Joseon Gunman started with a literal bang as drama opened on guns being fired and ends today with a well-deserved and perfectly executed bow. It makes me want to pinch myself that I got to recap such a solid drama and having it star a pair of my fave onscreen couples. With that said, I won’t miss JG at all now that it’s done, missing it usually means I’m not content with how and where the story left off but this particular journey had a very definite and assured ending. I won’t spoil who lives or dies in this final episode but the body count is high and most of the deaths wrung tears out of me. Ultimately I’m left feeling a grave sense of injustice for most people who lived turning this turbulent era, unless one was born into wealth and power then life sucked. And if wealth and power wanted to step on and sacrifice anyone then it just felt like bad luck more than anything. Starting from the assassination of the enlightenment scholars to Commander Park’s sacrifice and defamation, the death and destruction in this story always felt senseless.
Even when the baddies bit the dust like Leader Kim or Minister Kim, I felt a twinge of sadness because they were simply men set in their rooted ways from centuries of power play and zero ability to accept a change in the existing hierarchy. King Gojong’s dreams of a better Joseon ultimately set in motion all the events that led to conflict and pain, worse yet there was no payoff. He failed time and again and others paid the price, and in the end Joseon was no better off than when he decided to make a difference. This doesn’t make the drama meaningless, though, because with the cast of well-written and ably-acted characters, I was sold on their personal struggles even if the macro picture was futile. At some point I wanted Yoon Kang to avenge his dad even if vengeance begat more vengeance and I rooted for Merchant Choi to at least get payback on Leader Kim and his haughty ilk. Traveling the trials and tribulations alongside Yoon Kang and Merchant Choi’s disparate but at odds trajectory, it was fitting to reach an acceptance by the end that sometimes one has to know when to call it quits and move on whether it’s dreams or hate. I put away JG with a heart full of contentment to finally ride a steady satisfying tale from start to finish.
Episode 22 recap:
Yoon Kang and Soo In dress in their finest and pledge their troth to each other now that the enlightenment led coup appears to have succeeded and the new world they have been dreaming of is finally here. Yoon Kang is so happy that Soo In is back beside him now and he won’t let her go ever again. They sweetly kiss and a happy tear falls from Soo In’s eyes.
The marketplace is abuzz as word spreads of the political upheaval that has given the commoners the same rights as the yangban and also freed the slaves. Sang Choo happily passes out flyers announcing the new laws while Soo In and Yoon Kang fold up their sleeves and posts the same announcement on the market board.
Too bad the happiness doesn’t last long as the Japanese military arrive and march into the capital. Soo In and Yoon Kang are naturally dismayed to realize that Scholar Kim went behind their backs and asked the Japanese for help.
Yoon Kang and Soo In rush back to the palace to find it surrounded by Japanese guards. They confront Scholar Kim about lying to everyone but he’s unapologetic because it had to be done to create the new world they want. Yoon Kang warns Scholar Kim that the Japanese won’t be content to help and will want to rule Joseon. Scholar Kim insists that won’t happen as the Japanese merely want to assist in Joseon’s enlightenment. Yoon Kang calls Scholar Kim out on his idiocy and adds that the people don’t want foreign powers involved and knowing that Japanese was behind the coup then the people will turn against them.
Yoon Kang breaks with Scholar Kim then and there because this is not the world he wanted. He doesn’t want a future dictated by outside forces. Scholar Kim warns Yoon Kang that he can’t leave because then the soldiers on their side will defect and their coup will splinter. He begs Yoon Kang to stay in his position.
All of it becomes moot when Ho Kyung rushes over to announce that the Japanese forces are moving the King and Queen back to the main palace. They arrive at the gates to see the King and Queen already setting off back to the palace. The Japanese claim they are doing it as the Queen’s request. Yoon Kang warns that their forces can’t hold the main palace secure and Scholar Kim begs Yoon Kang to go back to the main palace and lead the troops there.
A minister loyal to the King and Queen immediately goes to meet them and Queen Min hands the man a box as a thank you. A eunuch loyal to the coup inspects the box and sees that it’s just an ordinary art piece. The Queen urges the minister to display it at home and it will bring him good fortune. After the minister steps away, the Queen reveals to the King that the Qing will arrive soon to help them because she placed a letter inside the box that is begging the Qing dynasty for help. She refuses to let the country fall into the hands of the rebels and traitors. The minister goes home and takes the item out of the box and finds the Queen’s letter begging the Qing for help and passes it along.
Merchant Choi sits before Hye Won’s memorial altar. His man warns that the merchant group will soon turn against him now that the government is in the hands of people who hate Merchant Choi. He remains unruffled and tells his man to pass word that anyone who doesn’t come to pay their respects to his daughter will pay the price.
Soo In is willing to leave with Yoon Kang if that is what he wants. She doesn’t want a Joseon controlled by the Japanese either. Yoon Kang wants to but can’t leave because it would render everything they did moot. He wants to stay until matters are under control. Soo In is willing to wait with him and stay beside him.
The next day the people have turned against the coup and rips the announcements off the market board, angry that the Japanese was brought in to interfere. Sang Choo sees the Qing dynasty soldiers marching through the marketplace and hurries off. Soo In encounters the Queen headed somewhere and the Queen announces that the Qing soldiers will be arriving shortly and the coup will be over.
Shots ring out and the Qing soldiers face off with the Japanese soldiers right outside the palace. The Japanese commander immediately orders a full retreat and refuses to get involved any further. Some of the coup soldiers also run away at the sign of trouble so Yoon Kang asks Ho Kyung to hold down the fort while he goes to get everyone out of the palace.
Fighting commences in earnest as the Qing soldiers begin their attack to retake the palace. Yoon Kang urges Soo In to hide in a safe place with Scholar Kim and the other officials. Ho Kyung and his front line forces try to hold off the Qing soldiers but are no match so they retreat deeper into the palace.
Yoon Kang and Sang Choo have set up a barricade in the palace main courtyard and Yoon Kang tries to get Sang Choo to leave now since he has Je Mi and his child to raise. Sang Choo refuses because he needs to create this new world for his family. Plus he fought with Yoon Kang in Japan and survived because Yoon Kang saved his life, so it’s his destiny to stay beside Yoon Kang to the end.
Ho Kyung and the remaining troops rendezvous with Yoon Kang and he hears the bad news that all the troops have run away while the Qing soldiers are storming in through all the gates. Ho Kyung says they need to escape now otherwise they are all dead. Yoon Kang goes to find Soo In but encounters Scholar Kim and the Princess’s husband running away to join the Japanese and catch a boat to Japan. He is furious that they are running away even though they claim they need to save their own life now and regroup for the future.
Yoon Kang arrives at the place Soo In is hiding and takes her away safely. As the group runs away Sang Choo is shot in the leg and can’t run so Yoon Kang hands Soo In to Ho Kyung and tries to carry Sang Choo away. Sang Choo urges Yoon Kang to leave him here but Yoon Kang refuses but more Qing soldiers are storming in.
Sang Choo begs Yoon Kang one last favor to name his child, a pretty name and not like his name. Yoon Kang promises Sang Choo they will make it out alive and talk about it then. Sang Choo darts out from behind the barricade to shoot as many soldiers as possible and gets pumped full of bullets. Ho Kyung deposits Soo In safely outside the palace and runs back inside to help Yoon Kang.
Ho Kyung’s arrival allows Yoo Kang the gunfire cover to pull the dying Sang Choo back behind the barricade. Yoon Kang cries for Sang Choo to hang in there because he needs to live in this new world and have Yoon Kang name his child. Ho Kyung urges Yoon Kang to leave now and when he doesn’t move actually drags Yoon Kang off.
King Gojong paces in his chambers as the fighting continues in the palace. Finally the Qing commander enters to report that they have regained control of the palace and the coup is over.
Ho Kyung suggests going to Soo In’s house next because all the family members of people who participated in the coup will be arrested. Soo In runs home and tells her mom to leave the capital now and apologizes for putting her mom in danger. Her mom isn’t angry and just relieved Soo In is alive. Her mom was happy briefly seeing the world Soo In’s dad dreamed of come true. Mom will leave now to go live with her translator brother and visit Qing with him. She assures Soo In not to worry about her and takes Soo In’s hand to ask that she live well.
Soo In’s mom and maid bid farewell to her and she leaves with Yoon Kang and Ho Kyung.
Officer Moon and Officer Han arrive at the palace to see all the dead bodies being carried away by the Qing soldiers. Officer Han recognizes a dead Sang Choo but Officer Moon urges him to control himself and is certain Yoon Kang survived. Merchant Choi is told that the coup has failed and Park Yoon Kang survived and is in hiding. Merchant Choi demands his gun and plans to personally kill Park Yoon Kang.
Ho Kyung, Yoon Kang, and Soo In can’t leave the capital as all the soldiers are guarding the gates looking for rebels. Soo In spots Merchant Choi and his men looking for them and quickly run to hide. Merchant Choi spots them and gives chase.
As the group runs though the street, Merchant Choi fires off one shot that hits Soo In in the upper back near her shoulder. Yoon Kang fires back to get them to back off and gives him the chance to carry Soo In on his back to safety. They run into a residence where Merchant Choi surrounds it and then more government guards arrive. Merchant Choi orders them to stand guard outside as he goes inside to capture traitor Park Yoon Kang.
Yoon Kang and Ho Kyung argue over who will go outside to confront the guards and buy the other two time to escape. Ho Kyung wants to go because he has nothing left to protect, his dad is dead and the new world he dreamed of is no more. He only came along to protect the two of them so he wants them to leave now, asking that Yoon Kang protect Soo In. Yoon Kang refuses to let Ho Kyung give up and wants him to run with them. Ho Kyung knows its not possible and quietly asks Yoon Kang to protect Soo In and escape from here. He asks that Yoon Kang and Soo In continue his dream for him because its harder for him to live now than to die. He will die relieved if they can promise to live.
Yoon Kang and Soo In sadly nod their promise and watch as Ho Kyung runs outside. Merchant Choi storms into the residence and runs around looking for Yoon Kang. Ho Kyung makes himself a visible target and engages with the gunman, taking out Merchant Choi’s right hand man but then falling in a hail of bullets as the government guards confront him and his gun jams.
Yoon Kang and Soo In hear the gunshots ring out in succession and pause to look back as Ho Kyung falls to the ground and dies. Merchant Choi searches the shed and finds blood stains indicating the injured Soo In was here but has now escaped.
Yoon Kang carries Soo In on his back trying to find a way out of the city and luckily run into Officer Moon and Officer Han. Officer Moon escorts Yoon Kang and Soo In out of the city disguised as Japanese citizens.
After they leave the city, Yoon Kang asks why Officer Moon saved him since he’s serving the King. Officer Moon reveals he quit because Yoon Kang was right, protecting the King is not the same as protecting Joseon. Officer Han hands Yoon Kang a gun and they part ways.
Yoon Kang finds a safe resting place for the night and asks Soo In to hang in there as he undressed her to check out her wound. He needs to dig the bullet out and brave Soo In endures the pain as Yoon Kang pries the bullet from her wound.
Afterwards Yoon Kang pulls Soo In into his arms as she wearily wonders if they can survive and live on for the people who have perished already. Yoon Kang comforts her with the assurance that even if its hard they will and must survive. The lovebirds kiss and I’m assuming that’s it with Soo In’s injury.
Soo In wakes up in Yoon Kang’s arms the next morning and he’s relieved to hear that she’s feeling much better. They slowly head towards the temple to pick up Yeon Ha and Je Mi first but are dismayed to hear upon arrival that government guards arrived earlier to take them away already. Yoon Kang leaves Soo In safely at the temple as he goes to rescue the others.
Yoon Kang saves Yeon Ha and Je Mi along with a bunch of other captures common folk as he easily dispatches the guards escorting them. The little boy picks up a bow and arrow from a fallen guard and declares that he will also help to protect the women now. Soo In is ecstatic to see Yoon Kang returning safely with everyone back together. Je Mi sobs to hear of Sang Choo’s brave death in fighting for a new world for their child.
Merchant Choi hears that a group of guards were attacked by a gunman and they know its Park Yoon Kang because his sister was captured. He orders the group’s whereabouts located. Merchant Choi arrives at the temple just as Yoon Kang and co are leaving and spots them to give chase. Merchant Choi screams in the forest for Yoon Kang to come face him otherwise he will kill everyone even if he has to burn the mountain down. Merchant Choi screams that he only wants to kill Yoon Kang and nothing more. If Yoon Kang dies then he will let the others live.
Soo In can sense Yoon Kang wavering and she insists that he can’t answer the call and must stay with them. It’s nightfall and both groups have made camp. Merchant Choi sees an arrow shot into a tree near him and reads the letter on the arrow from Yoon Kang. Soo In wakes up to find Yoon Kang missing and reads the letter he left behind apologizing for not keeping his promise but this is a battle he is fated to face. He has to sever his ill fate with Merchant Choi and also protect their future together. He promises to come back alive.
Merchant Choi arrives at the rendezvous point in Yoon Kang’s letter. The two men face off in a straight up faster shooting gun battle where Merchant Choi is not as quick at the draw and Yoon Kang shoots him in the leg first. Merchant Choi tries to pull off another shot but Yoon Kang is once again quicker and takes him down with a shot to the shoulder.
Yoon Kang walks over to point his gun at Merchant Choi who is resigned and ready to die now. He orders Yoon Kang to shoot and asks if Yoon Kang is hesitating because he’s going to feel guilt. Yoon Kang knows Merchant Choi is a tragic figure with a life that had no purpose, he was once again a person sacrificed for being born in the wrong time. Yoon Kang refuses to kill him and lowers his gun, killing Merchant Choi will not bring anyone back. He has decided to forgive Merchant Choi and no longer hate or seek revenge against him. Yoon Kang asks Merchant Choi to understand this truth as well in order to move forward.
Merchant Choi cries in agony and rage as he watches Yoon Kang walk away from him. He pulls out Hye Won’s little derringer from his chest and points it at his own head. Yoon Kang hears a shot ring out as Merchant Choi falls dead behind him. He steels himself and walks off.
Yoon Kang rejoins his very worried loved ones and Soo In runs into his arms and finally these two have overcome all obstacles to be together.
It’s years later now and Soo In is dressed as a married woman and doling out food at a mountain fort. Yoon Kang walks up and hands her a bowl with fresh flowers inside, teasing if this is enough money to pay for his food. Soo In smiles at his flirting and picks up the pretty flowers. Yoon Kang says she’s prettier than flowers in his eyes, prettier than even a noble unmarried lady.
Soo In asks where he’s headed now and Yoon Kang is going to a town where he heard the government official there is abusing the citizens and misusing his power. Soo In asks him to be careful and Yoon Kang assures her that he is not alone now and has people to fight alongside him.
Yoon Kang sets off with his loyal fighters on their mission as Soo In and Je Mi look on. Je Mi and Sang Choo’s little boy is about 6-7 years old now.
The corrupt official has a bunch of slaves tied up and his scared retainer runs inside to warn him that the full moon gunman is attacking, the one that sticks up for the people. We watch Yoon Kang riding and shooting his gun to liberate the suffering masses.
Thoughts of Mine:
Yay for no final out-of-the-blue death to end JG on a bittersweet and memorable note. This drama understood that death could be a relief and might be warranted, but as a fictional tale it had the leeway to give a happy ending that defied the odds but left the audience with a satisfied smile. It was even more fitting because this drama ultimately didn’t reach as high as it could have narratively so having a rather simple happy ending suited the journey the most. I cried for the deaths of Sang Choo and Ho Kyung, the way they died was even more poignant than their impact throughout the drama. They were yet more casualties in the conflict beyond their power and rooted in the eternal chasm between the haves and have nots. Sang Choo played a very important role time and again as Yoon Kang’s side kick and earned his happy ending, but his courage in following Yoon Kang and his own dream of an egalitarian society was what made him even more memorable in the end. Ho Kyung always felt like a sad kicked puppy the way he never could muster up the courage to pursue the girl or really lock horns with his dad, yet in facing death he made such a stirring speech to Yoon Kang and Soo In that more than made up for his underwritten character. It was sad he had to die for such an ill-plotted coup and at the expense of gutless cowards like Scholar Kim and a useless puppet regent that was King Gojong. But at least Ho Kyung tried to do what he believed in and willingly faced the consequences afterwards.
Merchant Choi’s self-inflicted death was also very moving because of great acting that made us all remember that he started off as a victim as well. He tried to justify his ill misconduct but in the end karma took his Hye Won and left him with nothing but her gun to take his own meaningless life. I’m so happy Yoon Kang didn’t kill him and I knew he wasn’t going to pull the trigger for many episodes now. Yoon Kang’s final stage transformation was from a man carrying a personal vengeance to a man acting for the greater salvation. He does what little he can, but it’s to live a life with the same purpose as his dad, to help protect Joseon. Soo In may have seemed like a little woman who stuck by her man but her character really shined for me. As an educated young woman she was thrust into danger time and again because of the men around her, but each time she bravely faced the action and always endured the consequences. This wasn’t her story to tell so if she didn’t have her own purpose beyond Yoon Kang then that was fine with me. The happy ending for our OTP wasn’t across the sea in distant more modern shores, instead it was in the back country where they lived to help others while finding it enriched their lives with such a purpose. Yoon Kang picked up the gun for revenge and in the end used it for justice, a journey we saw coming and arrived in the most understandable fashion. This drama was like a hot cup of solidly brewed coffee, perhaps not as complex and sophisticated as a shot of Italian expresso, but it was warming to the soul and good to the last drop.
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