women. One of the male characters is the protagonist. He along with the the female character in the group are the experts in wushu. Another male character is really strong. The third male character is an opera singer and an expert in disguises.
I’m not normally into historical or wuxia dramas. Typically after a few episodes, I’m confused about who is who and their place in the court or palace. I can only stand so much blood and fighting before I tune out. However, 怪俠一枝梅 had a proper mix of plot, necessary fighting, clear characters, and romance that it turned out to be a really fun drama to watch.
A few of the episodes are about each of the four members of the group when their pasts catch up to them. My favorite character was 賀小梅, the opera singer. Although he is the most sensitive, weakest, and the least adept at wushu of the four, he fights in his own way. He has accuracy with throwing stars. He is a protector of the group since he knows acupuncture. I think the best part is his use of disguises and realistic masks to evade the authorities. It definitely added extra twists to the story.