After such a long wait, Jirisan — one of the most highly-anticipated 2021 K-dramas — is finally premiering on iQiyi this Saturday! The title has already garnered such a huge following when it was first announced, especially since it will be featuring the partnership of Lee Eung Bok (Goblin, Mr. Sunshine) and Kim Eun Hee (Kingdom, Signal). It will also be featuring an all-star cast which includes Gianna Jun, Ju Ji Hoon, Oh Jung Se, Jo Han Chul, Sung Dong Il, and more.
Jirisan follows a team of national park rangers who are responsible for the search and rescue of people who get lost in the vast Mount Jiri. At the center of the story are experienced ranger Seo Yi Kang and rookie ranger Kang Hyun Jo who unravel the secrets of the peak.
Watch the trailer here:
Before the K-drama premieres on iQiyi this weekend, we got a chance to join the cast, writer Kim Eun Hee, and Director of Photography Choi Sang Mook in a virtual press conference where they discussed the story, their chemistry, and the production of the drama.
Here’s what you should know about Jirisan, according to the cast, writer, and DOP themselves:
The inspiration behind the concept of Jirisan
Throughout the years, writer Kim Eun Hee has been known for being the writer behind K-dramas with unique storylines — from the time-travel crime K-drama Signal to the historical zombie thriller Kingdom and Kingdom: Ashin of the North.
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Asked about why she decided to write about Mt. Jiri and the national park rangers this time around, Kim Eun Hee said that she’s always “had a very abstract idea and abstract admiration” for the mountain even before writing about it. Known to be a mountain that people climb to pray for their wishes, she thought about how Jirisan might be holding so many secrets, with peoples’ prayers and wishes buried in it.
It was as she was researching about the mountain that she learned about the park rangers who rescue those who get caught in accidents in Jirisan. “In the past, I have written about the cyber policemen, and one common thread among these genres was that the investigation started after the people were dead. [As for the] Rangers, their mission is to be there to save people.
Reuniting with Kim Eun Hee after Kingdom and Kingdom: Ashin of the North
In case you’ve forgotten, Ju Ji Hoon and Gianna Jun, who play Yi Kang and Hyun Jo, previously worked with writer Kim before for Kingdom and its side episode Kingdom: Ashin of the North. As to what it’s like to be working with her again, Ju Ji Hoon said that he feels like Kim Eun Hee is already like an auntie to him after years of working together.
Meanwhile, Gianna Jun is all praise for Kim Eun Hee’s script, especially since it gives her “a lot of reference points” as an actress. “What sets her script apart from others is that a lot of scenes that I took for granted actually later gave me a lot of hints for the story plots that came out later,” she explained. “Gradually, as we filmed, I could actually see the power of details that she put in the script”
The same goes for Ji Hoon, who said that writer Kim makes challenging scenes sound and seem so easy for viewers to take in. “Before you jump into the filming process, as an actor, you don’t really realize how difficult [the scenes are] because she makes it sound very easy,” he said.
How the cast members were chosen
Asked about the casting process for JIrisan, writer Kim said that she thought that all the actors were the best fit for the characters she envisioned as she was writing the script, and so she was grateful that they said yes to the project. Elaborating further, she explained why they chose Gianna Jun, Ju Ji Hoon, Oh Jung Se, and Jo Han Chul for their roles.
As for Gianna, who plays Seo Yi Kang, Kim Eun Hee said that she “blends very well with Jirisan” and “is like the mountain itself,” which is the reason why she is perfect for the drama. Ju Ji Hoon, on the other hand, is someone who surprised writer Kim. “He’s a very kind person and he has this naivety which is very appealing,” she said. “Kang Hyun Jo is someone who’s always bright. So I thought that the character brought out a new and different side of him.”
Talking about Oh Jung Se, she said that he did an excellent job of depicting the different layers of his character Jung Goo Young, especially since he’s the one “who had to show the extreme ends of his emotions.” Lastly, there’s Jo Han Chul, playing Park Il Hae, who writer Kim said is “a very natural ranger” and resembles the actual rangers who were all very courageous and adventurous.
The chemistry among the cast members
Aside from seeing the main characters try to unveil the secrets of the mysterious mountain, another thing that fans can expect from Jirisan is the chemistry among all the cast members. Gianna Jun describes his relationship with Ju Ji Hoon as “Jjang,” which translates to “great” or “amazing.” As for Ju Ji Hoon, the actor said that their partnership was a good one and that he’s been a fan of the actress since he was younger. “Her charm left me speechless and has always been a role model for me,” he stated. “She was always trying to feed me, so I am very thankful to her.”
Fans can also look forward to the banter and the bickering between the other Haidong Branch Rangers, played by Oh Jung Se and Jo Han Chul. In a previous statement in House on Wheels, co-star Sung Dong Il even mentioned that Oh Jung Se can make Gianna laugh easily. Oh Jung Se then mentions a time when they were shooting a scene and Gianna had to hit his head. “There was [one scene where] Gianna Jun had to hit my head, but she burst into laughter before she could do it. After laughing though, she still did hit my head.”
To this, Gianna had to explain herself: “Actually, he just looks funny. There are many scenes that we had to shoot together and they were all serious ones, but he just made us laugh.”
The challenges of shooting in the mountains
Since the drama is set in the mountain, there’s no doubt that the crew faced the challenge of capturing not only the emotions of the characters but also the vastness of Jirisan. As to what he thought of when doing this, Director of Photography Choi Sang Mook said that the challenge lies in capturing “fully the four seasons in Jirisan” as well as balancing the beauty and fear element of the mountain. “I wanted to show how the characters were interacting with the mountain especially during the rescue missions,” he said.
To do this, Choi Sang Mook said that they had to use a variety of equipment and techniques. “It’s a vast mountain. It was difficult to capture the vastness so we had to use helicopters as well as other equipment to [do it].” As to working with the cast, he said, “I wanted to make sure that the actors had the freedom to move about as they wanted. That’s our job. I wanted to capture the dynamic movements of the actors, that’s why we used a lot of handheld cameras.”
Comparing Gianna Jun’s character in Jirisan and My Sassy Girl
During the press conference, it was mentioned that Gianna Jun’s character Yi Kang seems like a more “mature” version of her character in My Sassy Girl. To this, Gianna said that while she personally feels that the two characters are different, they also share quite a similarity. “The two characters are very charming,” she said. “I personally feel that the two characters are quite different. [But] they’re very autonomous and independent, so I think those are the similarities that writer Kim probably saw.”
Meanwhile, Kim Eun Hee said that for Jirisan, she also wanted Gianna to capture the “shocking charm” that people first saw in My Sassy Girl. “She was very courageous and had a strong sense of justice, and I feel like Gianna is now a grown-up version of the character in My Sassy Girl. I tried to capture that element in [Jirisan].”
How their views on the mountain changed after Jirisan
Out of the four stars present during the press conference, it was only Jo Han Chul who was able to climb Jirisan before the drama. The actor, who admits that he likes to do mountain climbing from time to time, also said that he went to the mountain when he tried to quit smoking and that he’s already been to the mountain twice! “I have reached the peak Cheonhwangbong. The first time was in my 20s and the second time was in my 40s,” he said. “Kim Eun Hee mentioned that [the mountain] has a soul. I agree with that.”
Meanwhile, Ju Ji Hoon said that he’s been fond of climbing mountains ever since he was a kid, and that he made it his plan to complete climbing Jirisan in the future. As to what it’s like to shoot on the mountain, he said that it was very “physically challenging and taxing” especially since he had to maintain the balance of his lower body the whole time. “After long hours, I easily became very exhausted because I had to maintain my balance all the time. That’s one thing that is different from shooting on other sets. Now I have totally recovered,” he added.
Unlike Ji Hoon, Gianna, on the other hand, said that she enjoyed filming in the mountain and said that “nothing was particularly challenging” for her and that it was thanks to Jirisan that she realized she enjoyed climbing mountains for leisure. “[Shooting and climbing the mountain] felt very natural for me because I was in my gear. It was a total pleasure for me to be shooting on Jirisan,” she added.
And then there’s Oh Jung Se who found a new liking on the mountains despite being a sea person. “I believe that I have now learned how great the mountain can be from shooting the drama. I think it has a mysterious appeal. Nature doesn’t do anything for you but you feel reassured,” he explained. “You feel comforted when you’re in the mountains.”
JIrisan starts streaming on iQiyi this October 23. New episodes drop every Saturday and Sunday.