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Nokdu Flower: Episodes 11-12

War is officially declared, the battle-lines are drawn, and each brother finds themselves on the opposite side. One brother by choice, since it offers him a new chance at life, and the other by coercion. The latter discovers the truth behind his conscription, and the betrayal hits hard as the idealistic scholar gradually transitions into a ruthless soldier.

 
EPISODES 11-12 RECAP

The mountain scouts march ahead of the Donghak followers, Yi-kang happily with them, beaming at the farmer peasants working in the fields. The peasants aren’t impressed with him, but they cheer in delight when they realize that Bong-joon and his army are walking by.

The Donghak religion grows as more people join Bong-joon, and he sets up a camp to train the new followers in battle-ready skills. That includes old rifles, of which the mountain scouts have greatest skill. Kyung-sun trains the other men on how to quickly load the rifles. Yi-kang is enthusiastic, but his crippled hand makes it difficult for him to do everything with only his left hand, and he accidentally shoots out the bamboo tamper into Kyung-sun’s chest.

Annoyed, Kyung-sun wants Bong-joon to move Yi-kang to another division, but Bong-joon wryly points out that Yi-kang is the only person who’s ever been able to shoot Kyung-sun, and they need every man they can get to fight against the governmental army.

In Gobu, which has been taken over again by the government, Ja-in reports back to the military leaders about what she saw at Baek mountain. I guess she’s taking her spy duties seriously, and not merely as an excuse to look for Yi-kang. She warns them that Bong-joon is building a large army, but the generals merely dismiss her as a woman who’s only there to provide good food and drink for the officers.

That’ll be difficult, since all the storehouses were raided by the Donghak followers. It also means the Baek family is now broke, so Ja-in’s effort to get help from Master Baek is a bust. But Master Baek is curious if, in her travels as a supplier for the army, she ran into Yi-hyun or Yi-kang. With a faint smirk, Ja-in slyly says that she’s too preoccupied with making money to notice anyone else.

The Gobu soldiers march to join up with the rest of the regiment, and some of the conscripted men stumble as they vomit. The starving men drank some tainted well water last night during their watch — and Yi-hyun was one of them. He faints, and is rushed to the outpost camp.

Ja-in tends to him — she not only deals in guns, but she also has a store of medicine. Yi-hyun muses that he’s once more indebted to her, but she tells him that he doesn’t owe her anything. Then she hands him a present from Myung-shin — it’s the robe Myung-shin was embroidering in anticipation of their wedding day. She wanted to give it to Yi-hyun as a symbol that she is fighting alongside him.

In the Donghak camp, the men stop for lunch. Yi-kang is excited for his meal, but he’s still persona non grata with the rest of the men, particularly the chef who is originally from Gobu. The chef just barely stops himself from hocking a loogie into Yi-kang’s bowl.

No one wants to sit with Yi-kang, either, although a few of the mountain scouts find him entertaining (ha, they still refer to him by the “Punching Bag” nickname). The men boast of their expertise with the blade and gunpowder, and Yi-kang wonders if they can teach them how to shoot a gun.

One of the men, an ex-monk who has been observing Yi-kang and the dynamics around him, tells Yi-kang to give up his gun — it would be better served in another man’s hands, since they’re already short on weapons.

Yi-kang demands to know how he’ll be able to fight and defend himself with only one hand — is the monk asking him to just die? But the man says that if Yi-kang can land a punch on him, then he’ll give back the gun.

For a thug like Yi-kang, it seems like a no-brainer, but the monk is a skilled fighter and easily avoids Yi-kang’s swinging fists, finally landing a blow that temporarily knocks Yi-kang out. Ahhh, yes, he’s definitely keeping that “Punching Bag” nickname.

Despite the lack of food in Gobu, Deok-ki manages to find some that will hopefully appease the officers. But he fears it won’t be enough. Ja-in tells him to go to Jeonju to buy more. Deok-ki doesn’t want to leave her alone at the military camp, but she shows him the small pistol she always carries — she’ll be safe enough.

The conscripted men take a break from marching, and in that time, a few deserters are rounded up. The commanding officer yells at a few of the other non-deserter conscripts — including Yi-hyun — to step forward, and behead the deserters as punishment.

Yi-hyun hesitates, and the commanding officer points his sword at Yi-hyun, ordering him to obey the command to kill the deserter. Weasel and Yi-hyun’s brother-in-law also arrive and watch as, with a sudden burst of rage, Yi-hyun slices off the man’s head.

Everyone is shocked, including Yi-hyun himself, as the blood drips off the blade. Weasel and Yi-hyun’s brother-in-law stare in horror at Yi-hyun as he dazedly staggers away from the body, but Yi-hyun’s stunned expression switches to a terrifying grin as he pushes past the officials.

Weasel and brother-in-law are there to make a case that Yi-hyun shouldn’t be serving — that it was an accident the scholar records were burned, and besides, Yi-hyun isn’t in a condition to be in the army. But the pompous magistrate refuses to accept their plea, since it will make it look like he curries favor and accepts bribes.

However, he thinks Yi-hyun would make a good official once the war ends. Yi-hyun is still determined to take the civil service exam, though. The magistrate admits he saw Yi-hyun’s name on the list of scholars when he first was appointed at Gobu, which surprises Yi-hyun, since that list was supposedly burned when the Donghak followers first occupied Gobu — before the magistrate ever arrived in town.

In the Donghak camp, Yi-kang practices fighting against a straw dummy, attempting to emulate the martial arts moves the monk used against him. Bong-joon interrupts, giving his approval that Yi-kang is preparing for battle. Yi-kang makes one of his sassy little jokes, but Bong-joon is dead serious — as he should be, since there’s a very real chance that they could die in the war.

Yi-kang isn’t afraid, because he wears a Donghak talisman on his back which means that he won’t get shot in the skirmish. But Bong-joon says that the label means “weak and powerless” — as in, it is the weak and powerless who will change the world. Bong-joon points out that Yi-kang’s crippled hand makes for a convenient weapon.

The Donghak leaders analyze the current map of where the governmental armies are, and discuss their next step, since the military is close enough to arrive at the Donghak camp within a day. Some of the leaders want to fight, some want to fall back and wait another day, but Bong-joon decides to meet them in the middle — disguised as peddlers.

Yi-kang watches as Kyung-sun tells the mountain scouts how to impersonate a peddler, then pleads to join them. Kyung-sun says he’ll be a liability, but the monk vouches for Yi-kang, promising that if Yi-kang betrays them, he’ll be sure to kill Yi-kang before Yi-kang can kill him.

In disguise, the scouts and Yi-kang make their way along the military route. Not that peddlers are necessarily safer than soldiers, since the peddlers want to protect their interest in supporting the government, which means killing any defectors and Donghak followers.

Things are tense when one of the main peddlers finds Kyung-sun suspect. Kyung-sun is ready to draw his sword and fight, but Deok-ki suddenly arrives with Ja-in’s peddlers, and Yi-kang springs forward, greeting him like a long lost brother, smothering him with hugs and kisses. Bwahaha! Deok-ki is totally confused, but at least Yi-kang proves his worth to Kyung-sun and the mountain scouts as Deok-ki endorses them to the suspicious peddlers.

The scouts join the rest of the peddlers, but Deok-ki pulls Yi-kang aside. He knows Yi-kang is Donghak, and assumes that they’re trying to sneak into the government army. Yi-kang insists they’re only trying to get medicine for the wounded men, but Deok-ki warns Yi-kang that he should go to the inn when he gets a chance, so he can at least see his mother again.

It might be his last chance, since Deok-ki’s war experience means he knows that no peasant with only bamboo as a weapon will survive against the government army, with their swords and guns. Aw, but then Yi-kang asks after Ja-in, telling Deok-ki to pass along the message that he says “hi.”

Thanks to the scouts gaining access to the military lines, the Donghak men now are able to quietly flank the road that the army is marching along. The soldiers are taken by surprise by the ambush, and at first the Donghak men have the upper-hand.

But nearby are the Gobu soldiers and the rest of the camp, who quickly join the fray — including Yi-hyun, who turns into the “ruthless warrior” as he kills anyone who attacks him. Many men on both sides are killed in the battle, and once Bong-joon realizes that military reinforcements are arriving, he orders the Donghak men to retreat.

After the battle, Ja-in wanders along the pathway strewn with dead bodies, anxiously inspecting every Donghak body for the tell-tale glove on the right hand. Yi-hyun spots her and tells her that his brother isn’t there.

They’re both relieved, but Yi-hyun is more amused that Yi-kang essentially has his own Myung-shin to fight along side him — or at least within his heart. Aha, so the leather glove is Ja-in’s version of an embroidered robe.

Yi-hyun spots Weasel pilfering a dead man’s garments and confronts the startled official. Yi-hyun demands to know how the magistrate saw the list of scholars when it was supposedly burned in the riot. Because that means someone lied in order to send Yi-hyun to war, and possibly to his death.

Weasel, with Yi-hyun’s blade pressed against his neck, gasps out that Teacher Hwang ordered him to do it, and Weasel couldn’t say anything because Teacher Hwang is blackmailing him. Furious, Yi-hyun raises his dagger to strike, but Ja-in calls out his name.

Coming to his senses, Yi-hyun drops the blade and staggers away to brood in the rain as he realizes the extent of Teacher Hwang’s betrayal. The man who he used to revere and hold in higher regard than his own father has now ruined his life.

Teacher Hwang feels no remorse, even when Master Baek visits to discuss the fact that there’s no reason the wedding shouldn’t continue as planned (even if Master Baek has lost his fortune). Master Baek genuinely believes the Donghak followers will be defeated soon, and that Yi-hyun will return safe-and-sound. Teacher Hwang merely laughs.

The peddlers arrive at the new military outpost — both real peddlers and the scouts in disguise. Ja-in is pleased to see another group of peddlers there, and their leader asks about Deok-ki, mentioning that they ran into someone called What’s-his-name.

Realizing that Yi-kang must be somewhere close, Ja-in wanders the military camp, searching for him. Huddled under a tent, the scouts wait out the rain as they ask Yi-kang about his fancy glove, teasing him when he admits it was a gift from a woman. Yi-kang loses himself in happy memories as he describes Ja-in to them (“She’s beautiful!”).

Ja-in is so close to Yi-kang — he’s mere feet away, hidden by boxes, but she can’t see him, and just when she seems to notice some men under the tent, she’s called away by another peddler. NoooOOOOOoooooooOOOOO! They’re so close!

The military officials are reveling in their “victory” with some wine, food, and women. They have no fear of Donghak men attacking the camp — although they should, since that’s exactly what happens in the middle of the night. The Donghak men set the outskirts of the camp up in flame, while the scouts infiltrate the gunpowder storage.

Meanwhile, Ja-in arrives at the officer’s tent with more food, but she’s disgusted and infuriated when she sees the terrified women in the officers arms. She angrily confronts the drunk general, but they’re interrupted by a huge blast as the weapons tent is blown up by the Donghak scouts.

The officers rush out of the tent, and the scouts and Yi-kang proudly shed their peddler disguises to reveal that they’re Donghak. Ja-in also runs out and sees the rush of Donghak followers run into the camp to fight against the unprepared soldiers.

A battle ensues, but even though the soldiers have the home turf, the Donghak men have the element of surprise, and it’s pretty even fight. Watching from a distance is Yi-hyun, who seems emotionally detached from it all.

Yi-kang is nearly killed by the drunk general, but the ex-monk saves Yi-kang with his super awesome swordsmanship. All through the camp are men fighting for their lives — it’s bloody and messy and brutal.

Deok-ki is at the inn in Jeonju, though, where he delivers a message from Yi-kang to his mother. Mom reads the letter, which reassures her that he’s doing well. He describes the place he’s living as peaceful and that he has no time to be bored, thanks to all the wonderful friends he’s made.

He adds that he’s on his way to a place he’s always want to go, and even though it might take a while to get there due to a difficult path, he’ll continue to walk along nevertheless.

Interspersed with Mom reading the letter are scenes from the bloody nighttime battlefield, including Yi-kang fighting off the soldiers. He sees Ja-in being dragged away by the soldiers and fights them off her.

Yi-kang and Ja-in suddenly come face-to-face, and they’re both so stunned to see each other that the chaos around them almost seems to stop and fade away.

But the battle doesn’t end, and as soldiers rush to drag Ja-in away from the skirmish, she screams out his name, struggling to free herself. But Yi-kang must focus on the war and fight for his life.

His letter concludes with a reassurance that his mother needn’t worry about him.

 
COMMENTS

Oh, my heart. I don’t know how much more of this “so close, yet so far” dramatic nonsense between Yi-kang and Ja-in I can take, but at least they got to see each other! For a few seconds! Before possibly dying in battle! Augh, I do love how much they care about each other (not that they’d ever admit it, either to each other or anyone else — or to themselves), and that despite their tough personas, they’re always on the lookout for each other. Well, Ja-in more so than Yi-kang, but that’s only because he didn’t know that she was part of the military suppliers so likely assumed she was safe at the inn. But it’s killing me that it’s been two episodes and we still haven’t had a proper reunion. C’mon, show! I need some snappy teasing banter and longing gazes! And maybe a little skinship!

On a terrifying note: yikes, Yi-hyun. I’d previously thought that Yoon Shi-yoon was a little underutilized in the early episodes, but wow — he’s definitely proving his worth now. I’ve mostly seen him play the goofy romantic lead or the pretty prince, so this darker turn is all new to me, but I’m loving it. Watching Yi-hyun gradually be taken over by the darkness in him is so riveting. You can see the flashes of humanity when he’s horrified by the easy (and almost gleeful) way he kills other people, including innocent men (like the deserter). Yet you can tell that he’s losing faith in everything that once grounded him. Where is the evil in taking another man’s life when your own life has been destroyed?

Teacher Hwang was Yi-hyun’s ideal — Yi-hyun had looked up to him as almost like a god. Teacher Hwang taught Yi-hyunabout equality and respect for others, no matter their class (even though his viewpoint was more cemented in intellectual enlightenment than a religious faction like Donghak). With Teacher Hwang’s blessing, Yi-hyun believed that he could change the corrupt government from within — and now his mentor and role model has thrown him to the wolves. Not only that, but his own brother essentially abandoned him. Not completely abandoned — there’s obviously some love and affection between the brothers (says the recapper, still clinging to her blind, foolish hope of a happily-ever-after bromance). But Yi-kang is building a new life filled with hope, and Yi-hyun is slowly turning into a monster.

The brother’s fortunes are turning — Yi-kang, who started with nothing, is beginning to have the blessed life that Yi-hyun used to have (well, it’s still a far cry from being a scholar with a rich father who paid for everything, but it’s still something). For the first time in Yi-kang’s life, he is surrounded by people who want to support him and help him live his best life. Well, as much as that is possible, considering that most of them don’t trust him yet (although there are glimmers of hope!). Yi-kang is gaining a mentor in Bong-joon, he has someone who loves him (yeah, I said it, Ja-in!), and, if the Donghak army wins the war, could live the peaceful life that he never thought was possible growing up, back when he was nothing but a servant in his father’s house.

Whereas Yi-hyun is gradually losing everything. So no wonder that he’s turning into his basest self, becoming no better than What’s-his-name who used to bully and beat-up people. I just hope that Yi-hyun doesn’t fall too far past the point where he can’t be redeemed.

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"I just hope that Yi-hyun doesn’t fall too far past the point where he can’t be redeemed."
-OMG. My heart. I'm afraid we're going downhill with this hope.. Yeah YH's world went crumbling down at the realization that Hwang betrayed him. And we know it's the closest person that brings the deepest pain. As you said, If YK's journey is uphill, YH's is downhill.. It's hard to accept but it's happening right before our eyes. Even though YH respected his brother's decision to join Donghak (and is genuinely happy that he found his lot), YH still holds his belief against the Donghak way of living. And he has become unafraid to do whatever means (killing) to stop them. I'm so afraid of what gonna happen to out brothers. Are they going to end up one-on-one, face to face in battle? Please no.

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This eps reminded me that this is, indeed, a difficult drama to watch. Continuous war, rampant corruption, casual violence, wide-spread poverty, betrayal and backstabbing, and I don't know what else. It felt like for every sympathetic decision Ja-in made and every good deed Yi-kang did, there's one more disheartening truth Yi-hyun had to face. His disilussionment about his father's cruelty to his own family, the true nature of his teacher, the horror of war, of killing someone and watching people died in front of his eyes was hard to watch. I felt like witnessing something inside him broken bit by bit, and I'm already dreading what would become of him if this continued.

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I appreciate how unflinchingly all of the horrors are portrayed without seeming gratuitous or over-done. It presents the dire conditions realistically but leaves room for hope, so it isn't suffocating to watch.

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The minute Yi-hyun's sword slashed that deserters body was also the moment his world was slashed to bits. The quickness of it all .... the ease of it .... and add to this, the revelation regarding Teacher Hwang. All this will consume Yi-hyun from here on in, I think, and if this is only the beginning of his descent into dark, dark place we better brace ourselves, for where he'll end up will be truly sad.

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Thank you very much @odilettante for the recap!!

I think that this is the best Yoon Shi-Yoon character (Yi-Hyun) & performance, it reminds me of Gaksital's Shunji (played by Park Ki-Woong).

And talking about Gaksital, Yi-Kang & Yi-Hyun are following the same path as Lee Kang-To & Kimura Shunji, respectively

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I've been really impressed by Yoon Shi-yoon's portrayal of Yi-hyun. He's done such a 180 from the early episodes to now, but it feels organic.

I hadn't made the Gaksital connection, but you're right. I keep meaning to go back and watch that show, as it's one of my all-time favorites, but then I'm like, "am I really ready to put myself through that again?" Haha.

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Ohhh... I see the connection you've made there.. Yeah Kangto chose the people while Shunji chose to serve the Japanese..
Somehow we're just in a different era. Maybe that's just how life is--no matter what era we live in. Brothers can fight for different beliefs, different perspectives.
Re YSY: indeed he is amazing here. I'm continually drawn to his character despite its downhill trajectory.

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My heart truly bleeds for Yi-hyun... he is really a kind and good person at heart, but is only turning dark because he has no avenue to express his grave disappointment in the people closest to him (especially Teacher Hwang). Looking forward to more exceptional performances by Yoon shi-yoon and I really hope that both Yi-kang and Yi-hyun are still alive when the drama ends!!

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Lol. Let's hope together

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