If you’re looking for drama crack, look no further because it’s arrived on the precious and precocious shoulders of Joseon Gunman. I loved episode 1 already but the switch flipped fast on this one as episode 2 sends it into rabid addiction territory. As I’m recapping I have to pause to giggle, to stifle gasps, to grin from cheek-to-cheek, and to scowl when the baddies show up to hurt my babies. This drama elicits unbridled emotional feedback from me as a viewer, signaling that the heart is engaged along with the mind appreciating that the plot makes so much sense. The drama perfectly balances the overarching story of a conservative government faction going to murderous lengths to maintain their grip on power alongside the detailed and delightful growing romance between two youngsters who are tangentially involved in situations they barely know much about. Rakish Park Yoon Kang is more than meets the eye, seemingly without a care about serious matters yet capable enough when danger comes calling. It’s wonderful to see a leading man so charming without coming across as overly prepackaged to sell his endearing qualities. The drama doesn’t tell us Yoon Kang is all that, it lets his interactions with Soo In and others around him to flesh out his lightweight personality hiding an awareness of the important things in life.
He’s a fantastic male lead and Lee Jun Ki hit the jackpot here, and conversely the production hit the jackpot with him because his performance of Yoon Kang is nothing short of perfect. The counterpoint to Yoon Kang is the idealistic and hot-tempered Soo In, making their every interaction crackle with sweetness and frustrating flirtation wrapped into one. It’s the best part of the male-female dance of attraction integrated organically with the main story. They are falling for each other and getting deeper involved with the gunman assassinations in parallel paths without any wasted filler. There is energy to Joseon Gunman that’s so sorely lacking in so many dramas lately, this palpable feeling of a fascinating small world being created before our eyes. The good guys, the bad guys, the lovers, the stakes, all of it is carefully coalescing through a series of interesting interactions and events. Yoon Kang is already realizing the power of the gun and the viciousness of those behind it, while Soo In is getting her first taste of the dangerous real world outside of the idealistic teachings promoting a modernized Joseon. I’m thrilled with their every moment spent together facing this increasingly volatile situation, and the massive insane amounts of skinship already doesn’t hurt.
Episode 2 recap:
Yoon Kang confronts a male-dressed Soo In and demands that she go to the police bureau with him to prove she’s not aligned with the gunman. Soo In points her derringer to warn him off but her warning that his sword is no match for a gun gets Yoon Kang’s goat up and he pulls his sword and attacks. Soo In screams and pulls the trigger. Elsewhere the gunman has tracked down Scholar Oh Kyung and prepares to shoot him. Commander Park arrives just in time and pulls Oh Kyung to safety before taking off after the escaping gunman. Commander Park’s fast moves allows him to dodge the bullets coming his way.
Luckily Soo In’s bullet doesn’t strike Yoon Kang but does breaks his sword in half. Yoon Kang is stunned while Soo In tearfully screams that she told him not to get close and he could have died. Yoon Kang asks again if she’s not involved in the gunman killing scholars? Soo In yells back in frustration that she’s not associated with the gunman and if she was then he would be died by now. If she was then she wouldn’t have hesitated.
Yoon Kang still asks why she has a gun then and his persistence frustrates Soo In to no end and she keeps crying. Yoon Kang is putty in the hands of such tears and lets her go but mutters that she sure cries like a girl. Ahahaha, he’s so hapless around her. Soo In wipes her tears and walks off but pauses when Yoon Kang apologizes. She suggests he stop being so persistent and advises him not engage the real gunman with merely a sword. He should know by now that a sword is no match for a gun.
Yoon Kang walks over and picks up his broken sword tip and stares at it.
Commander Park flies over the rooftops and chases after the gunman riding away on horseback. He makes a flying leap off the roof as his sword slashes down on the gunman and apprehends him. Soo In arrives at her rendezvous point with Scholar Oh Kyung and finds no one around. She spots an empty bullet shell casing on the ground and is naturally worried.
Officer Han is chastising Yoon Kang for his near brush with death in using a sword against a gun. Officer Han wonders if the person Yoon Kang engaged really isn’t involved with the gunman assassinations? Yoon Kang mutters that the person isn’t involved, he can tell after interacting that the person doesn’t have the attitude and personality for it. He explains it like he can see the “inside” and Officer Han teasingly asks about the person being a girl if maybe her clothes got exposed which is why Yoon Kang is letting her off the hook. Yoon Kang shoots him an annoyed glare and Officer Han admits that was a joke to cheer him up, leaving him with yet another reminder that he used a sword to go up against a gun.
Yoon Kang goes back to the Jung residence and suddenly makes the connection that he saw the male-dressed Soo In walking away from the residence side door this morning. He asks Soo In’s maid if there is a young male scholar living here and the maid makes excuses that there is no such person. Yoon Kang asks to speak with the agasshi and has the maid go summon Soo In.
The maid and Soo In pace her room worried about Yoon Kang figuring out she is the male-dressed scholar. The maid laments why other young ladies are prim and proper and hers goes running around dressed like a man and creating trouble. She reminds Soo In to deny deny deny until the end otherwise the family will be disgraced. The maid brings Soo In out to Yoon Kang and shoots her a reminder look to deny to the death.
Soo In wonders why he summoned her and Yoon Kang takes off his hat and asks her to put it on for a moment. He forcibly puts his hat on Soo In’s head and she tosses it on the ground and demands to know why he’s so rude. Yoon Kang brushes the dirt off his hat and walks all around Soo In while asking if she thinks he’s really such an idiot? Even if he’s an idiot there would be no way that he wouldn’t recognize her since they are now spending all their time living under the same roof. He gets really close to her face and points out that while one wears a hat and the other wears a headband, it’s the exact same face from eyes to nose to mouth.
Soo In keeps denying but hearing her voice is also another added confirmation for Yoon Kang that it’s the same person. Soo In is about to leave when Yoon Kang brings up how he went to the police bureau and they asked about the person with the gun. He told them to let to go which is why the investigation hasn’t arrived at their front door yet. Soo In calls his bluff and doesn’t care if the person with the derringer is investigated. Yoon Kang points out the investigation will be thorough and even a lady’s room will be searched top to bottom. What if a dangerous object is discovered?
Soo In tells him to mind his own business and she doesn’t want to see his face anymore. She huffs off to her room and Yoon Kang watches her leave with a satisfied smirk.
Soo In adorably wraps the derringer in a cloth and tries to bury it in the backyard. She goes from under the bushes to under some tiles which is when Yoon Kang walks up and asks if it’s safe hiding it there. Soo In freaks out and drops a tile which leaves Yoon Kang wondering if he’s really that awful looking that his face would startle her so? He saunters off ready to take her advice and go to the police bureau and suggests she hide it better.
Soo In finally owns up to it and asks him not to go. Yoon Kang gives a small pouty shake of his head and says he can’t do what she asks, he has to go. Soo In starts begging and Yoon Kang agrees that he’ll keep quiet about it if she really wants him to that badly. He leaves her with a perky wave goodbye while she’s stewing at having to ask him for such a favor.
Commander Park is interrogating the gunman who vows to not say a word. Commander Park points out that the person the gunman is working for uses a whip to train a horse and is so cruel. Is it worth shielding such a person? If he tells the truth, Commander Park will keep him safe and allow him to live with his family somewhere. He has him taken away to the holding cell to think over his offer.
The conservative Sugu Faction is arguing over how Commander Park ought to have been taken out rather than letting him ruin their plans time and again now. Minister Park stops the in-fighting and assures him that the captured gunman will be taken care of and he’s assigned the matter already.
Commander Park gets an update from Officer Moon that the gunman appears to be wavering on revealing who sent him. A subordinate interrupts to report that the captured gunman is dying. Commander Park rushes to the holding cell and hears the dying gunman confess that he’s being silenced by the real gunman. Not the one who killed Scholar Heo Am but someone above both of them and much more dangerous in gunmanship. The gunman dies before he can tell Commander Park the name.
Merchant Choi meets with his inside man in the police bureau. The spy officer explains that the gunman was poisoned using an ice cube frozen with the poison so after it melted there would be no trace. Commander Park rushes to the kitchen and finds the cooking lady has also been murdered so the lead is dead.
Merchant Choi reports to Minister Kim that he will personally do the next assassination attempt on Scholar Oh Kyung. Minister Kim wants Oh Kyung removed as soon as possible but even more important is finding the manuscript left by Heo Am. Merchant Choi wonders what is so important about the manuscript? He hears that it contains Heo Am’s ideas and that is even more dangerous. It’s like the streets are crawling with Catholics now and it’s all because of a book that traveled to Joseon from the West.
Yoon Kang and Officer Han stand before a wanted board discussing how there was a search for the gunman who has been murdering scholars. Officer Han assures Yoon Kang that his dad captured this gunman and is fine so not to worry. He knows Yoon Kang is reluctant to ask but worries about his dad’s safety. Officer Han heads off to keep investigating the gunman case because there is now an award out. He wants to start by finding out how the gunman acquired the guns. Yoon Kang suggests he not work so hard but Officer Han takes his constable job seriously and threatens to not be friends with Yoon Kang anymore if he says stuff like that. Yoon Kang watches him leave and mutters about seeing how long he can keep at it.
Officer Han goes to surveillance Merchant Choi’s residence and encounters Hye Won coming home. She has her guards surround him on horses to demand what he is doing outside a private residence late at night. Officer Han claims he was out for a walk and reveals he works for the Left Police bureau. Hye Won points out that this area under the purview of the Right Police Bureau so why is he here? Officer Han pulls his sword and is ready to fight his way out but warns that any one with family and kids get out of his way lest they are hurt. Hye Won calls off her guards and leaves with a warning that their merchant group doesn’t traffic in guns or any dangerous weapons so stop investigating anytime something happens.
Yoon Kang comes back to the Jung residence and is brought over to see Soo In. He snarks an apology about showing his unwanted face before her again. Soo In fake apologizes that his face is not unwanted around here. Yoon Kang totally digs for a compliment until Soo In is gushing about his handsome looks and how all the gently bred young ladies steal glances at him. That just gives Yoon Kang the opening to ask if that includes Soo In as well? LOL I can’t even with these two. Soo In admits there a little of that and Yoon Kang focuses on the “a little” so Soo In has to quickly say “no, I mean a lot.”
Yoon Kang wonders if a lot means to the point of feeling her heart uneasy around him? Soo In grimaces and Yoon Kang lets it go and turns around to laugh that he won’t ask for much right now. He cackles at having a girl say she has nice feelings towards him and basks in the admiration, all the whole Soo In is restraining herself from punching him out.
Soo In returns to being sweet and solicitous as Yoon Kang turns around to ask if he really intends to keep her secret. Yoon Kang tells her to not worry, he won’t tell anyone because he’s not interested in spreading gossip plus he also lives here under her family’s grace. Yoon Kang does have one request which is to find out why Soo In cross-dressed and why she has a gun? Soo In takes a deep breath and is about to confess the whole truth when Yoon Kang puts his hand up and asks to hear it tomorrow since it’s late. He wants Soo In to bring him tea in the morning and tell him the story. Double LOL, what a smooth player this Park Yoon Kang is.
Soo In glares as Yoon Kang saunters away and then goes back to her room to rage at how he dares to use her one weakness and toy with her. Her maid sighs that this isn’t just your garden variety weakness, he’s got Soo In in such a bind that she’ll have to jump when he says jump and drop when he says drop. Soo In screams at her maid to stop annoying her while the maid grumbles that she told Soo In to hide the gun inside the room. Yoon Kang lays in bed and chuckles that Soo In shouldn’t be so annoyed. This is how romance starts and feelings build. He’s so adorable I have no words.
Soo In arrives at Yoon Kang’s residence bright and early in the morning with a tea tray. She sets it down and curtly tells Yoon Kang to enjoy. He stops her to ask the type of tea and claims he can’t drink the type she brewed. He makes her go brew another pot and when Soo In arrives with another pot she sees Yoon Kang leaving the residence.
Yoon Kang waves her off to take the tea back and bring it tomorrow for him to drink. Soo In is about to lose her temper but stops herself and spits out a teeth clenched yes. Yoon Kang smiles at what a great personality she has and looks forward to seeing her tomorrow.
A little boy approaches Yoon Kang to deliver a letter to the agasshi dressed a scholar who lives in this residence. Yoon Kang hilariously asks if he looks like a girl? He takes the letter and Soo In runs up to read a note from Scholar Oh Kyung explaining that he’s leaving Joseon tonight and for Soo In to bring Heo Am’s manuscript to meet him at the pier. Yoon Kang hears that Scholar Heo Am lived at the residence for three years and after he died left a manuscript with Soo In to pass on to Oh Kyung. Soo In insists on going today but Yoon Kang points out that on foot she won’t make it in time.
Yoon Kang sighs and offers to go with her together. Soo In doesn’t think its appropriate to travel alone with Yoon Kang plus it’s dangerous since the gunman will be after Oh Kyung. Yoon Kang knows that which is why he can’t let Soo In go alone. She still hesitates and he wonders if she’s giving up already? Yoon Kang tells Soo In not to over think it, he’s doing this to repay the kindness to his family.
Yoon Kang borrows a horse from Officer Han who teases whether Yoon Kang is taking one of the gisaengs out to the countryside. Yoon Kang tells him to zip it and points out he’s traveling with a male-dressed Soo In. He whispers to Officer Han that Scholar Oh Kyung will be at the pier today leaving Joseon temporarily to avoid assassination. He wants Officer Han to go to the pier today and try to capture the gunman and earn the reward. He leaves Officer Han giddy at the prospect of breaking a big case.
Yoon Kang brings the horse over to Soo In and tells her to get on. She struggles and he watches for a few moments before pushing her on. He then gets on behind her and then wraps his arms around her to grab the reins. Soo In is freaking out while Yoon Kang explains that he has to ride the horse this way so she needs to hold on tight.
Commander Park hears from Officer Moon that they can get some gunman to assist them though the guns can’t fire in succession like arrows can. But it’s still better than nothing. Officer Han reports to Commander Park that Scholar Oh Kyung will be at the pier leaving Joseon today. The group head out to lay in wait for the gunman. We see the spy officer eavesdropping outside the room and hears the news.
Merchant Choi grabs his rifle and changes into his gunman attire to head out and gun down a scholar.
Yoon Kang stops the horse in a pretty field to take a short rest. He offers his hand to help Soo In down but she curtly declines. Yoon Kang offers his hand again when he sees her struggling and then fairly carries her off and deposits her on the ground.
Yoon Kang reads the manuscript and notes that it advocates equality among all citizens. Soo In sees nothing wrong with that but Yoon Kang points out such ideas could be treasonous. Soo In snatches the manuscript back and declares Yoon Kang is not worthy of reading it. He asks why the manuscript was entrusted to Soo In and she retorts that her teacher clearly put great faith in her. Yoon Kang hilariously wonders why he didn’t entrust it to someone who can ride a horse? I’m dying here people. Soo In glares at him and he immediately puts his hand up and says he’s just joking.
Soo In has decided enough of Yoon Kang’s snark and plans to go the rest of the way alone. She’s figured out how to ride the horse after being on it with him. Soo In gets on and Yoon Kang tells her that she couldn’t possibly have figured out how to ride a horse that quickly. Of course he’s right and Soo In falls off the horse before even taking one hoof forward but luckily Yoon Kang is there to catch her in his arms. He adorably smiles at her and tells her not to worry, he’ll slowly teach her how to ride a horse after they get back. Awwww.
Commander Park and his guards have set up surveillance at the pier with many officers undercover. He hears that Scholar Oh Kyung hasn’t been spotted yet but the final ship of the day is waiting to depart. Yoon Kang waits with Soo In and he mutters that the man stood Soo In up and isn’t reliable. Soo In sees Scholar Oh Kyung and rushes to the pier to rendezvous with him. Soo In hands over the manuscript and Scholar Oh Kyung thanks her and promises to be back soon.
Yoon Kang spots his dad hiding behind a building and quickly darts away before he’s spotted by daddy dearest. Merchant Choi shakes off his disguise as a fisherman and pulls out his rifle and fires a shot that kills Oh Kyung. Yoon Kang spots him first but it’s too late to stop him. Commander Choi summons his undercover officers and all the bows and arrows come out as it rains down over Merchant Choi.
Soo In tries to revive Oh Kyung but he’s gone. Yoon Kang drags her off to safety and she grabs the manuscript and runs off with him. Commander Park has his own gunmen brigade firing at Merchant Choi but the man has his rifle trained on Soo In and Yoon Kang. He kills their horse with one gunshot which leaves the two to run away on foot. Merchant Choi dives into the water and disappears from sight leaving Commander Park to call off his men.
Yoon Kang pulls Soo In behind him and informs her that the gunman is now after them because he intentionally killed their horse so they can’t run. He explains that she’s got the manuscript which is clearly what the gunman is now after. Yoon Kang spots the gunman climbing out of the water and takes off with Soo In.
Yoon Kang and Soo In walk through the forest at night but can’t go far with their clothes getting caught. They take off their outer robes and Yoon Kang asks Soo In where her gun is? Soo In didn’t bring it because it’s so dangerous and almost killed Yoon Kang last time. She asks why he didn’t bring a sword and he counters that she shot it in half last time. Soo In grumbles about how he can only have one sword and Yoon Kang retorts that he’s not a sword salesman so how would he have swords handy.
Yoon Kang and Soo In keep running with Merchant Choi remaining tight on their tail and quite adept at tracking. Soo In is so exhausted after all that running she stops to take a break but Yoon Kang can see the gunman on their tracks and urges Soo In to keep going. He offers to piggyback her but she catches her breath and clambers up to keep on running. Merchant Choi realizes that Commander Park and his men are also on his track.
Yoon Kang and Soo In arrive at an abandoned home and Soo In takes out her compass and shows Yoon Kang how to determine their location using it. Yoon Kang is impressed with Soo In’s smarts and pluck but she apologizes for getting him into trouble. Yoon Kang doesn’t blame her for being the reason they can’t seek help from officials because then they would question her identity and find out who she really is. Soo In knows she’s in a world of trouble if the parents found out.
Yoon Kang suggests spending the night here and returning to the capital tomorrow. The gunman is clearly still in the woods looking for them. Soo In is alarmed at the prospect of spending the night alone with Yoon Kang but realizes there is no choice. Officer Moon reports to Commander Park that the search isn’t going anywhere tonight because there are too many divergent paths. Commander Park calls for camp to be made and we see Merchant Choi hiding nearby and hearing this.
Yoon Kang has fallen asleep while Soo In is still awake so she spots the gunman walking up to the abandoned home. She wakes Yoon Kang up and claps a hand over his mouth to keep him from making a sound. The two of them hide under the floorboards while Merchant Choi walks through the home and can’t find them. Soo In is terrified and Yoon Jang notices it and takes her hand while putting his other arm around her shoulder to reassure her.
A rat suddenly runs by and Yoon Kang puts his hand over Soo In’s mouth to stop her from screaming. She makes a tiny whimper that the gunman hears. He shoots into the floorboards and out runs many rats. Merchant Choi leaves satisfied no one is hiding there.
The Jung residence is in a tizzy because Soo In is missing and still not home this late. Minister Jung heads out to search and asks little Yeon Ha to call her brother out to help. Yeon Ha reveals her brother is still not home as well but she chalks it up to his usual carousing with friends.
Yoon Kang and Soo In switch their hiding place back to the forest and Yoon Kang explains they can’t hide the abandoned home since its filled with rats and Soo In might scream again. She apologizes for being frazzled but she’s never seen someone die in front of her before. Yoon Kang is frustrated that her teacher put her in such danger to do this task but Soo In doesn’t want Yoon Kang to speak thusly of someone she so respects. Soo In starts to sob and Yoon Kang slowly puts his arm around her shoulder to comfort her but pulls back at the last moment. He sits there listening to Soo In cry.
Soo In wakes up in the morning nestled in Yoon Kang’s arms. She freaks out and then pretends to be asleep when he starts to stir. Yoon Kang is also pretty taken aback at their sleeping arrangement and slowly pulls his hand out from under her head. Yoon Kang then makes a point to wake up Soo In after they are untangled.
They head to the river to wash up and make their way home. Yoon Kang stares extra long at Soo In washing up and says she’s very pretty. She thinks he’s teasing her since she’s dressed like a man. Yoon Kang isn’t teasing, he’s being really serious with the compliment.
Yoon Kang spots the gunman washing up downriver and that ends their flirting. He gestures for Soo In to run but the gunman spots them both so they have to make a getaway together. Yoon Kang and Soo In run and run until they are cornered at the edge of the cliff.
The gunman aims his rifle at them and demands the manuscript. Yoon Kang urges Soo In to hand it over since this man will not hesitate to kill them. Soo In hands it over to Yoon Kang who tosses it at the gunman. He orders the gunman to take it and leave, the manuscript has nothing to do with them as they were just passing it on.
The gunman picks up the manuscript and then aims his rife back at them and prepares to pull the trigger. Yoon Kang stands in front of Soo In to shield her from certain death.
Thoughts of Mine:
I’m scratching my head to think of another drama that exploded the potential flirty romance between the OTP has fast and fluidly as Joseon Gunman. I find myself making nnnnggg muted gleeful noises every time Yoon Kang and Soo In have a scene together because it’s bound to be delightful. At times it’s rom-com dialogue but in sageuk form, flirting with plenty of push and pull. I like both leads equally and appreciate their strong characters. Neither are apologetic about their point of view or personality, but also not forcefully trying to impose on the other. At times they come across as so young, Yoon Kang with this carefree facade and Soo In with her plucky idealism. Clearly that will all change as danger comes to their front door and dreams and hopes get shattered the hard way. But for now they get to be adorable together and bring a smile to my face with their banter. Yoon Kang clearly likes Soo In but it’s not all that meaningful to him yet. He flirts with all the pretty girls and she’s no different other than her immediately dislike of him made her rather odd. Once he discovered her secret, it was like open season in toying with her mind and doing so in harmless ways like a boy pulling a girl’s pigtails. I love how they even find the time in the middle of running for their lives to chew each other out for not bringing a gun and sword respectively. But the arguing and the flirting always feels organic and stops when moments of sincerity arise that show us Yoon Kang can be serious and Soo In does understand that she’s in over her head and should be so headstrong. These two are like delicious bon bons with just the right amount of taste and sweetness and I can’t stop popping scenes of them together into my brain and grinning madly at the cute.
All that great OTP development screentime does cut into other character developments that I do want to see more of, namely Commander Park and his daddy interactions with son Yoon Kang. Since the transformation of Yoon Kang into a gunman is predicated on avenging his father, I need more daddy-son moments to cement their affection for each other and also make Commander Park a more fleshed out character. Right now only Yoon Kang and Soo In feel solidly developed while everyone else is playing a pivotal role but don’t engage my feelings for their plight. Second female lead Hye Won and her gunman daddy Merchant Choi are gamely sinister and dangerous, their motivations still shadowed but their game plan aligned with helping the Sugu faction keep Joseon closed off. I find some of the side characters strangely memorable like Soo In’s put upon maid with the sharp tongue and Yoon Kang’s buddy Officer Han who wants to crack the gunman case. The moments of amusement slide deftly into scenes that might be forboding, like Hye Won cornering Officer Han, but then his bravado makes me crack up. It’s clear the baddies are winning round one after taking out Scholar Oh Kyung and completing the assassination of all the forward thinking intellectuals. That’s winning a battle but the war is still looming as more and more guns, and other Western concepts, flow into Joseon through unofficial channels. Will all the angst ahead be merely delaying the inevitable? I’m excited to see how the drama showcases this era of struggle in Joseon history through the lens of one young man’s sword-to-gun transformation.
Click here to watch Joseon Gunman.