There are too many reasons why I love Joseon Gunman so much but the most important reason is the narrative quality. This drama has very good storytelling which is increasingly rare. It creates a vibrant universe and fills it with interesting characters, letting the action deftly toggle moods and moments with confidence. There are tears when its appropriate with plenty of build up, but mostly I feel like I’m watching characters live their lives during a time of great change around them. The highlight is seeing all four leads have really distinctive personalities and thought processes that are well laid out so I understand what makes them tick. It’s not necessary to like them, though I adore all four, what’s key is how nicely fleshed out they all are. The big cataclysmic event happened in the last episode that pushed everyone forward to a three year time jump. Yoon Kang’s familial loss and brush with death sears him as deeply as such tragedy ought to, and he returns to Joseon as Japanese businessman Hanjo ready to get his revenge. The Joseon he comes back to is already very different as the outside world trickles in more and more. Commander Park died not for a cause, he died doing his duty to his King, and similarly Yoon Kang isn’t back as someone with some greater purpose in life.
He’s back for personal vengeance, a feeling I completely understand, but it still leaves Yoon Kang with so much room for growth. That’s the delicate writing in this drama, the character building is incremental and not hinged simply on solving one problem or acknowledging one feeling. Soo In has taken a major step back in how she’s dealt with the trauma of watching Yoon Kang die and seeing Yeon Ha carted off to be a slave. Even though it didn’t happen to her, she was still shaken out of her protected cocoon with her first taste of the cruel real world. One would think seeing Scholars Heo Am and Oh Kyung get assassinated would be enough for her to shed her idealism, but it made sense that losing the first love of her life would be the personal trigger in tainting her outlook. Nothing hurts as much as losing that sweet boy who loves you. While Yoon Kang’s dramatic return sets the stage for the second stage of this story, all the non-dead players are still around including the evil Sugu faction still plotting away. The good news is the King suddenly got a backbone and managed to find still trusty Officer Moon to take over Commander Park’s mantle with an eye towards restart the enlightenment mandate again.
Episode 5 recap:
A sword fight breaks out at the dock over rival worker groups and a gunshot from the direction of the sea breaks up the fight before anyone dies. The workers run off while everyone stares as a Western-dressed Yoon Kang fires off a few more warning shots before smirking and holstering his revolver. Ho Kyung pulls Soo In away to safety before she can get a good look at the shooter but Merchant Choi’s intent stare leads his daughter Hye Won to wonder if her dad recognizes the person?
Yoon Kang’s little boat docks and he gets off followed by two other Western-dressed men. Yoon Kang says dismissively in Japanese “Joseon is still using swords, eh?” He saunters past Merchant Choi and Hye Jon but Merchant Choi asks him to wait.
Merchant Choi introduces himself to the group and Sang Choo starts to translate into Japanese until Yoon Kang cuts him off and declares that he can speak Joseon language. Sang Choo was translating for the other man Kanemaru but Yoon Kang yells that he’s the one in charge with decision making authority! Yoon Kang introduces himself as Hasegawa Hanjo. Merchant Choi compliments his ability to speak Joseon and hears that Hanjo grew up in Osaka around smuggled over Joseon folks. Merchant Choi compliments his gunmanship but Hanjo cuts to the chase and asks what this talk is about? Merchant Choi heard Hanjo is here on behalf of Mr. Yamamoto to find new merchant partners. He wants to invite the group to his residence to discuss more but Hanjo asks how Merchant Choi knew about their trip?
Merchant Choi explains that he heard from Haneda at the embassy which leads Yoon Kang to call that man a bribe accepting piece of trash. He stands up and says in Japanese that a merchant willing to bribe will surely have no decent goods. Sang Choo translates the insult and Yoon Kang rudely walks off with the other two guys following.
Soo In’s maid is freaking out as she follows her lady and Ho Kyung to meet with an unsavory fellow to make an under the table purchase. The fellow has brought back a Western camera set that Soo In is excited to purchase. She stares in awe while Ho Kyung wonders what the other boxes nearby are and hears it’s explosives. Soo In and Ho Kyung are just about to leave when place is raided by constables. Ho Kyung manages to overpower a few constables and escapes with Soo In and her maid.
Constables stop Yoon Kang’s group to check their papers and confirm that Yoon Kang has Japanese nationality and lets him go. An escaping Soo In bumps into Yoon Kang and drops her precious new camera. Yoon Kang is about to get mad at the bumbling girl when he sees that she’s Soo In. She manages only a brief look at his face before she’s pulled out of sight by Ho Kyung and Yoon Kang quickly averts his face. Yoon Kang looks down at Soo In’s dropped box.
Yoon Kang is at the dock waiting for another ship to Mapo when Merchant Choi arrives to offer his group some horses for their trip to the capital. Yoon Kang admires the nice piece of horseflesh and Merchant Choi offers the horses to them while he’ll take the ship back to the capital. Yoon Kang accepts the horses and Merchant Choi presses further for them to stay at his place. Yoon Kang asks his group what they think and purposely translates what Kanemaru said incorrectly to accept Merchant Choi’s offer as long as he has good wine and women for company.
Ho Kyung tries to console Soo In thinking that she’s upset about the lost camera but Soo In reveals she’s preoccupied because she thought she saw Yoon Kang doronim at the port. Both Ho Kyung and her maid are worried she’s seeing things or will go back to being depressed again but Soo In insists she needs to just make sure by seeing the person she bumped into. That person may also have her camera.
Merchant Choi wines and dines Yoon Kang’s group and both Yoon Kang and Sang Choo are totally acting like lascivious sleazeballs right in front of Hye Won. When Yoon Kang moves to actually undress the gisaeng in his lap, Hye Won finally has enough and orders all the gisaengs to leave. Merchant Choi asks his daughter to let this go but Yoon Kang encourages Hye Won to speak her mind.
Hye Won is willing to do business but only with humans and not animals. If Yoon Kang is going to keep behaving like a crass animal then they can leave. Yoon Kang wonders if Joseon gisaengs are so high and mighty he can’t touch them? Hye Won suggests introducing him to a low class brothel if that’s more his taste. Yoon Kang stands up and declares that he’ll take this as the end of any potential business between their two sides.
Merchant Choi isn’t angry at Hye Won but does remind her to develop a thicker skin and more patience if she wants to do business. He assures her this isn’t the end and he’ll find another way. He does wonder why that Hanjo looks familiar but brushes it off as nothing.
Sang Choo congratulates Yoon Kang on finally making it back to Joseon after three years. He’s worried though that Yoon Kang’s plan to join with the Kyung Gi merchant group is over before it began but Yoon Kang isn’t worried as he knows they will come look for him. They’ve set their mind on doing business with the Japanese which is why Yoon Kang purposely acted like an ass to upset them first.
Yoon Kang flashes back to three years ago after he was saved by Scholar Kim. He is determined to go back to Joseon but Scholar Kim says that’s a suicide mission. He’ll be hunted down and killed. To get his revenge he must be smarter and more patient, to plan until he’s ready to go back to Joseon. Yoon Kang strokes a shotgun on his table before cocking it and thinking to himself that it’s finally begins.
Yoon Kang and Sang Choo are dressed as lowly workers and split up with Sang Choo off to dig for information about why Commander Park was framed three years ago. Yoon Kang claims that he’s headed for the gibang.
Soo In is out shopping for new Western items and she’s got a discerning eye and pooh poohs as inferior in quality everything for sale in the merchant’s stall until he’s furious at her because the remaining customers are all listening to what she’s saying. After she leaves, the rest of the customers all rush out of the stall.
Yoon Kang goes back to the Jung residence and quickly hides behind a tree when he sees Soo In coming back with her maid. Soo In had a dream about her camera last night and intends to back to the port next month. Ho Kyung heads out to a meeting and offers to investigate the Japanese businessman for her. Soo In doesn’t want to burden him anymore but Ho Kyung smiles and says he’s doing it because he likes to.
After Ho Kyung leaves, Soo In’s maid adorably giggles about how manly and open Ho Kyung is about how he likes Soo In. She wonders if Soo In will marry Ho Kyung since they’ve exchanged tokens already. Yoon Kang takes all of this in sadly. Soo In chides her maid and claims nothing is going on. She tells her maid to quickly have lunch so they can go back in the afternoon to look for camera stores. Soo In’s maid wonders why Soo In is merely interested in buying new things now and is now longer as dreamy and idealistic as before?
Soo In claims that the world will never change, even with the port opened the status quo remains the same. Dock worker are dock workers and yangban are yangban. So many people died because they didn’t accept this truth, Scholar Oh Kyung and Heo Am, as well as Commander Park and Yoon Kang doronim who were impacted by the dream of such a revolution. And Yeon Ha’s whereabouts are still unknown. She wants to forget all that now.
Yoon Kang hears all that and sadly goes back to his room to stare at the broken compass Soo In gave him. He remembers that she promised to take care of Yeon Ha and told him to live well and find his way back to her.
Sang Choo comes back and reveals that a lowly Officer Son was the one who turned Commander Park in for treason. He received a reward and retired from the service, living in luxury in the city. Sang Choo hands Yoon Kang the layout of the guy’s residence and then reveals that he spotted another officer lurking around Son’s residence.
Officer Han sits and mulls over that there has to someone backing Son otherwise he wouldn’t be so well paid that he can have multiple concubines. He vows to find the truth and nab the guy for Yoon Kang’s sake. Officer Moon arrives and introduces himself as the new Chief Officer of this precinct. Officer Han hilariously gulps down his wine claiming it’s water and he’s not drinking on the job. Officer Moon reads the surveillance journal and looks alarmed.
Officer Han apologizes for not recognizing Officer Moon as the former subordinate of Commander Park. Officer Moon had been sent to the border after the incident and has now been summoned back by the King to secretly start investigating the gunmen case from three years ago. He wants Officer Han to continue investigating the gunmen for him. Officer Han claims he did it for the reward three years ago but Officer Moon points out that his good friend died back then because of this.
Officer Moon reports to King Gojong on his progress in the investigation and reveals that the rich yangban and the court ministers have formed a secret organization called the Sugu faction led by the Andong Kim clan leader. Officer Moon vows to find evidence of their plotting and he’ll start with the lower officer Son who implicated Commander Park.
Yoon Kang changes into his Joseon gunman secret identity attire and takes out his shotgun before infiltrating the Son residence that night. Officer Han happens to be lurking around outside.
Son rolls around his pallet looking for his concubine and finds her trussed up. Yoon Kang points a shotgun at his head and declares that he’s here on behalf Commander Park who he owes his life to. Yoon Kang vows to kill everyone who framed and killed Commander Park. Yoon Kang starts counting to three and wants to know who told Son to falsely frame Commander Park that day. Son claims he cannot say otherwise his entire family is dead. Son begs for mercy and insists that he was just doing what he was told. Yoon Kang tells Son to pass word to the person who ordered him to do it – Yoon Kang wants to meet that person on the 15th at the place where Commander Park died. If he doesn’t show up, Son is a dead man.
Yoon Kang purposely lures Officer Han away from the residence and when Officer Han confronts him with a sword, Yoon Kang subdues him and blinks a few times when staring him in the face. He then knocks Officer Han unconscious before carting his best friend off to safety. Yoon Kang smiles to see that Officer Han has developed a bit more skill these last few years. Yoon Kang takes Officer Han’s hand and squeezes it tightly in gratitude before leaving.
Queen Min asks why the King is reopening the investigation now when three years has passed and the evidence lost. The King still hasn’t forgotten Commander Park who died because of the King. Minister Jung walks past and the King thanks him for working late.
The Sugu faction discuss how Minister Jung appears just a lowly translator but he always shows up at any important ministerial meeting run by the King. He’s clearly the King’s secret weapon and is nurturing the next generation of scholars. Some suggest taking Minister Jung out now but Leader Kim is in no rush. He wants to figure out what the King is using Minister Jung for before taking action.
Minister Jung goes home to hear his wife complaining about Soo In going out all the time to buy things and staying out overnight. Dad wants to let Soo In be since it’s better than the way she stayed home after Yoon Kang died and was like a living dead thing. Soo In sits in her room and looks at an illustration of the camera she bought and lost on the street.
Officer Han reports to Officer Moon that the person who snuck into Son’s residence appeared to be after him and not Son. Officer Han refuses to do this mission anymore and Officer Moon gives him an incredulous stare and orders him to get out because he’s still working this mission no matter what. Ha! Son leaves the residence the next morning and Sang Choo is trailing him to see who he goes to meet.
Merchant Choi meets with Yoon Kang to discuss an offer and orders Yoon Kang to listen to it as Mr. Yamamoto’s envoy. If he refuses and Mr. Yamamoto had a loss, then Yoon Kang will suffer. Yoon Kang laughs at Merchant Choi threatening him and takes it as good business acumen and agrees to sit and talk with him again. Turns out Merchant Choi wants to mine for gold in Joseon and needs investment capital from Mr. Yamamoto. He has already found the source and bought the land. He will be bringing over explosive specialists from the Qing. Yoon Kang agrees to meet in a few days to review all the details before making a decision.
Son senses that he’s being followed and lures Sang Choo into an alley before attacking him and incapacitating him with a swift kick to the nuts. Poor Sang Choo staggers out of the alley but Son gets away.
Ho Kyung tells Soo In that the Japanese businessman she bumped into is staying at a nearby Inn and is here to discuss business opportunities. She runs off to go find him. Merchant Choi gives Hye Won the good news that Hanjo is willing to talk with him again but that’s followed by his subordinate delivering the bad news that their explosive expert isn’t coming to Joseon after all because the Westerners opening up gold mines in the Qing dynasty is paying double.
Yoon Kang is frustrated that Sang Choo lost Son but that’s to be expected since the guy was a spy before. Kanemaru comes in to inform Yoon Kang that there are people outside refusing to leave. Yoon Kang sends Sang Choo outside to find out what’s going on. Sang Choo hears from Soo In that they are here to find her lost camera. She begs to meet Hanjo and Yoon Kang hears Soo In’s voice so quickly yells out that it’s too loud so Sang Choo shoos them off.
Soo In notice Sang Choo’s distracted and makes a run for Yoon Kang’s room to ask for her camera. It’s adorable how Yoon Kang has to quickly turn around and act all mean to keep Soo In away. Afterwards Soo In senses something is weird for Hanjo to avoid her this intently and vows to get to the bottom of things.
Son meets secretly with Merchant Choi and delivers the bad news about a suspicious man who appears to know all about what happened three years ago. He claimed to owe his life to Commander Park and is here to avenge him. Son delivers the message from Yoon Kang to meet on the 15th. Son is even more scared because the man had a new model gun that didn’t even smell of gunpowder.
Merchant Choi’s other gunman subordinate is now training even more gunmen in the mountains. He receives a message that something happened to Son and a new gunman has appeared. He pays a visit to Son and claims to be bringing him to a safe place to hide until this whole thing blows over. After he takes Son to the countryside, even Son realizes that he might be going to his death. The gunman tells Son not to worry, he’s after the guy following them since they left Son’s residence. He rides off but Son can’t see anyone following them so decides to turn his horse and ride off in another direction.
Yoon Kang rides his horse up to Son and pulls out his shotgun. Son rides off which is when the other gunman rides back and faces off with Yoon Kang. The two gunman ride towards each other and raises their rifles and shoot. Yoon Kang falls off his horse but manages to shoot the gun out of the other guy’s hand so he rides away.
The gunman reports to Merchant Choi that the new gunman saw his face, and what’s even more frightening is that he reminds him of Commander Park. He felt like it was facing off against Commander Park who was shooting at him with such speed and ferocity. Merchant Choi orders this gunman’s identity to be investigated.
Soo In goes to her unni Hye Won to complain about losing her new camera. Ahhh, girl talk. She went through so much effort to acquire one and it’s way better than drawing to capture items perfectly. Hye Won suddenly has an idea and offers to help Soo In get her camera back but in turn needs a favor from Soo In.
Merchant Choi sits with Yoon Kang and Kanemaru to go though the gold mine plans and confirms all the documents look legit and complete. He asks about the explosives expert and Merchant Choi lies that he’s on his way.
Hye Won asks Soo In for the favor to show off her explosives knowledge. Soo In can’t actually blow big things up but Hye Won just wants her to demonstrate igniting a line and help her gain some time so she can find another real explosives expert. She begs Soo In for this favor and promises to get her camera back.
Hye Won brings Soo In to meet with Yoon Kang and introduces him as Hanjo. Yoon Kang’s eyes widen when he sees Soo In walk in and she drops her box of explosives ingredients while staring at Yoon Kang and calls him “doronim”.
Thoughts of Mine:
I’m genuinely impressed with how tightly Joseon Gunman crafted its storyboard and outfitted all the major characters. It’s been too long since I’ve been this taken with actual quality writing outside of acting chemistry to sell it or deft directing to divert from a flimsy narrative. The one thing I have to point out is how many elements JG lifted from Time Between Dog and Wolf, and I know only because I love that drama and have watched it so many times I can recite dialogue. Yoon Kang’s fall into the river was one major copy moment, but so many other such as Soo In thinking Yoon Kang dead, he comes back with a different identity and can’t reunite with her until he gets revenge, I can go on and on, and the only thing missing now is for Yoon Kang to actually get amnesia and spend a couple episodes actually believing he’s Hanjo, LOL. I point these similarities out with fondness, because JG doesn’t make it feel like a retread by doing it slightly differently and packaged in an overall different outline. It’s near impossible for K-dramas to create new and never before seen conflicts and obstacles, the point of a good work is not novelty but doing something so it feels fresh and exciting even if it’s been seen before. I feel JG has accomplished that so far, though I do wonder if perhaps it got an easy canvas to start from by the setting being in Joseon rather than modern times.
This drama continues to throw in lots of random (as in unexpected) comedy and humor despite the serious subject matter. Officer Han is adorable and I could watch a sitcom with him trying to be a Joseon policeman solving random petty crimes. I’m so happy he’s still around and clearly Yoon Kang is as well. He’s a true friend even if a bit bumbling, but hopefully Officer Moon will give him useful tasks and maybe even gradually train him to be a real capable officer soon. I miss Commander Park but it was such a treat to see Officer Moon stepping into his vacated spot as the King’s trusted military man. If Officer Moon carries on the mantle to serve his King that Commander Park left behind, then Yoon Kang is carrying on his dad’s martial arts prowess legacy and evolved it to gun form. It was sweet that Yoon Kang knew right away that Officer Han was doing things for him still, and the smile and grateful hand squeeze are the little details this drama delivers well. I want Hye Won and Ho Kyung’s characters to start having more to do, I need to see her doing things outside running the merchant group with her dad, and he needs to stop just being Soo In’s errand boy and white knight. I know the story sets them up to be crazily in love with the leads, respectively, but right now there is diddly on that front so their characters come across as interesting but nothing to emotionally hook me in yet.
Yoon Kang’s triumphant splashy return to Joseon as Hanjo was pretty darn epic but the drama doesn’t let him rest on coming back with a starting gate advantage. The baddies are just as powerful as before, and more so now that the King has taken a backseat for the three years to bide his time. I don’t mind the coincidence that the King is finally ready to take action again at the same time Yoon Kang comes time because the good guys were so outnumbered and outgunned last time a bit of luck for them is much appreciated. Right now Yoon Kang wants to avenge his dad and find his sister, and those are ample goals at this time, but I wonder if Yoon Kang develop other dreams beyond that when he was in Japan? Soo In clearly lost all her idealistic dreams in the last three years and seeing her disillusioned and living to acquire new toys like a dissolute rich girl is a great transition of her character. She’s just bitter and angry enough to hate the ideals that she used to hold up high, at the same time her natural bubbly personality still renders her lively and unable to really waste away simply because she lost the first guy she ever loved. I never felt either Yoon Kang or Soo In would fall apart forever without each other, when their romance was cut short it was just in the beginning stages so the feelings were genuine but lacked depth. The drama clearly won’t keep them apart for long since all of episode 5 was basically Soo In getting thisclose to seeing Yoon Kang again. I can’t wait to watch the second round of their sparring!
Click here to watch Joseon Gunman.