5 Reasons “Jirisan” Is A New Kind Of Disaster Drama

Jirisan” wrapped up its run last year but continues to be memorable in how it redefined the disaster drama genre. Most disaster dramas focus on city-wide phenomenon, like “D-Day” and “Designated Survivor: 60 Days,” or national catastrophes, manmade or supernatural, like “Dark Hole” and “Sweet Home.” However, “Jirisan” combines both nature, man, and a force in between to create a slow-burn compelling story of a mountain and the inhabitants of the small town that lives in its shadow.

Seo Yi Gang (Jun Ji Hyun) is the best ranger at Jirisan National Park. She knows every nook and cranny of the mountain (and those of the neighboring mountain range) and has a great respect for the lives it saves and those it takes away. Enter Kang Hyun Jo (Joo Ji Hoon), a newbie ranger and former military captain, whose reserved air hides an eerie secret. Yi Gang is partnered with Hyun Jo, but as she teaches the new ranger the ropes, she comes to realize that all is not what it seems with him and with the mountain itself. When people start to disappear on Mount Jiri, somehow only Hyun Jo seems to know who will vanish next and how. When tragedy strikes, Yi Gang has to race against time to solve the mystery of Mount Jiri before she and Hyun Jo become its next victims.

If that premise doesn’t intrigue you enough, here are five reasons to binge-watch this drama!

Note: This is a spoiler-free review!

1. The mighty Mount Jiri itself

In addition to our two main leads, “Jirisan” has a main character that doesn’t have any lines but occupies the whole show: the titular mountain. It’s the second tallest mountain in South Korea, and it certainly appears it. For a drama featuring rangers, the bulk of the show involves some beautiful scenery that evokes appreciation for the majesty of Mount Jiri.

In general, the show treats nature with reverence but also with caution. The mountain is depicted as a place of wonder, an ancient guardian of sorts, standing tall despite the passage of time. However, the rugged terrain isn’t easy or accommodating, and every action a human takes on the mountain has consequences. Land without human intervention is raw and unbroken, and it does what it wants regardless of the consequences. This lesson is taught time and time again as people run afoul of the mountain, convinced that the land is there for them to take from and that they are entitled to it.

There are also some gorgeous landmarks and historical temples featured in the drama, such as the Cheonwangbong Peak, the Samshinbong Peak, and Samseonggung or the Three Sages Palace. It’s a fantastic look at otherwise internationally unknown parts of Korean history and architecture.

2. Jun Ji Hyun’s physical performance as Seo Yi Gang

Jun Ji Hyun isn’t afraid to delve deep into action with this role. This isn’t one of those roles where a supposed cop or athlete (or someone working a highly physical role) primps and preens all day. Seo Yi Gang barely has time for makeup, has no time for dating, and is devoted to her job, for better or worse. She strides up and down the mountains searching for lost or missing people on a regular basis, and she looks it too. Heavy gear, sweaty features, running and diving like her life depends on it, Jun Ji Hyun is at her peak in a raw, simmering performance as a woman who both hates and respects the mountain she walks through everyday.

Yi Gang’s role evolves as the drama goes on, requiring a very different kind of physical performance by Jun Ji Hyun. It’s a 180 degree switch from her performances in “My Love From the Star” and “The Legend of the Blue Sea.” Yi Gang is grouchy, but she’s always receptive to feedback, is competent, but a team player above all. She makes for a great character, and it’s a delight to see her in action.

3. The supporting cast

Joo Ji Hoon excels as the quiet but dependable Kang Hyun Jo, whose budding friendship with Yi Gang hints at romantic attraction, but the rest of the cast absolutely drives this drama up. Oh Jung Se capably handles his character as a fellow ranger with a crush on another team member. Sung Dong Il is the unflappable team leader who keeps all the other rangers in check while seeming to always know more than he appears to. Rising star Go Min Si shines as a bubbly ranger who idolizes Yi Gang for all the right reasons. It’s an incredible gathering of talent, which probably accounts for why all these characters feel like people and behave in ways that people would. Any drama or fights are grounded in reality and make watching this a real treat.

4. The crises faced by the rangers

We’ve seen earthquakes and zombies and mutant viruses in dramas before, but “Jirisan” takes it to a different level. Every element known to mankind seems to attack these beleaguered rangers. There are floods, landslides, wildfires, and snowstorms. Nothing and no one is safe from nature, and on Mount Jiri, nature reigns supreme. But people keep trying to get the best of it. Our main duo face illegal poachers, herb-gatherers who can’t take no for an answer, and litterers causing all manner of damage. On top of that, there’s the rash of people going missing and being found dead on the mountain, so there’s a heightened level of suspense and fear there. The mountain isn’t safe as is, but what happens when there’s something or someone making it worse? It sounds insane, but the events come off as actually quite logical, which is a testament to writer Kim Eun Hee’s talent. We follow the rangers through every season so it makes sense that they would navigate all forms of difficulty.

5. The OST

It’s hard to imagine what sort of music would fit an atmospheric show about mountains and mystery. However, BTS’s Jin focuses on the human element to bring to life a song of heartache and longing that makes perfect sense in many contexts within the show. It’s the perfect theme for the show, encapsulating its wistfulness and the quiet beauty of the mountain. The entire soundtrack for “Jirisan” is pretty bang on, but this one really hits it out of the park and is a must-listen and guaranteed favorite for many a rainy day.

And that wraps up the top reasons for watching “Jirisan.” If you’re still wondering about whether you should give it a shot, debate no more! Stuffed with likable characters, beautiful scenery, lots of heart and a thrilling mystery to boot, this drama isn’t perfect, but it is a perfect blend of every element. It makes for a satisfying watch at the end of the day and will likely have you smiling, gaping, and even shedding a few tears. You won’t regret it!

Check out the first episode below:

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Hey Soompiers, have you watched “Jirisan”? What do you think of the drama? Let us know in the comments below!

Shalini_A is a long time Asian-drama addict. When not watching dramas, she works as a lawyer, fangirls over Ji Sung, and attempts to finish up the greatest fantasy romance of all time. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram, and feel free to ask her anything!

Currently Watching:  “Bulgasal,” “Through the Darkness,”
Looking Forward to: “Adamas,” “Military Prosecutor Doberman,” “Why Her?” “Grid,” “Link,” “Island,” “Insider,” “Tomorrow,” “Little Women,” “The Sound of Magic,” “Big Mouth,” “Chaebol’s Youngest Son,” “Carter,” “Queen of the Scene,” and “Black Knight.”

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