I hope those who are watching Joseon Gunman understand what a rare treat it is to have a double helping of fantastic acting across-the-board from leads to the smallest supporting role together with truly smart writing that isn’t aiming for short term thrills at the expense of longer term narrative building. There are only so many times the hero can be in danger and get away, of secret identities almost getting outed but avoided, of romance that is thwarted without any new development. JG answers the problems of drama writing by addressing every conflict and then moving on the the next different one, not sticking in the same point or recycling the same conflict dressed in a different outfit. Today’s episode was second lead Hye Won’s turn to shine and boy did she knock my socks off with some truly gaspworthy dialogue and decisions. I applaud her guts and determination, this girl who has balls of steel forged in pain, even as I know it can’t end well with her feelings for Yoon Kang. Hye Won is a woman who doesn’t annoy me because she’s both smart and decisive rather and stupid and dithering in her pursuit of Yoon Kang. Soo In is both lucky to have her as an unni, but also unlucky that she’s around Yoon Kang so much that she can see through his Hanjo assholery and fall in love with the real brave smart Yoon Kang underneath.
It’s the very process that Soo In went through when she looked beyond joking flirty Yoon Kang and saw a young man who respected her and had real guts. Merchant Choi’s also supremely grown on me and now there is a double pleasure to watching him stick around long enough to stick it to the old man Leader Kim. Of course he’ll end up terribly, as Hye Won so presciently predicted, but now he’s no longer a one-note villainous hunting dog but a smart desperate one who tries to carve his own future path. It’s great writing to have the baddies turn on each other through conflicting interests and outside pressures rather than scattering like a pile of loose sand. Yoon Kang got his boat rocked in this episode by getting injured and having his real identity outed to every single person around him. It was amusing in a you-gotta-be-kidding coincidence except the drama has built it up so each reveal took it’s natural course to get there. The best part is the payoff is all different with Yoon Kang pushing Soo In away, having his axis rearranged by Hye Won’s bold proposition, and finding himself staring down Merchant Choi with neither ready to back down. This is so thrilling I have to pinch myself there’s a drama this well-written.
Episode 12 recap:
Soo In brings a snack to Yoon Kang and finds him sleeping at his desk. She strokes his hair and turns to leave when he grabs her wrist and gets up. He asks directly what she’s doing and she explains about bringing him tea. He asks if that’s it but doesn’t press her further when she doesn’t answer. He wonders if she still thinks he’s Yoon Kang doronim but Soo In shakes her head and says the way he was sleeping elicited her concern. Soo In takes her leave and hurries out of there.
Yoon Kang stakes out the residence of the Sugu faction Minister Jung who helped framed his dad. When the Minister is carried to his meeting is when Yoon Kang storms out riding a horse and shooting his shotgun to disperse the retainers. He then lassos the Minister and drags him off behind his horse. Sang Choo disguised as a peddler with a horse and cart cleverly blocks the way of the retainers and Yoon Kang gets away with the Minister..
Yoon Kang has the Minister tied up and points his gun at the guy’s head to demand to know who ordered the Minister to frame Commander Park. The Minister says even if he reveals the name it’s not someone that can be opposed. Yoon Kang gives him the choice of the name or his life and hears that Leader Kim of the Sugu faction is behind this all. Yoon Kang demands the name of the gunman who killed Commander Park but Minister Jung doesn’t know since only Leader Kim has met the gunman before.
A ransom note is delivered to Leader Kim to exchange Minister Jung for the gunman that killed Commander Park. Leader Kim isn’t going to deal and sends Merchant Choi to rescue Minister Jung and warns him of the consequences were he to fail yet again.
Yoon Kang has Minister Jung tied up to a tree with a gun pointed to his head during the exchange. He sees a gunman walking up and demands the guy drop his gun. The gunman tosses his gun aside and Yoon Kang walks over to him. We see a cadre of gunmen led by Merchant Choi watching nearby and he asks his followers to fan out as he intends to find out the identity of the gunman today no matter what.
The gunman who approached Yoon Kang takes off running but is taken down by traps set by Yoon Kang in the forest. He takes a bullet to the arm and Yoon Kang walks over to check his left arm and doesn’t see the scar. Merchant Choi walks up and fires his gun and Yoon Kang takes a bullet to the arm.
Merchant Choi walks over and kicks Yoon Kang’s gun away from him before successfully pulling off Yoon Kang’s face mask. He stares in shock to see Yoon Kang’s face and then pulls open his shirt to look for the telltale bullet wound to the chest from the shot he fired at the harbor. He doesn’t see a bullet wound and Yoon Kang takes advantage to kick him off and make a run for it.
Yoon Kang runs away from the chasing gunmen and luckily Officer Moon and his gunmen guards have arrived and beat back Merchant Choi’s gunman. As Yoon Kang rides past Officer Moon on his horse, he turns to stare at Officer Moon and gives him a good look at his face before he pulls the mask back on. Officer Moon stares in shock to see Yoon Kang.
Merchant Choi unties Minister Jung from the tree and takes off his mask to greet him respectfully as the gunman who works for Leader Kim. Minister Jung slaps him for daring to risk Minister Jung’s life during the rescue by sending a minion gunman first to approach. Minister Jung chews out Merchant Choi for playing games when his life was at stake and vows to tell Leader Kim that his hunting dog was not doing his obedient job.
Merchant Choi quakes with anger and as Minister Jung walks away, he calls him to stop before pumping a bullet into him. Dayum, Minister Jung totally asked for that. Merchant Choi walks over to the dying Minister Jung and says he won’t put his life on the line for anybody, not even Leader Kim.
Merchant Choi’s gunmen run up to tell him to run because the law enforcement is here. Officer Moon and his officers run up to find Minister Jung dead on the ground while seeing Merchant Choi and his gunmen make a run for it.
Yoon Kang goes back to his gunman lair and performs surgery on himself to dig out the bullet in his arm. O.U.C.H.
Merchant Choi rides up to Yoon Kang’s place and happens to see Soo In there. She welcome him inside but he says another day and rides off.
Soo In knocks on Yoon Kang’s door and he is barely sitting upright with the pain but tells her to come in. Soo In is here to tell him that the explosives raw material is almost run out with only three days supply left. Yoon Kang will order more and tries to quickly dismiss Soo In. She can tell something is wrong with him but he claims he’s fine though she’s already blurry in his eyes.As Soo In turns to leave, Yoon Kang collapses on the ground and Soo In rushes over to find his arm bleeding.
Merchant Choi lies to Leader Kim that Minister Jung was already dead when he arrived and then the law enforcement showed up so he had to leave. Leader Kim wants to know the identity of the gunman but Merchant Choi claims he didn’t find out. Leader Kim has enough of Merchant Choi’s incompetence and decides to strip everything from him starting from designating a new head of the Kyung Gi Merchant Group. Merchant Choi tries to ask for another chance but Leader Kim dismisses him.
Soo In bandages Yoon Kang’s arm wound and then sponges his forehead while wondering how he got hurt this time. Yoon Kang wakes up and sees Soo In sitting beside him and she explains that he passed out so she took care of him. Yoon Kang sits up and assures Soo In that he’s fine. She’s stopped the bleeding so all he needs is to rest.
Yoon Kang asks why she’s not wondering how he got hurt and Soo In knows he must have a reason. She asks him to change his bandages every day and promises to come check on him another time so he can rest now. She assures him that she will be careful so no one will find out After Soo In leaves she stops to look back at Yoon Kang’s room and say a prayer that he’ll be careful and stay safe.
Yoon Kang flashes back to the gunman pulling his mask off and then checking his chest area and he wonders what exactly the gunman wanted to confirm?
Merchant Choi goes to his gunman lair and pulls out his giant shotgun and stares at it only to be shocked out his reverie by Hye Won waiting for him there. Hye Won asks her dad what the gun is for and he claims it’s just a hobby and he uses it for hunting. She tells him to stop bullshitting because she knows he’s THE gunman. He joined the merchant guards as a gunman and was even given a medal for his valor. After that he started disappearing from time to time as well as climbing the ranks fast in the Kyung Gi Merchant Group.
Hye Won wants to know if her dad tried to kill Soo In’s dad? And if he was the one who killed Commander Park? That’s why he brought Yeon Ha back, to use her to confirm whether Hanjo was Park Yoon Kang. If he was Park Yoon Kang, then he would have to be killed. Merchant Choi ends the conversation and tells Hye Won to leave because she doesn’t need to know any of this. Hye Won just has one thing to say to her dad – she wants him to not harm Hanjo even if he’s Park Yoon Kang.
Hye Won tells her dad that if anything happened to Hanjo then he would lose his only daughter. He knows her well so he knows she’s not making an empty threat. She turns to leave and Merchant Choi tells her that one day he’ll tell her everything and she’ll understand him then. Hye Won tearfully asks her dad to stop now because a gunman like him is just a hunting dog for his masters. Once the hunt is over he’ll be tossed away. Merchant Choi doesn’t care about his own fate, all he cares about is Hye Won. All he has done in the past and going forward has been for Hye Won. She turns away angrily and leaves.
Yoon Kang walks back to the harbor where he tried to leave Joseon and took a bullet to the chest. He scrolls back through his memory and remembers the officers firing but they were too far away to have struck him so accurately. He looks at the nearby weeds and realizes that the gunman was there that day and was the one who shot him. That’s why the gunman tried to confirm his chest wound.
Merchant Choi broods over Hye Won’s warning that he can’t touch Hanjo. Merchant Choi is still planning to kill Hanjo because he’s Park Yoon Kang. Once Merchant Choi makes a direct business deal with Yamamoto, then he will kill Hanjo.
Yoon Kang tells Sang Choo about his latest findings including how the gunman who killed his dad was also the one who tried to kill him at the harbor. And he’s certain that the gunman is Merchant Choi. After Yoon Kang went to see him, he had someone tailing Yoon Kang which is why he was able to follow him to the harbor and try to kill him. Yoon Kang urges patience from Sang Choo since Merchant Choi is not someone to take lightly and they need to collect more evidence.
Hye Won arrives asking for a late night meeting with Yoon Kang. He wonders about her offer to pour him a drink since Joseon custom says a woman only pours alcohol for her husband. Hye Won has no intention of being a Joseon lady so Yoon Kang accepts her pour. He takes a drink and then Hye Won reveals that she knows he’s Park Yoon Kang. She’s known after seeing Yeon Ha with him, and the way he tried to save Soo In’s life when he thought she was in danger.
Hye Won has no intention of revealing his secret and asks only that he leave Soo In. She will be in danger if he’s around. Hye Won cuts right to the chase and asks him to forget Soo In. From now one Hye Won will stay by his side and protect him. Omo I don’t think I’ve ever heard a second lead as direct as Hye Won. Hye Won tells Yoon Kang that she wants to him and poor Yoon Kang is all like “da hell is this?”
Merchant Choi pays a visit to Minister Min, one of the members of the reform faction, and passes over a suitcase full of money. He knows the future belongs to the Min family (the family of the current Queen Min) and asks only one favor. He wants the exiled Left Minister Kim to be brought back. With the death of Minister Jung, the yangbans are all scared to leave their homes and it’s affecting commerce. If Left Minister Kim is forgiven by the King, then the Sugu faction will no longer feel persecuted and will stop trying to take out the reform faction members.
Soo In and her maid walk Ho Kyung out as he heads to work. Ho Kyung is pleased Soo In is sending him off and her maid teases that it’s like a wife seeing her husband off. Ho Kyung laughs at her joke which he likes very much. Soo In’s maid tells Ho Kyung to hurry back and she’ll make sure her miss is home by them. Soo In tells her maid to stop with the nonsense but her maid is certain a marriage is soon to come since Ho Kyung saved her dad and she nursed him back to health.
Soo In walks through the marketplace and thinks back to Ho Kyung being happy with her maid’s joke. She notices a wanted poster of the gunman posted on the board and worriedly hurries off. Je Mi hands a slew of gunman wanted posters that she ripped off the boards to burn because she’s worried about Sang Choo. He leaves still not explaining her misunderstanding and Je Mi marvels at how cool he looks even when he’s walking away.
Soo In changes Yoon Kang’s bandage and he cringes at the pain. Soo In brings up seeing a wanted poster of the gunman and thinks whoever it is will need to be careful. Yoon Kang wonders why she’s worried for the gunman and Soo In makes the excuses that he’s being hunted and she doesn’t think he’s a bad guy. Soo In finishes bandaging Yoon Kang up and takes leave to go to the gold mines.
Yoon Kang asks her to not come by anymore to change his bandages and also plans to get another explosives expert soon and won’t need her help anymore. Soo In asks for a reason to stay and help him but Yoon Kang shakes his head. Nothing good will come if she is too close to him. Soo In tries to argue but Yoon Kang’s mind is made up. Soo In accepts that but insists that she will care for his wound until its all healed.
Yoon Kang and Soo In walk out and see Hye Won here. She declines Yoon Kang’s offer of tea and asks to chat with Soo In since it’s a coincidence seeing her here. Soo In doesn’t look pleased but leaves with Hye Won.
Soo In tells Hye Won that Yoon Kang hurt his arm. Hye Won asks why Soo In is helping and hears that she saw Yoon Kang hurt and he couldn’t change his bandage so she wanted to help. Soo In asks if Hye Won knows about Yoon Kang’s plan to change out the explosives expert and hears that it was Hye Won’s suggestion. She doesn’t want Soo In in danger and suggests Soo In go back to her old life of collecting interesting trinkets. Hye Won suggests Soo In do all this with Ho Kyung.
Hye Won explains that she sees Ho Kyung with Soo In these past four years and can see that he likes her. Plus he saved her dad. Soo In understands that but all she feels is gratitude for Ho Kyung. Hye Won understands gratitude but that is merely a start. Initially she was grateful Yoon Kang saved her life but gradually she fell for him. She likes him to the point that she wants to have him no matter what it takes. Oooh, gauntlet thrown. Hye Won tells Soo In that her gratitude towards Ho Kyung will turn to love one day as well. She hopes that will happen, and she believes that the deceased Yoon Kang doronim also will want that.
Minister Min suggests to King Gojong to bring back Left Minister Kim under the belief that it will keep the reformists safe. King Gojong doesn’t want to make deals or forgive Minister Kim despite even Queen Min suggesting he should do it. King Gojong storms out but Minister Jung also asks the King to bring back Minister Kim. Sometimes forgiveness is the best approach because then Minister Kim will then feel gratitude to the King. The King isn’t sure of that happening so Minister Jung reveals that Ho Kyung is Minister Kim’s son.
Minister Jung tells his family that Minister Kim is being brought back and his wife and Soo In don’t understand how the King can do this after what he tried to do to Minister Jung. Soo In and her mom keep calling Minister Kim an evil and cruel person right in front of Ho Kyung who can only listen silently and say nothing.
Officer Han is in jail and his sweetheart gisaeng Myung Wol comes to visit him in jail. LOLOLOL. Officer Han claims that a man as powerful and capable of him will always be taken down a peg. Myung Wol cries for her naeuri and Officer Han hugs her back but then freaks out when he looks up and sees Officer Moon glaring at him. AHAHAHA.
Officer Moon tosses a note that arrived yesterday for Officer Han asking him to come to the mountains (where Yoon Kang was meeting the gunman for the Minister Jung exchange) and Officer Han frets because he needed to go and help him. Officer Moon asks “help whom” and Officer Han refuses to say. Officer Moon reveals he went and saw Minister Jung dead there and he saw the face of the gunman. He looked just like Park Yoon Kang so is he still alive? Officer Moon asks where Yoon Kang is but Officer Han claims he only saw him at the gibang. Officer Moon decides to leave Officer Han in jail until he tells him the whole truth.
Sang Choo finds the missing section of the document which shows that there was a volunteer militia formed by the merchant group members and Merchant Choi joined and was a decorated gunman during the battle. Merchant Choi hears that someone was sniffing around the merchant group into his background and decides its time to warn Yoon Kang and teach him a lesson.
Officials storm Yoon Kang’s residence to look for the gunman and confront Yoon Kang with the picture of the gunman. They drag him away right in front of Soo In and a worried Kanemaru. Soo In tries to explain to the officer that Yoon Kang is a Japanese citizen and not the gunman. Merchant Choi arrives and vouches for Yoon Kang as a kind businessman and gives him an alibi as being with Merchant Choi on the day of the incident. The officers leave and Yoon Kang gets a break.
Yoon Kang walks with Merchant Choi and talk turns to the gunman having killed two high ranking ministers already and will be deemed a criminal. Yoon Kang laughs at that and brings up the criminal Park Yoon Kang who he heard came to see Merchant Choi right before he died and demanded to know who killed his dad. Yoon Kang laughs that he was imagining if he were Merchant Choi, he would be furious to be this confronted. Yoon Kang laughs at his overactive imagination since he’s not Park Yoon Kang, and reminds Merchant Choi that he’s the one who keeps bringing up Yoon Kang all the time.
Yoon Kang supposes that if he were Park Yoon Kang then what was he thinking after meeting with Merchant Choi? He would want to get to the truth and have Merchant Choi answer for his actions. Merchant Chou clasps a hand on Yoon Kang’s shoulder and tells him to focus on his business since Yamamoto is coming soon. He moves his hand down Yoon Kang’s arm and squeezes where the bullet wound would be but Yoon Kang’s expression doesn’t change as he endures the pain. Yoon Kang asks if Merchant Choi wants to do business directly with Yamamoto? If so then he will need to wait longer since Yoon Kang sent him a letter that the political climate here is uncertain and he should postpone his visit. Merchant Choi thinks Yoon Kang has made things difficult but Yoon Kang disagrees since his matters are going swimmingly.
Minister Kim sits with his son and crows about being back in his rightful place and climbing higher. He is certain Ho Kyung will come back around since his place with working under his dad. He scoffs about Ho Kyung’s feelings for the lowly daughter of Minister Jung and thinks they are a matched pair since Ho Kyung is illegitimate. Ho Kyung vows that he will never come back but his dad will wait until that day comes.
Yoon Kang is visiting little sister Yeon Ha and they adorably hold hands while walking through the temple. He promises that things will end soon and then she can live with him. They can eat together and take walks together and not be apart anymore. Soo In arrives to visit Yeon Ha and chances upon the siblings together.
Yoon Kang realizes that Soo In knows his real identity and is angry that she kept her silence under torture. Soo In knows he endured even more than she ever did and wants to protect him. Yoon Kang takes the hard approach with her and declares that Park Yoon Kang is dead and he’s Hanjo now. He’s forgotten Soo In so she needs to not come see Yeon Ha anymore or hang around him. He tells Soo In to not place them in danger.
Soo In starts to cry and asks him not to say this. Yoon Kang insists he wants Soo In to forget him and find a nice man to marry. Soo In asks if he really wants her to forget him and become another man’s woman. Yoon Kang clenches his fist while Soo In asks again if he means this and won’t regret it? Yoon Kang finally says he means this.
Soo In understands and walks away crying her guts out while Yoon Kang stands there crying. He looks at Soo In walking away sobbing and he clutches his heart because it hurts so much. He runs after Soo In and grabs her for a tight tight hug.
Thoughts of Mine:
Okay, big sigh of relief here! I’m so glad Yoon Kang loves Soo In so much he actually can’t go through with the noble idiocy pushing her away bit. That last scene is so long in coming since these two have been dying to get back in each other’s arms and finally they can give in to their feelings even if it’s just for this moment. Soo In is still much too sheltered and unaware of so many points of danger around Yoon Kang but she’s slowly coming to find the hard truth out bit by bit. Even if she doesn’t know that Merchant Choi is the enemy gunning for Yoon Kang, she knows that he’s battling very powerful forces and can’t let his guard down for even a second. I like the Soo In who is aware of Yoon Kang’s fight and can help without being a hindrance in her own unique way. If Yoon Kang can let Sang Choo and Officer Han in on the secret, he can let Soo In in now even if he was basically caught red-handed by hanging around Yeon Ha. It felt a bit like Yoon Kang wants Soo In to know, or hopes she already knows, just so he can let that burden down. At least he hasn’t had to watch Ho Kyung try and romance Soo In but that’s just Yoon Kang getting lucky that Ho Kyung moves as fast as a particularly lazy snail when it comes to romance. I swear Ho Kyung would be like 50 years old before he would ask Soo In straight up for her hand in marriage.
Hye Won was such a drama stealer in this episode with her scenes being explosive powerhouse moments. Her confrontation with her dad was electrifying with she basically called out all the killing stuff he’s done with some censure but not whole scale renunciation. She angry and disappointed but at the same time accepting, only asking selfishly that her dad not touch Hanjo/Yoon Kang because he’s the guy she wants. That’s some straight up rebellion going on if she’s going to threaten her dad losing her for a guy she’s only recently grown fond of. I can’t say Hye Won’s feelings for Yoon Kang aren’t that strong, it’s that she’s such a repressed woman that shooting him admiring looks is the extent of her crush, so her vehemence in protecting Yoon Kang from her dad seems rather strong a stand to take. I’m not complaining since Yoon Kang can use any help he gets, but I wonder if Hye Won knows that her dad is going to find a way to take out Yoon Kang no matter what and her position might actually give Merchant Choi more fuel to eliminate the man who is turning his daughter to oppose him. Hye Won’s straight up blackmail of Yoon Kang was epic, the way she told him she knows his identity and then told him to forget Soo In plus the announcement that she’ll be the one by his side. Most second female leads whine about oppa loving them back, this is the first time I’ve seen one see the leading man as hers to own and protect. Soo In really better watch out because Hye Won is playing for keeps and I feel happy that Hye Won tried to strong arm Soo In into picking Ho Kyung and moving on from Yoon Kang. At least know Soo In knows Hye Won is a rival and better to know that be in the dark about a rival lurking out there.
I felt a bit conflicted cheering Merchant Choi on in his attempt to take down Leader Kim by installing Minister Kim back in power, and his point blank kill of the horrible Minister Jung. I like seeing the baddies destroy each other but it’s upsetting that Minister Jung’s death seemed to be pinned on Yoon Kang as well. It’s important to point out that Merchant Choi’s justifications are actually very compelling, he is doing it to protect Hye Won and is willing to accept whatever fate befalls him. That makes him of a different ilk than arrogant Leader Kim and his cronies all screaming about protecting their own power and prestige without any character to face adversity. I like that the return of Minister Kim raises the question of whether he can change his position and support the King rather than being a roadblock, of looking at the changing tides with an eye on how to surf the waves rather than trying to build a dam. Ho Kyung’s role continues to be sadly underwritten and his only compelling presence is to be rather sad sack in suffering a father who looks down on him and a girl who sees him an a platonic oppa. But compared to Yoon Kang, who has no father and a girl he can’t openly be with, at least the fate of our wonderful Yoon Kang remains the most tragic of all so that the emotions continued to be funneled into having Yoon Kang vanquish his enemies and live happily ever after at the expense of other side characters.
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