Holy moly I can’t believe Joseon Gunmen went there. Or maybe I can’t believe the drama went there at this point in episode 14 when there are still eight more episodes left. Or even more shocking is how this latest development throws wide open another set of problems for Yoon Kang to face. At the same time it turns the narrative down another path and one that is going to be emotionally daunting for Yoon Kang to navigate. Up until now Yoon Kang was always in the position of being right, of standing up for truth and justice, of doing things when he had no other choice. When Yoon Kang killed the sleazy minister of justice who tried to rape Yeon Ha and was about to kill her, no one can argue that it wasn’t justified self-defense of Yeon Ha. But even that kill must weigh on Yoon Kang’s soul because this story has told us that those who wield the power of life and death whether by sword or gun must understand the ramifications. That’s one reason why I loved Commander Park so much as a character, even aside from being a good stalwart loving father to Yoon Kang and Yeon Ho. He accepted that his duty to King and Country meant sacrifices and the only regret in his life is seeing his family suffer for his job.
Yoon Kang hasn’t really pondered that issue deeply, earlier on he tried to bring Merchant Choi to justice through legal channels but was thiseclose to killing him for the easier end. Now Yoon Kang is even more disillusioned with the legal channels and wants to go completely rogue even as Soo In and his savior Scholar Kim cautions against doing. Death is the easy way out and Yoon Kang may want to stick with bring down the villains legally no matter how impossible to achieve it seems. It’s reassuring to see King Gojong continue to fight to do the right thing even as he’s dealt once setback after another. I wish Yoon Kang could have more help and aligning with the King beats doing it alone. But episode 13 was the cruelest of reminder to Yoon Kang that sympathy and hesitation are for the weak and the strong have no qualms about winning at all costs and with any means. To play with fire, Yoon Kang has to get burned and this episode shows us some characters are ready to embrace the dark side if it means not getting stepped on again.
Episode 14 recap:
Under pressure from his corrupt ministers, with the remaining ministers silent due to cowardice or powerlessness, King Gojong ends the interrogation and has Merchant Choi released while sentencing Yoon Kang to die as the son of a known traitor. Yoon Kang cries out plaintively to the King who just stumbles off like a zombie. Merchant Choi and Minister Kim share a brief look of sneering victory.
King Gojong staggers around his chambers later that night, upset that he capitulated and sentenced an innocent young man to death. He clenches his hand in silent fury.
Yoon Kang watches as Merchant Choi is released from his adjoining jail cell and gets a lesson from the villain. Merchant Choi tells Yoon Kang that once he raises his gun and aims he has to pull the trigger without hesitation otherwise in a split second the target will be gone.
A worried but hopeful Yeon Ha tries to find out from Soo In whether her brother has been released and her dad’s case overturned. Soo In can only cry and ask Yeon Ha to pay a visit with her to Yoon Kang tomorrow wearing their best outfit. Soo In hugs Yeon Ha and sobs about how sorry she is which confirms for Yeon Ha that the worst has happened.
Merchant Choi goes to pay his respects and thanks to Leader Kim for pulling strings to get him out of jail. Leader Kim isn’t magnanimous and tells Merchant Choi to slit his throat next time when something like this happens. He compliments Left Minister Kim for pulling this off and isn’t aware of the side deal that was cut between Minister Kim and Merchant Choi.
Minister Kim and Merchant Choi leave together and discuss their new partnership to build a bigger merchant group and an assassin brigade that will listen to Minister Kim.
Minister Jung accompanies Soo In to the jail for to see Yoon Kang one last time and offers to wait outside for her. Soo In approaches Yoon Kang in jail and reveals she’s here to tell him not to worry about Yeon Ha. She’s safe in her home and will be taken care of. Yoon Kang is relieved and Soo In promises to bring Yeon Ha tomorrow for a farewell visit. Yoon Kang doesn’t want either Yeon Ha or Soo In to come and be in any further danger. Soo In vows to come tomorrow with Yeon Ha but this time they won’t cry and will send off Yoon Kang with a smile and looking their best.
Yoon Kang cries and steps forward to hold Soo In’s hand through the bars. He asks her to promise to be happy and to go to the other end of the ocean like she told him once was her dream. Awwww, he still remembers. He asks her not to live in pain from missing him and Soo In keeps crying but manages to nod her head.
Yoon Kang is carted away to be executed and along the route he sees Soo In and Yeon Ha dressed in their finest standing there to send him off. Yeon Ha can’t hold herself back and tearfully runs after her orabeoni but Soo In manages to hold her back.
Yoon Kang’s entourage is attacked by masked men in black who swiftly dispatch the guards. Yoon Kang manages to kick off the cart door and tries to run away in the melee. He overpowers a few guards but is struck unconscious by one of the attackers.
Yoon Kang wakes up to see Officer Moon sitting beside him and is informed that someone wants to see Yoon Kang. He walks outside and is shocked when a richly dressed yangban turns around to be King Gojong. Officer Moon tells Yoon Kang to thank the King for saving his life and Yoon Kang is about to bow when the King stops him. The King apologizes for being only able to help Yoon Kang this way and shares that he’s never forgotten Commander Park. He vowed to give him justice but sadly it’s more difficult that he imagined. He won’t stop until that happens and those responsible are punished.
King Gojong asks Yoon Kang to join and serve him in getting justice for his dad. Yoon Kang boldly rejects the King’s offer and angrily reveals that he’s lost the final shred of hope that the law and power of a nation can give his father justice. His father’s killer walked out of jail while he was almost executed and because of that he has no faith in the King anymore. Yoon Kang asks the King to kill him now otherwise he will continue to go hunt down those responsible and end things his way.
Officer Moon chides Yoon Kang for becoming a killer, a route he could have taken even before Yoon Kang returned from Japan. But Officer Moon endured and restrained himself to preserve Commander Park’s honor. Yoon Kang angrily asks what exactly Officer Moon did when he was presumed dead and his sister was made a slave, and who has he arrested so far? Officer Moon can’t answer so Yoon Kang storms off.
The King prevents his guards from stopping Yoon Kang from leaving but asks Yoon Kang to remember that the King will keep his promise to keep investigating and give the dead Commander Park justice one day. His offer to Yoon Kang remains open if Yoon Kang ever changes his mind. Yoon Kang bows to the King and still leaves.
Minister Jung finds out from his wife that Soo In appears very calm and isn’t even crying which worries his wife even more. He wants to see her but hears that Ho Kyung is already there to talk with her.
Ho Kyung is relieved that Soo In is doing fine while she’s concerned about Yeon Ha. She assures him that she is handling Yoon Kang’s death with acceptance. Soo In sends Ho Kyung to the Palace and not fret over her and Ho Kyung is quite surprised that Soo In is handling things well. Soo In reveals her promise to Yoon Kang to be brave in living her life and she won’t spend all her days crying anymore. She still has Yeon Ha to take care of.
Merchant Choi visits Minister Min to thank him but Minister Min doesn’t see any reason for them to meet anymore. Minister Min insists that he was just doing his job in the interrogation. Merchant Choi assures Minister Min that they don’t need to be afraid of meeting since he’s not the gunman but is just a merchant. He offers another box of cash which Minister Min demands he take away because it’s dirty. Merchant Choi tells him that money isn’t dirty but its the heart of the person giving it. Minister Min silently accepts Merchant Choi’s request to help approve Left Minister Kim’s request for a new merchant group to be formed.
Merchant Choi comes home to find Hye Won packed up and moving to run the other merchant group at the port. She isn’t planning to turn on her dad but can’t stand being around him anymore. Her mission is to make as much money as possible since money is power, but she’ll do it her way and prove to her dad that his method of being the hunting dog for the powerful is wrong. Hye Won’s departure is curt short when her dad’s right hand man returns with news that Park Yoon Kang disappeared on his way to execution. Merchant Choi’s “what???” face made me crack up and even I’d be wondering how the heck Park Yoon Kang is unkillable time and again.
King Gojong hilariously puts on a show chewing out all his ministers in court for how assassins could have stolen away a prisoner on his way to execution. Minister Kim glances at the enlightenment faction before assuring the King that he will investigate and get to the bottom of this. Minister Kim all but brays about finding the culprit with an on-the-stop execution.
Turns out Left Minister Kim and his ilk aren’t stupid and know that only King Gojong could have pulled off the prisoner rescue. They push Leader Kim to move forward with removing the King from the throne and for that they need to find Park Yoon Kang and have him admit that the King released him against the law. Leader Kim agrees with the plan which will save them a lot of work, rather than using tens of thousands of troops in a coup they can use one small infraction to remove him.
The scholar who saved Yoon Kang when he fell in the river is Kim Ok Jung and he’s back in Joseon and pays a visit to Yoon Kang only to hear that he’s dead. Kim O Jung doesn’t believe Yoon Kang can die that easily. He asks Je Mi to tell Yoon Kang should be return that a good friend from Japan came by. Je Mi thinks he’s crazy and sends him off but Kim Ok Jung happens to glance up and see Yoon Kang sneaking back home.
Yoon Kang corners Scholar Kim in his chambers and the two discuss the recent events. Scholar Kim isn’t happy that Yoon Kang killed corrupt ministers but Yoon Kang doesn’t think he did anything wrong since they are culpable in his dad’s death. Scholar Kim reminds Yoon Kang that the gun taking out one bad guy will only have another take his place. If the world doesn’t change then the mistakes will only become a vicious cycle. Yoon Kang tried to remember his teachings but it didn’t work and the bad guys keep getting away with their misdeeds so he’ll do things his way from now on.
Yoon Kang retrieves his gun from the secret lair but can’t stop thinking about Scholar Kim’s words and how he handed Yoon Kang the gun so that he could change the world and break the cycle. Yoon Kang hears noise from above and it’s Merchant Choi coming with his men to search Yoon Kang’s chambers. Kanemaru steps forward and announces that he’s in charge here and Merchant Choi is not searching the place if he still wants to do business with Yamamoto. Merchant Choi backs off and leaves with his men.
After the coast is clear, Yoon Kang opens the secret bookshelf and comes out to thank Kanemaru. They head down to the lair and Kanemaru marvels at the hidden room and wishes Yoon Kang trusted him enough to have told him the truth. Yoon Kang explains he simply wanted to keep Kanemaru out of trouble and asks him to run the merchant group from now on but not to let Yamamoto know about the recent events. Kanemaru promises to take care of the place and will find another way to repay Yoon Kang for what he did in Kyoto.
Merchant Choi is not defeated and decides to find Yoon Kang another way by tracking down Yeon Ha first. Yeon Ha is told by Soo In that Yoon Kang is still alive and they need to be patient until he reaches out to them. Yeon Ha wants to go back to the temple rather than staying with Soo In. Since Yoon Kang is still a criminal, Yeon Ha’s presence might bring trouble for the Jung family. Soo In doesn’t want her to go but agrees when Yeon Ha pleads with her.
Soo In and her maid are delivering Yeon Ha back to the temple when a masked gunman approach. Soo In bravely points her derringer at him but the man tosses her aside before grabbing Yeon Ha. Luckily Yoon Kang is nearby and one shot takes out the gunman but Yoon Kang doesn’t kill him. He orders the gunman to go back and deliver a message to Merchant Choi that Yoon Kang will be back for him soon.
Merchant Choi is furious to get the message that Yoon Kang foiled his attempt to capture Yeon Ha and boldly declared his intent to come back for him.
Soo In sits with Yoon Kang at the temple and hears about the King saving Yoon Kang’s life and offering to work with him. Yoon Kang declined the offer as he intends to end his mission by his own hands. Soo In reminds Yoon Kang that without officially clearing his dad’s name then both Yoon Kang and Yeon Ha will never get their real identities back and will need to forever hide. Good point. Soo In doesn’t want Yeon Ha to live like that and asks Yoon Kang to work with the King. Yoon Kang’s silence conveys his reluctance towards this option. Later that night Yoon Kang sits alone and keeps pondering Soo In’s request.
Officer Han secretly visits Yoon Kang and confirms that Merchant Choi was working for Leader Kim when he was framed. Officer Han asks Yoon Kang to be safe and stay away from Leader Kim’s residence which is tightly guarded. Yoon Kang intends to dispatch Merchant Choi first before going after Leader Kim.
Scholar Kim is back from his long trip to Japan and goes to share his experience with the King and Queen. He congratulates the King on doing much while he was away but the King laments not being able to convince people to follow him.
Scholar Kim wants to move Ho Kyung over to the new army being formed since Ho Kyung went to military school when he was in Japan. He tells Ho Kyung that Minister Jung can handle the matters in the development department.
Crooked head Leader Kim meets with the King and asks that the escaped criminal be quickly brought to justice before one slippery fish taints the entire pool. The King agrees though he’s not sure who exactly is the one fish that can taint the pool.
Yoon Kang is doing surveillance outside Merchant Choi’s residence and finds the place crawling with gunman and guards. He catches the eye of passing law enforcement and gets chased through town. Hye Won happens to be meeting with fellow merchants and reveals her plan to cut the middlemen out of the deal and earn more profit for the merchants. They agree to go along with her plan for now. As she sends them off, she sees Yoon Kang being chased by law enforcement.
Hye Won pulls Yoon Kang to safety in a hidden residence as the law enforcement run off to keeping searching. Hye Won is happy to see that Yoon Kang is alive and wants to use this chance to apologize for not keeping her promise to him. Yoon Kang doesn’t want to hear it and Hye Won isn’t expecting his forgiveness but wants to end it properly for her. He’s the first man she’s ever liked and even though it ended before it started, her feelings were real.
Yoon Kang says forgiveness and promises don’t mean anything between them. She’s already chosen her dad’s side and he’s determined to kill her dad one day. Hye Won wants to know why Yoon Kang saved her life then, and why he’s always so kind to her? Why does he use his warm smile to sway her? She’s the daughter of his enemy, he should have been colder to her. Yoon Kang claims he never did anything nor did he intend for her to fall for him. Hye Won smiles bitterly as her tears fall because his answer hurts her more that he never saw her as a woman. Hye Won orders Yoon Kang to leave as this is the last time she will help him. After Yoon Kang leaves Hye Won stands there crying.
Scholar Kim meets with Minister Jung to discuss Soo In’s knowledge of explosives. Scholar Kim compliments her desire to learn and developing new skills. He remarks that the Queen is looking to bring in new ladies-in-waiting like Soo In who are interesting in learning new things. He suggests Soo In meet with the Queen and Soo In convinces her dad to let her go.
Leader Kim is informed of the move to unite all the merchant groups under one umbrella and hears that Left Minister Kim is supporting this plan. Leader Kim is not pleased that the dog he raised is wagging its tail towards another owner. He confirms that Merchant Choi’s daughter is at the port city warehouse and the gives a sinister smile.
Hye Won is still remembering Yoon Kang’s cold and final rejection from earlier when she’s informed that their warehouse just caught fire. By the time the fire is put out all the good have been burned inside and the other merchants furiously arrive to demand that Hye Won take responsibility for what she did. The merchants angrily plan to remove Hye Won tomorrow from her post.
Merchant Choi refuses to stay hidden inside while Hye Won is suffering and hide from Yoon Kang. He hears that Hye Won went out for a walk but we see that Hye Won’s walk involves a one-way trip into the middle of a lake.
Merchant Choi arrives in time to see Hye Won’s head disappearing under the water and he dives in to fish her out. Merchant Choi pleads with Hye Won to wake up otherwise he has nothing to live for. Hye Won opens her eyes and gets chided for suddenly being so weak. Hye Won feels like she lost everything, her genuine heart that wanted to apologize and her dignity.
Her dad reminds Hye Won that feeling and dignity are luxuries to slaves like them. Her mom couldn’t even eat before she was born and died when feeding her newborn milk while he could do nothing to help. Hye Won was raped as a child and he could not nothing to avenge her. Merchant Choi asks Hye Won to take his hand and together they will ground the world underneath their feet. Hye Won takes her father’s hand while Yoon Kang stares from the trees at this scene and can’t bring himself to attack Merchant Choi at that moment.
Soo In enters the Palace to meet the Queen who is pleased with Soo In as an enlightened young woman who Joseon needs more of. She invites Soo In to attend the drills for the new army led by Ho Kyung. The King and Queen are pleased with the drills where the new soldiers show off their shooting skills as Ho Kyung calls out the formations.
Yoon Kang watches from outside Leader Kim’s sprawling residence as the members of the Sugu faction arrive for their secret meetings. He takes note of Left Minister Kim’s arrive among the ministers. Yoon Kang goes back to tell Sang Choo to keep an eye on the heavily guarded place and hears that even the King can’t touch that powerful faction. Sang Choo heard that Merchant Choi was planning to meet with Leader Kim today to discuss the recent fire at the warehouse which Leader Kim was reportedly behind. Yoon Kang wants to take this opportunity to end things with Merchant Choi.
Yoon Kang rides his horse behind Merchant Choi’s small group and uses his shotgun to take out the guards before shooting Merchant Choi off his horse. Merchant Choi makes a run for it on foot and Yoon Kang chases him until he’s cornered at the end of a cliff. Yoon Kang points his gun at Merchant Choi and this time he doesn’t hesitate.
Yoon Kang fires a shot into Merchant Choi’s thigh for his dad, a shot into his arm for his little sister, and finally pulls the trigger and pumps a shot into his stomach for what he endured.
Merchant Choi falls backward upon being hit the third time and tumbles over the cliff. Yoon Kang looks stunned and rushes up to the cliff as we see Merchant Choi falling and the sound of a body hitting the water. Yoon Kang falls on his knees and screams his rage.
Thoughts of Mine:
It’s a sad reality that K-dramas and the viewing audience has altered the ratings landscape so much that it’s hard pressed for K-dramas to break 20% in ratings much less the seemingly impossible 30% nowadays. The ratings race is so tight right now in the Wed-Thurs slot with all three dramas qualitatively well-written and well-acted in yesteryears all three would be bona fide hits. Now it’s merely serviceable in reception and I wonder if the viewers are just getting too picky. Joseon Gunman is one of the best sageuks I’ve watched in the last few years and even better than this production team’s previous drama The Princess’s Man. There is less overdone pathos and lots of hard knocks to dish out for both the good and bad guys. Every time I want to personally send Merchant Choi one a one-way trip to perdition, he shows us his vulnerabilities mixed with intense protectiveness for Hye Won. In short he shows us that he’s human and not a one-dimensional sociopath of a villain. It makes me reassess whether it’s so easy to pull the trigger and kill him, making Yoon Kang no better than him in the way he pulled the trigger and killed Commander Park for his own reasons. Is revenge for a dead dad anymore lofty a reason than trying to build a safe world using money so that an abused and violated daughter could be safe? There is no reason in the world that gives a person the free pass to kill and after the death merely comes the defense of why it should be forgiven rather than punished. I don’t think Commander Park will have wanted Yoon Kang to resort to an eye-for-an-eye to get justice for him. That means Yoon Kang’s journey ahead will be fraught with a different set of dangers and his emotional state must process that he killed a man in cold blood even if narratively we want to condone his choice to pull the trigger.
Hye Won is as complicated and complex a character as her dad and watching her in this episode was really heartbreaking. She understood and accepted her actions in siding with her dad against Yoon Kang, but still she tried to ask for forgiveness and put her heart out there even there was no hope. Yoon Kang didn’t lead her on, he was merely his own decent self around her and that was what pierced through her cold hard shell. To see a man so attractive inside and out, it’s sad that Hye Won’s first love feels like a last love in her broken romantic spirit. She doesn’t deserve it even if Yoon Kang didn’t make her fall for him. Her suicide attempt felt a bit like seeking release from an exhausting life but I’m glad her dad saved her. She’s also the type of woman Joseon needs more of, confident and capable with nary the inclination to cower before men of wealth or power or brute strength. Her struggle between protecting her dad but also not condoning his misdeeds was a believable schism but after the suicide might push Hye Won to the dark side. Park of me wants to see her assume the mantle of Merchant Choi’s mission to build a wealth based power net but at the same time I don’t think her dad is dead that easily. I’m curious to see where her story goes next.
Soo In almost felt like a different person in this episode and it was a sigh of relief to see her step up in the midst of so much upheaval. Her emotional strength in dealing with the prospect of Yoon Kang getting executed was really nicely done. She’s no longer the do first think later type nor will she sit back and wallow in misery without confronting the crux of the danger head on. Hye Won has been getting a lot of deserved appreciation for being a strong female character but I’ve always seen Soo In as equally strong but just more openly emotional. Now she’s able to control her emotions more and it’s time to see what she can do rather than simply wait behind the scenes for Yoon Kang to come back. The return of Scholar Kim is a welcome addition to spice up the narrative mix, Ho Kyung going from scholar official to military official is a surprising twist, and Soo In entering the Palace makes her proactive and on the front lines of much of the intrigue and danger. I don’t know what will happen next now that Yoon Kang pumped Merchant Choi full of bullets and sent him over the cliff. Will he move to phase two and try to gun down Leader Kim? Is that enough when Minister Kim is primed to take over the head baddie spot anyways? JG keeps on chugging forward in telling a compelling story without getting bogged down in any one spot for too long. Now it’s time to see if fugitive Yoon Kang can deal with doling out death for his own means like Merchant Choi used to do.
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