I no joke love love Joseon Gunman. Even when the action flags or there is a lull in the next narrative punch, the quiet moments are thoughtful and well integrated with the overall story it wants to tell. JG was never just a revenge tale, or revenge for the sake of personal catharsis or an aha justice-is-served moment. Everything was set into motion on a bigger scale when the King tried to forcibly pull his country into the wheels of modern progress and faced repeated attempts to stymie change. The macro affected the micro and we’ve spent more time with Yoon Kang and his story of getting closure for his dad’s death than seeing if the King’s second attempt at pushing forth modernization has a chance to succeed. Every time Yoon Kang got close to find out the truth about the conspiracy he took a step back, and once he learned the dark reality he discovered that it was greater than he could tackle by himself. In the end of episode 14 he finally became a gunman who used his weapon to exact personal vengeance and this episode was all about the fall out.
The person most affected is Hye Won, but Yoon Kang isn’t nonchalant about pulling the trigger either. Hye Won’s pain at believing her dad died in Yoon Kang’s hand is understandable but I don’t actually feel sympathy for her. Her rage and anger cannot ever be compared with Yoon Kang’s because her dad’s misdeeds led to his own demise and she knows it. She may want to pick up arms to continue the cycle of revenge, but her plight doesn’t mirror Yoon Kang’s sense of grave injustice. Hers is a personal anger and one that turns her dark and deadly. I like this step up in her narrative even if it feels as abrupt as many things that she does. Her feelings for Yoon Kang happened fast, her rage towards him happened even faster. Soo In remains the apple of my eye in how her character keeps on evolving and in this episode she was everything warm and comforting for Yoon Kang. I love that she continues to counsel him to stop revenge without making him feel chastened, and I appreciate that she keeps standing by his side through thick and thin.
Episode 15 recap:
Yoon Kang’s revenge plan hits a roadblock when even the King can’t give him justice for his dead dad so he decides to take matters into his own hands. He corners Merchant Choi at the edge of a cliff and pumps him full of three bullets, one for each of the members of his family that suffered at his hands. Merchant Choi falls over backwards over the cliff and Yoon Kang falls to his knees to scream in rage/frustration. I think it’s too early to say “Ding-dong, the witch is dead” but it is satisfying to see Yoon Kang finally with the upper hand (for now).
Merchant Choi’s gunmen subordinates informs Hye Won that her dad has gone missing and likely perished at the hands of Park Yoon Kang. Hye Won orders the men to keep searching for her dad.
Yeon Ha and Soo In are discussing why the King, who really appreciated Commander Park, would have placed an unjust traitor’s cap on him. Soo In is sure the King had no choice at that time. Yoon Kang returns and Soo In immediately notices his down mood.
Yoon Kang doesn’t answer Soo In’s question about what happened and simply pulls her in for an embrace. He doesn’t know if what he did was right but he had no other choice. Soo In neither condones or condemns Yoon Kang but points out that revenge leaves the person with an empty shell. She hugs him back and lets him quietly rest in her arms.
Hye Won goes on the search for her dad but only his shoe is found in the creek with no signs of him anywhere. Hye Won isn’t ready to accept that her dad is dead and orders no one to dare say he could die that easily. She looks pissssssssed and very very scary.
Soo In walks home and finds Hye Won waiting for her outside the residence. Hye Won immediately asks Soo In for Yoon Kang’s whereabouts but Soo In claims not to know where he is now. That confirms for Hye Won that Soo In saw Yoon Kang recently and she hounds Soo In to tell her where she saw him. Hye Won reveals that Yoon Kang killed her dad and her dad is her everything in this world. She searched all day and all she found is his shoe. Hye Won needs to see Yoon Kang so that at least she can retrieve her dad’s corpse.
Soo In is stricken to hear this but sticks to her guns and claims not to know Yoon Kang’s whereabouts. A furious Hye Won delivers a resounding slap to Soo In and there goes their sisterly relationship. Hye Won ominously tells Soo In to pass word Yoon Kang that Hye Won will kill him one day before she storms off.
Hye Won stands in her dad’s study and remembers her dad doing everything for her and the way he dove into the water to rescue her when she tried to kill herself.
Leader Kim gets word from Minister Kim that Merchant Choi has disappeared likely at the hands of the gunman. Leader Kim doesn’t look surprised or worried and tells Minister Kim to calm down. Minister Kim is worried that their plans will run into a hitch without Merchant Choi around. Leader Kim plans to take care of things and mutters that one should not overly rely on one’s hunting animals.
Yoon Kang polishes his gun in his room and flashes back to shooting Merchant Choi and watching him fall over the cliff. He vows to his dead dad that things will end soon.
Yoon Kang plans to attack Leader Kim today rather than waiting for him to leave the residence. He’s in a rush to end things so that Yeon Ha can be safe and assures the worried Sang Choo that he has mapped out a way in and out of the heavily guarded residence. Sang Choo asks Yoon Kang to bring his police officer friend and not to do it alone.
Leader Kim meets with his Sugu faction who are worried that the King’s new army will be deployed soon and the existing troops will grumble about having their power diluted. Leader Kim wants that to happen because the disgruntled troops will be easier to control and use for their purposes. Another minister suggests doing a sweep of runaway slaves right now and if they get lucky they can catch the runaway Yeon Ha and use her to lure Yoon Kang. Leader Kim likes the idea and tells the minister to take charge.
Ho Kyung is surveying the new troops and finds half the men refusing to come to work because they won’t take orders from a commander who was an illegitimate son. Ho Kyung sees his dad Minister Kim come by and the two retreat to discuss the situation. Minister Kim blames trying to create new troops but Ho Kyung claims the problem is the existing Joseon hierarchy that makes his bastard birth looked down upon. Minister Kim actually looks upset and asks his son to stop now because he can’t change the world even if he tried. He wants Ho Kyung to take off his uniform and return to being a scholar, and if Ho Kyung wants his dad will send him back to Japan to study. Ho Kyung wonders about the offer and Minister Kim only says that he doesn’t want Ho Kyung to get into any further trouble.
Yeon Ha finds troops searching the temple and she smartly takes off and manages to elude them while hiding behind a rock in the dense forest. Soo In finds the nun pacing in worry and hears that Yeon Ha is missing after some troops arrived at the temple. They go searching for Yeon Ha in the forest but can’t find her anywhere. Soo In begs Sang Choo to tell her where Yoon Kang is right now because his help is needed to find Yeon Ha.
Yoon Kang is getting ready to storm Leader Kim’s residence to assassinate him when Sang Choo brings Soon In to interrupt his suicide mission. He hears that Yeon Ha has gone missing to hide from the troops and gives up his plan to join in the search for Yeon Ha.
The group finds Yeon Ha hiding behind a rock where she’s delirious and begging not to be beaten. Poor baby. Yoon Kang wakes her up and assures her that the troops have left and she’s safe now. Yoon Kang notices the cuts and scrapes she sustained while escaping the troops and hugs his little sister as she tries to put on a brave smile for him.
Yoon Kang and Soo In watch over a sleeping Yeon Ha while Yoon Kang notes that Yeon Ha’s scars are deeper than he realizes. She tried to put on brave face and act like everything is fine but it’s not. Yoon Kang knows that his revenge plan has placed a lot of duress on Soo In and Yeon Ha.
Yoon Kang insists on walking Soo In home despite her request that he quickly leave since it’s dangerous. Soo In gets up her nerve to tell Yoon Kang that she was devastated learning that he was planning to assassinate Leader Kim, if Yoon Kang died then neither Soo In nor Yeon Ha would have the will to keep on living. Soo In asks Yoon Kang to stop now since using a gun to kill someone is just a momentary release with eternal emptiness inside afterwards. He can’t let Yeon Ha be a runaway slave her entire life, right? Even if it’s just for Yeon Ha, he needs to find another way.
Soo In takes his hand and vows to help him also overturn his son of a convict status so that he can live a free life. Yoon Kang takes Soo In’s hand and thanks her. Yoon Kang notices someone watching and looks over to see Hye Won standing there. She walks up to him with a smile and can’t believe that he’s wandering around despite his convict status and Soo In lied to her about not knowing where Yoon Kang was.
Hye Won asks Yoon Kang straight up if he killed her dad? What did he do to her dad? Yoon Kang looks her in the eye and apologizes for her dad. That’s the only thing he can say to her and Hye Won scoffs about a simple apology. Hye Won doesn’t need an apology since her dad killed Yoon Kang’s dad. But now it’s her turn since she’s standing where Yoon Kang was before. He knows first hand what it feels like to lose a dad. Hye Won leaves with a determined angry glint in her eye.
Yoon Kang looks stricken as he realizes what he did in this never ending cycle of revenge. Yoon Kang sits in his room that night and remember a frightened Yeon Ha running away from the authorities and Hye Won vowing revenge on him for killing her dad.
Hye Won takes out a pistol and vows to kill Park Yoon Kang with her own hands. She will finish what her dad couldn’t finish. She asks her dad’s right hand man to keep surveillance on Soo In so that they can find Yoon Kang.
Officer Han passes word to Officer Moon that Yoon Kang wants to see him. Yoon Kang wants confirmation from Officer Moon that if Leader Kim and his Sugu faction is eliminated, the King can pardon Yoon Kang and Yeon Ha and give them back their free status? Officer Moon assures him that the King promised to do so. Yoon Kang still doesn’t want to work for the King but is willing to temporarily assist them until Leader Kim is defeated. That’s enough for Officer Moon and he thanks Yoon Kang for coming back and joining him. He had promised Commander Park to take care of his kids but failed and he always felt bad about it. He promises to keep doing everything he can to give Commander Park justice.
Minister Jung and Ho Kyung go inspect a guard bureau that didn’t receive it’s pay and provisions for the last year and the King has agreed to send supplies now. Minister Jung arrives and finds the guards in revolt because all the supplies are rice shards mixed with sand. The officers angrily quit and walk off their jobs.
Soo In finds Queen Min has procured a Western camera and she’s not frightened of it like other ladies. Her comfort with new inventions is a comfort to Queen Min who asks why Soo In wanted to learn so much about using the camera. Soo In explains that there are memories she wants to keep forever and not forget with the passage of time. Queen Min asks if it’s to remember a beloved? King Gojong arrives and hears from Queen Min that Soo In is Minister Jung’s daughter. King Gojong greets her and explains that her dad is of great assistance to him. He asks Soo In to share her knowledge with Queen Min.
Soo In is walking through the Palace and chances upon a group of guards apologizing to Ho Kyung for their earlier rudeness. They just learned he was the son of the Left Minister Kim. Ho Kyung doesn’t want their respect because of who his dad is and tells them to just do their jobs. After they leave, Soo In tearfully confronts Ho Kyung about his parentage and he confirms that Left Minister Kim is his dad. He apologizes for keeping it from her and wanted to tell her earlier but never had a chance. Soo In can’t believe this since Minister Kim almost killed her and her dad and was also part of the reason Scholar Hyun Am died.
Yoon Kang and Officer Han stake out Leader Kim’s residence after getting orders from Officer Moon to find out what the Sugu faction is up to. Supposedly they are amassing a lot of funds which must be planning something big. They see a lot of merchants going in and out indicating there is something of value for the businessmen to work with the Sugu faction. Sang Choo heads out with Je Mi to help with her tasks but she’s dismissive of him now after learning he’s not the real gunman who let her assume wrongly that he was. Je Mi is suddenly grabbed by a group of men and Sang Choo runs after them.
Kanemaru tells Yoon Kang that Yamamoto is coming to Joseon soon because he got his entry visa. Yoon Kang decides on a course of action with this new knowledge and asks Kanemaru to help him to return the favor from Kyoto.
Yoon Kang and Kanemaru find a beaten up Sang Choo and hear that Je Mi has been captured by her former owners. Sang Choo vows to save Je Mi and worries that she’ll be killed soon as a runaway slave. Yoon Kang assures Sang Choo that he’ll take care of it.
Je Mi has been captured, along with other runaway slaves, by the minister who works for Leader Kim. He slaps Je Mi and orders all the slaves tied up and denied water and food. Yoon Kang peers over the wall and clenches his fist to see a bruised and battered Je Mi cowering on the ground.
By nightfall the minister is ready to torture his runaway slaves for the heck of it but Yoon Kang storms the residence and swiftly dispatches all the guards. He used a wet cloth as a sword and sling but is almost shot by the minister. Yoon Kang shoots the minister in the shoulder and demands that he bring all the slave deeds out right now.
Yoon Kang ties up the minister and his wife before burning all the slave deeds one by one in the fire pit. The minister screams for him to stop because his slaves are his property and assets and even tries to bribe Yoon Kang to stop. Yoon Kang screams at him to shut up for treating his slaves like inhuman property. The minister screams at his slaves to douse the fire but everyone just stands there. Yoon Kang tells them to leave now because they are free and no longer need to endure mistreatment and be ordered about.
The story of how the masked man freed the slaves is the talk of the town and the storytellers are recounting it with a flourish to the rapt audience. Soo In and her maid listen as well and Soo In smiles knowingly and tells her maid that she thinks she knows who the slave freeing hero is.
Yoon Kang walks with Soo In and shares how he felt watching Je Mi get abused and thinking that his Yeon Ha also endured such mistreatment. Everyone is human so why do some get to orders others around while others get ordered around. Soo In shares that the same philosophy is what motivates her dad and Scholar Hyun Am to advocate for change. She assures Yoon Kang that he did well.
Yoon Kang flashes back to when Scholar Kim handed him the new model shotgun and asked for a promise that if Yoon Kang picks up this gun he won’t become like the others. He won’t take a life easily and will use the gun to help other and not to kill. What Yoon Kang does with the gun will determine his path in life.
Soo In finds Ho Kyung packed and leaving the Jung residence as he’s going to live with the guards during the training. Ho Kyung apologizes for being a burden on Soo In’s family and for his paternity causing her distress.
Yoon Kang confirms that Sang Choo requested an audience with Leader Kim in Yamamoto’s name while Kanemaru wonders if this is the only way. Yoon Kang says it’s the only way they have to meet Leader Kim.
Leader Kim laughs at the story of the moonlight masked gunman who freed the slaves while Minister Kim worries that it could be Park Yoon Kang. Leader Kim isn’t worried and hears that the injured minister can’t move around until he recovers. Leader Kim shares the letter he received from Japanese businessman Yamamoto requesting an audience and plans to meet with him. He knows this was the business opportunity that Merchant Choi was cultivating behind his back and he plans to directly use it himself.
Yoon Kang is disguised as Yamamoto with a fake mustache and bowler hat and plans to use this meeting to ascertain what Leader Kim looks like. We see Leader Kim paying a visit to the recovering Merchant Choi who was saved by wearing a bulletproof vest. Leader Kim’s minion reports that Yamamoto entered through the Qing border and shows him the entry slip, confirming Yoon Kang’s ruse that he could be Yamamoto.
Yoon Kang arrives at Leader Kim’s residence with Kanemaru and Sang Choo and immediately puts on a show about being searched before entering. Leader Kim doesn’t care if Yamamoto leaves if he would rather not be searched and lose a business opportunity. Yoon Kang backs down and allows the search and is led in to meet with Leader Kim.
Yoon Kang as Yamamoto explains that he wants to expand the gold mine business he was working on with the Kyung Gi Merchant Group. Leader Kim claims he can’t help but Yoon Kang compliments that Leader Kim is the King outside of the Palace. He wants help entering the Joseon market and needs Leader Kim to eliminate the tight restrictions. If he does then Yamamoto will share the immense profits with him. Leader Kim claims he doesn’t have such reach but Yamamoto laughs that he knows Leader Kim controls the entire Joseon government.
Leader Kim asks what Yamamoto knows about Hanjo who is really a Joseon man named Park Yoon Kang. Yoon Kang replies that he knew but accepted him because as a businessman all he needs is someone who can add value to him. Leader Kim laughs and agrees with that. Their conversation travels into the room where Merchant Choi is resting and he opens his eyes and looks out the door to see Yoon Kang disguised as Yamamoto walking past. The Japanese business bid farewell and look forward to working with Leader Kim in the future.
Yoon Kang returns to his hiding place and finds Soo In visiting. Hye Won’s spy reports back to her that Yoon Kang has been located and she immediately sets out to confront him. Soo In assures Yoon Kang that Yeon Ha is doing well and all settled safely. They head out to visit her when Hye Won arrives to spoil the party.
Yoon Kang coldly asks why she’s here and Hye Won points out the difference in his attitude with greeting her versus greeting Soo In. She confirms having Soo In tailed to find out where Yoon Kang is hiding. Hye Won brings up her intention to kill Yoon Kang and her man walks up to point a gun at Yoon Kang. Hye Won plans to revenge her dad and to end her feelings for him.
Yoon Kang suddenly delivers a roundhouse kick and snatches the gun but Hye Won has plan B and takes out her pistol to point it at Soo In’s head. Yoon Kang screams at her to put it down but Hye Won sneers before pulling the trigger.
Thoughts of Mine:
My appreciation for all that Joseon Gunman does right doesn’t mean I think it’s perfect nor all that well-written. It’s just a solid effort that is elevated with engaging writing, fluid directing, and a story that packs a punch. With that said, Merchant Choi’s miraculous survival thanks to a Joseon-era bullet proof vest is all sorts of ridiculous. That also means he survived a backwards fall over a cliff AND Leader Kim’s men were somehow nearby to fish him safely out of the water. I call bullshit, especially since Commander Park died with just one gunshot just like that. I welcome Merchant Choi’s existence to keep the danger high in the story, but am not sure why Leader Kim would want to rescue him since he was about to toss him away. I guess his supposed death was needed to let Yoon Kang realize that pulling the trigger didn’t make him feel better and didn’t solve his bigger problems, and it was also a way to push Hye Won over the emotional edge. Bummer for her because dark Hye Won makes for good watching but also loses the audience sympathy for a character that was wonderfully nuanced. I want to feel for her but knowing she’s mourning her relentless villain of a father isn’t something that makes my heart ache. If Merchant Choi didn’t time and again try to kill Yoon Kang, toss him under a bus, and vow to never stop until he’s destroyed, then perhaps I might understand where she’s coming from. But she knows, and we all know, that Merchant Choi was going to kill Yoon Kang no matter what, so Yoon Kang merely killed him first before he could attack.
The story is really ramping up on the Joseon politics end and it’s coming down to a Palace coup as the King shows no signs of capitulating to his enemies. It’s rather hard to root for Joseon when the country is basically having an internal catfight rather than banding together to stand strong against outsiders. I like many of the characters but the macro world that they live in is rotten and might actually need violent revolution to start anew. Yoon Kang needed to see that his fight was bigger than personal vengeance and that his and Yeon Ha’s future livelihood was tied to how the King could fight for the rights of everyone who was oppressed. It was nice seeing Yoon Kang apologize to Hye Won (because he genuinely didn’t want to hurt her), but at the same time see that what he did perpetuated the cycle of revenge. It was also reassuring that he saw Je Mi’s runaway slave fate and didn’t just save her but freed all the slaves that night. The maturation and evolution of Park Yoon Kang has been one of the best developed elements of this drama, from a wastral son all to the way to someone who wants to help others even worse off than him, he is starting to understand the purpose of the fight that his dad died in trying to protect. That’s a much more satisfying moment to watch than seeing Yoon Kang dispatch Merchant Choi. Episode 16 promises major upheaval and with it hopefully even more excitement in store as the OTP goes from dodging danger to entering the fray for the sake of the greater good.
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