A hero is born! It’s an episode of turning points, as some people turn toward the light and others head for the darkness. Our hero faces a moment of truth and questions the path he’s been traveling, discovering that perhaps there’s another way to get things done. It’s a truth that’s been staring him in the face for a while; he just needed a loving nudge in the right direction, and maybe a rude awakening or two.
SONG OF THE DAY
Royal Pirates – “Betting Everything” (Acoustic version) [ Download ]
EPISODE 15 RECAP
Yoon-kang tracks down Choi Won-shin and corners him on that clifftop, ready to mete out his vengeance. He shoots Choi three times, once in the leg (for his father), once in the arm (for his sister), and one final time in the chest (for himself). Choi goes flying off the cliff, falling into the water below.
Yoon-kang watches him fall, then erupts into angry tears.
He trudges back to the temple in low spirits, and Soo-in senses that something is amiss. She doesn’t pry as he turns to her for comfort, doubting whether he’s doing the right thing: “But I cannot think of any other way.” Soo-in holds him consolingly and replies that this is the nature of revenge—it’s futile.
Choi’s henchman survives being shot by Yoon-kang and makes it back home, where he reports to a stunned Hye-won that her father and Yoon-kang disappeared together. She orders a team of men out on a search party, fearing for the worst. When her father’s bloodstained shoe is discovered in the water, she refuses to believe that he died, lifting her chin higher and declaring fiercely that he would not die so easily.
Soo-in comes back to the city and finds Hye-won jittery with nerves, waiting outside the house for Yoon-kang. She presses to know where he is, growing increasingly heated as she blurts, “He killed my father.” In desperation, she demands to know so that she can find her father, “even if just his corpse.”
Soo-in says that she doesn’t know where he is, and Hye-won slaps her full in the face. “If you see him again, tell him this—I will kill him.”
Minister Kim informs Lord Kim of these developments, and is noticeably more upset that he ought to be, considering that his alliance with Choi is a secret. Lord Kim isn’t greatly perturbed, saying that one oughtn’t get too attached to one’s beasts, and Minister Kim has to cover for his chagrin by saying he’s just worried that losing Choi will cause problems for them.
Even with his misgivings, Yoon-kang prepares his gun and assures his father, “It will all be ending soon.” Back in his secluded safehouse, he outlines his plan with Sang-chu: He will strike Lord Kim down tonight. His initial plan was to lie in wait until Lord Kim ventured out of his heavily guarded home, but now he feels the pressure to end this. Sang-chu pleads with him to rethink this or take reinforcements, but Yoon-kang is determined to wrap this up as soon as possible.
The members of Suhogye have been dealt a few setbacks by the king’s recent strides toward modernizing his army and government, but it’s time to these noblemen to strike back. They note that with the king establishing his modern military, the older-style armies are being pushed to the side, giving rise to discontent. That’s something they can use.
Furthermore, they’ll have to reinforce the social class hierarchy before the commoners get it into their heads that they’re all equal or some nonsense like that. They’ll have to make an example of some people—and to kill two birds with one stone, they can use Yeon-ha as bait to draw in Yoon-kang.
Classism isn’t just for the old guard, either, as Ho-kyung finds out when a large number of his ranks refuse to attend training. Serving the government has long been the purview of the high-born, with the lower classes and those born out of wedlock barred from public service. Thus many of the soldiers find it insulting to be commanded by a bastard, leaving his remaining numbers woefully sparse.
For what it’s worth, it seems possible that Minister Kim’s rigidity toward Ho-kyung is softening. In the Suhogye meeting, he had shot a sharp look at a minister for denigrating bastards, and now he drops by the training grounds and regards his son’s plight with a pity, urging him to quit, telling him that he doesn’t belong here. He’s speaking out of concern more than shame this time, urging him to go back to his scholar’s life or even to Japan.
It’s enough for Ho-kyung to be suspicious—why is he suddenly worried? Minister Kim just tells him to heed his words before he comes to greater harm.
At the temple, Yeon-ha sees the arrival of soldiers and senses danger. She runs into the woods, gaining only a small head start before she is seen and chased. She huddles for cover while the search party spreads out, and it looks like it’ll only be a matter of minutes before she’s caught.
Soo-in drops by the temple for a visit and hears from the worried monk that Yeon-ha has disappeared. She attempts to look for her in the woods, but realizes she had better call in Yoon-kang and goes to Sang-chu to ask where to find him. Sang-chu is torn, but ultimately gives in and leads Soo-in to Yoon-kang, just before he embarks on his mission to eliminate Lord Kim. For his sake, I’m relieved at the interruption.
They return to the woods near the temple to resume the search, finally finding her slumped over in her hiding place. She must be reliving her recent horrors in her dreams, as she begs for mercy before being awakened by her brother. The reminder of her suffering cuts Yoon-kang deep, and he holds her close and apologizes for being so late.
Seeing this up close makes Yoon-kang realize that Yeon-ha has endured more than she let on, and he acknowledges that his revenge crusade has put his loved ones in pain. Soo-in urges him to quit, because losing him would be too much for her or Yeon-ha to live through again. “Killing someone with a gun will change nothing,” she says. All it does is leave him feeling futile and keeps him a fugitive forever. “If only for Yeon-ha’s sake, find another way,” she asks. She promises to help him find another way to become free, and perhaps he’s ready now to agree, because he thanks her with a smile.
But the mood suddenly darkens when they realize that someone has arrived—Hye-won, who regards the tender exchange with bitterness. Glaring hatefully, she asks Yoon-kang whether he shot and killed her father.
He says that “I’m sorry” is the only thing he can offer her, but her voice hardens as she tells him not to be sorry—after all, her father killed his father. And now he’s put her into the same position and ought to know the rage she feels. So he ought to know what she is prepared to do next, and warns him to be ready. It’s a death threat, an eye for an eye.
Today’s events weigh heavily on Yoon-kang’s mind as he considers the path he’s chosen and what it has cost. Hye-won, on the other hand, arms herself with a pistol and vows to kill Yoon-kang with her own hands. She orders Sung-gil to keep watch over Soo-in, who will lead them to Yoon-kang.
Yoon-kang decides on a course of action and requests a meeting with Officer Moon, who meets him up at his hideaway. He confirms that he can still clear his father’s name without killing Lord Kim, if instead they focus on rooting out and destroying Suhogye. Officer Moon gives him Gojong’s promise, but Yoon-kang makes clear that he still doesn’t mean to join in on the king’s plans. All he’s proposing is an alliance until Lord Kim can be taken down.
It’s good enough for Officer Moon, who thanks him for giving him a chance to observe his promise to his father to watch over his children—it had shamed him to be unable to see that through, he says. He promises to do everything in his power to help restore his father’s honor.
Interpreter Jung and Ho-kyung step in to deal with a troubling matter with the officers of the old guard, who have received sacks of tainted rice and are furious. Ho-kyung’s appearance only makes them angrier, since they’re already full of resentment over the new troops, and the sol-diers hurl the bad rice away and storm off in disgruntlement. Clearly somebody’s been busy sowing seeds of discontent.
In her new capacity as the queen’s conversation partner at court, Soo-in looks over the new camera that has been acquired and explains its properties, impressing the queen with her knowledge. Asked what prompted her interest in the device, Soo-in explains that there are memories she didn’t want to forget, memories that would fade in the mind that might be aided by a photograph. It certainly explains her fixation with finding a camera following Yoon-kang’s presumed death, and the queen guesses similarly, asking if those memories have to do with her sweetheart.
Soo-in crosses paths with Ho-kyung in the courtyard, and is within earshot when he is approached by several of his subordinate officers. Unlike the other day when they sneered at his bastardy, today they are full of contrition, saying that they would have been more respectful had they known he was the son of Minister Kim. Ho-kyung isn’t gratified at being treated better because of that one difference and orders his men to prove their words with actions. He isn’t too alarmed by their mention of his paternity—at least until he sees Soo-in there, who asks if it’s true.
Ho-kyung confirms the truth with great reluctance, and can have nothing to say to her reminder that his father tried to kill hers. Soo-in can’t wrap her head around it all, how he was a Kaehwa scholar and her teacher’s pupil, and the truth is such a shock that she excuses herself in tears.
After finding out that Sang-chu lied about being the gunman, Je-mi has been giving him the cold shoulder, to his chagrin. She huffs at him not to follow her around anymore, and he pouts at this treatment after enjoying her admiration for a while. But then she’s accosted by a gang of roughnecks, and he goes after them to save her.
Yoon-kang and Officer Moon decide to do a little more surveillance over the goings-on at Lord Kim’s residence, collecting information as they watch a steady stream of merchants arriving with gifts. Lord Kim must be planning something big, and they suppose everyone’s eager to follow the line of power.
Then an idea strikes when Kanemaru reports that Yamamoto will be arriving in Joseon soon. Yoon-kang asks Kanemaru for his help, telling him this can be his chance to repay the debt he owes him.
Just then, Sang-chu comes staggering in, badly beaten up from his encounter with Je-mi’s abductors. He’s overwrought at the idea of Je-mi being beaten to death, because she’s a runaway slave and her owners have finally caught up to her. He’s in no shape to go after her, though, and so it’s Yoon-kang who offers to go and save her.
The slave owner turns out to be a familiar face from our Suhogye gatherings, a high-ranking Sugu minister. Je-mi and several other captured slaves are beaten and ordered to be left tied and given no food or water as punishment. They are left like that all day and into the night, at which point their sadistic master smirks and retrieves a hot iron from burning coals, holding it to her face.
Yoon-kang makes his move then, and the minister’s private army is no match for his superior fighting skills. They rush him with swords drawn, but Yoon-kang ducks and whirls and gets resourceful with his attack strategy, taking a rag dipped in water and wielding it as makeshift whip.
The minister rushes to grab his gun with shaky hands and fires a shot at Yoon-kang, but it’s his henchman who takes the bullet. Yoon-kang fires his gun back at him, taking him down with a shot to the shoulder. He orders the minster to bring him every slave document in the house, and soon the positions are reversed as the slaves are released and the minister tied up. The minister thunders at him to let him go or face dire consequences… and Yoon-kang just looks him straight in the eye and drops one slave’s documents into the fire. Badass.
It has the minister sputtering and bargaining immediately, though, since to him it’s like burning up big piles of money. He says that the gunman surely won’t want to do all this for mere slaves, ungrateful beasts that they are, but that only angers Yoon-kang more. He growls, “The fact that you, who consider people as mere things and beasts, are an official of this nation is a shameful thing.” He drops the entire pile of papers into the fire.
The slaves watch in awe, and Yoon-kang proclaims them free to be the owners of their own lives. They leave with grateful bows in his direction while the minister fumes impotently, and then Yoon-kang escorts Je-mi away.
The story circulates quickly in the city, and children gather round as the bookseller recounts the story of the mysterious hero who freed the people. Soo-in is among the audience, and she listens with a full heart, having a good inkling as to who the hero might be.
Yoon-kang shares with her how he felt, since Yeon-ha could very well have suffered Je-mi’s fate. He couldn’t make sense of the idea of one person ordering another person around, of one person being so cruel to another. Soo-in tells him that that’s what her teacher Hyun Am advocated so hard for, to change the world, and she praises Yoon-kang: “This time, your gun saved people.”
It makes Yoon-kang think back to three years ago in Japan, and we see the moment when his benefactor, scholar Kim Ok-kyun, takes away his sword and places the gun in front of him. “Just promise me one thing,” Kim says. “Even if you take this gun, do not become like them. You must not kill recklessly. The reason I give this to you is not to kill people—it’s to save them. How you decide to use your power will alter your future.”
Ho-kyung packs up and moves out of Soo-in’s home, telling her that he’ll live in the training barracks instead, not wishing to be a source of burden to her. He apologizes for the pain she felt at his or his father’s hands, and promises to do his best to stop his father from doing anything that might hurt her father.
Yoon-kang kicks his plan into motion, starting off by sending a forged letter from Yamamoto to Lord Kim, which is one way for him to get close to his quarry. It works, because Lord Kim recognizes Yamamoto as a powerful figure and decides to take a meeting with him.
And so, our (pseudo-)Japanese trio arrives for their meeting, dressed like the hokiest fools out of a Marx Brothers routine. I’m sorry, but a bowler hat and a Chaplin mustache do not a disguise make! It’s unintentionally hilarious.
At least Yoon-kang acknowledges that the disguise is rather thin, but since they have all the documents supporting the ruse, he should be able to get some valuable information. He’ll size up Lord Kim in person, and also case the joint.
Meanwhile, inside the house lies a sleeping Choi Won-shin—not dead after all, thanks to the bulletproof vest he’d been wearing. And somehow, it was Lord Kim who found him first and now harbors him under his roof.
Lord Kim knows enough to be suspicious of the Yamamoto letter, since there were no incoming ships from Japan recently. But Yoon-kang arrives with papers documenting his entry via China (and an act full of hauteur, which takes offense at being treated like a common peddler).
The trio is allowed in to meet with Lord Kim, and Yoon-kang states his purpose in coming here: He has long wished to expand business to Joseon, but has been stymied by various regulations. Hearing of Lord Kim referred to as “the king outside the palace,” he wishes to work his way around those restrictions so he can proceed, and promises Lord Kim a cut of his immense profits. Yoon-kang flatters his vanity just so and greases some wheels, and by the end of the meeting the vibe is feeling rather in his favor.
As they stroll, Lord Kim asks about Hanjo being Park Yoon-kang, asking if it’s possible that Yamamoto could have been ignorant of that. Yoon-kang replies that he knew Hanjo was from Joseon, and felt that he would come in handy someday. He had no interest in his criminal history, saying that he’s concerned solely with whether something will profit him or not.
And as Lord Kim chuckles with “Yamamoto” outside, Choi Won-shin finally stirs from his sleep, hearing the voices and catching a glimpse of the visitors as they pass by. Even without him, though, it seems from Lord Kim’s reaction after the party leaves that he knows to be suspicious of them.
Yoon-kang returns to his safehouse, where Soo-in finds him… unaware of having been followed here by Sung-gil. He reports to Hye-won, who heads out straightaway. Oh, this isn’t going to go well, is it.
Hye-won arrives and confronts them, reminding them that she’d promised to kill Yoon-kang: “I think that’ll be now.”
At that, Sung-gil appears and lifts a gun to Yoon-kang’s temple. Hye-won calls this repayment for her father’s life, as well as her last goodbye to the man who moved her heart. She gives the signal to shoot just as Yoon-kang acts, knocking Sung-gil down and seizing his gun, turning it around on him.
Which is when Hye-won takes out her pistol and puts it to Soo-in’s head, ordering Yoon-kang to put his gun down. She cocks the hammer…
Hye-won’s turn doesn’t come as a surprise, but appreciate how it’s been unfolding over the past several weeks, developing in an organic way that feels both sympathetic and natural to her character. If we’re pitting this as a Hye-won-versus-Yoon-kang face-off then there’s no question that I’m on Yoon-kang’s side, and I want to take Hye-won’s argument (that her revenge is a natural extension of Yoon-kang’s revenge) and try to get her to see the fallacy of that, particularly given how unsatisfying Yoon-kang has ultimately found his revenge. But her position is completely understandable, and it’s what makes her character such a textured and interesting one.
I like that Hye-won’s betrayal extends to Soo-in, if only because that makes Soo-in less of a pawn or object, which is what we’d have if Soo-in were only being threatened as a way to hurt Yoon-kang. I’d have liked for the two ladies’ friendship to be explored more, in fact, because the fracturing of their bond could have been quite interesting as well. Imagine, for instance, if Hye-won had ever been vulnerable with Soo-in—the fallout could have been even more cutting. But I suppose now I’m just being demanding since I’m happy with where we’ve come; it’s just that I always want this drama to be even better, just that tiny smidge more complex, because I really feel the world would support it. But I suppose I shouldn’t get too greedy now…
In fact, I almost wish they’d have Choi Won-shin die for good just to see where that would take Hye-won, because she’s the kind of villain (or at least antagonist) who wouldn’t devolve into one-note opposition. Her reaction to her father’s demise had a really nice complexity to it, shifting between denial and fear and rage, and I don’t want to have that resolved too soon before we get to explore it some more. Of course, there’s always the possibility of the show letting her think her father is dead for a long while before setting her straight, so that may happen yet. And I expect that with Choi in Lord Kim’s clutches, the father-daughter bond will fall into precarious straits as Kim manipulates either or both of them for his own gain.
I’ve been waiting for Yoon-kang to get his hero groove on, so I’m really pleased to finally move into this second stage of his development. I’m not sure if the two-episode extension is why they waited till this point, but they could have gotten here even earlier and still had plenty of narrative territory to mine, so I’m hoping that the future episodes will get enough of a chance to explore his transformation from personal revenge to national hero. When you’ve got all that power in your hands, it really is a shame to limit yourself to a personal wrong that won’t ever satisfy anybody, and I’m relieved to have Yoon-kang finally accept it. Why be a badass for the sake of one when you could be a badass for the sake of thousands or millions?
I do appreciate that the transition gave Yoon-kang the chance to realize the difference in both head and heart, because he had to see the futility of his mission first. Perhaps he could have opened his eyes to this other path sooner, but we know Yoon-kang is hotheaded and rash, so it makes sense that he would have to hit rock bottom, so to speak, before seeing that there’s a different way back up.
I’ll be perfectly honest and admit that I wanted the mechanism of his heroic turn to be a little cooler—this show knows how to hit its mark and get to its emotional beats competently, but as I’ve said before, it feels a little mechanical. It accomplishes things well enough that I still welled up with tears when he stood up for the slaves, but I do hope that the story to be told from here on out will show him more as just the hero who swoops in and is all goodness and light and solves everybody’s problems. ‘Cause I think we can all agree that Yoon-kang is more interesting and relatable with a streak of darkness still running through him.
- Joseon Gunman: Episode 14
- Joseon Gunman: Episode 13
- Joseon Gunman: Episode 12
- Joseon Gunman: Episode 11
- Joseon Gunman: Episode 10
- Joseon Gunman: Episode 9
- Joseon Gunman: Episode 8
- Joseon Gunman: Episode 7
- Joseon Gunman: Episode 6
- Joseon Gunman: Episode 5
- Joseon Gunman: Episode 4
- Joseon Gunman: Episode 3
- Joseon Gunman: Episode 2
- Joseon Gunman: Episode 1