Mr. Sunshine: Episode 1
It’s here, and it’s more epic than I had imagined! The highly anticipated Mr. Sunshine, with its reliable production team, excellent casting, and compelling historical story seems to have the trifecta in place to deliver one hell of a drama. All these elements are strong in our first installment, which introduces us to our major players and their developing motivations. As we dig into the backstories of our characters, we also get a taste of the poignant history, which is sure to carry the show throughout its run. The thread of history — political and personal — connects these characters together, and I can’t wait to see how they all interweave into each other’s lives.
EPISODE 1 RECAP
A man dressed in a military uniform walks down a dark alleyway and stops in front of a music shop, its outer walls plastered with scraps of American newspapers. Through the glass, he watches a music box play the song “What Child Is This?” with an unreadable expression, and we notice a scar across his right cheek.
In daylight now, the uniformed man, Captain EUGENE CHOI (Lee Byung-heon) salutes to his fellow naval comrades on his way to a meeting with his superior Major KYLE MOORE (David McInnis). Kyle seems to be recovering from an injury, having just survived a nearly fatal incident, and he asks Eugene how he got him out of the ditch. Eugene responds that he was hoping to get a promotion out of his noble deed, and Kyle informs him that his wishes have come true — they’re promoted and off to Washington to meet with the president.
Eugene and Kyle stand stiffly in front of President Theodore Roosevelt, who tells them that he wishes to explore new frontiers in the Pacific region around China. He commands, “Speak softly, carry a big stick, and set off to Joseon.”
The two men walk back from their prestigious meeting, and we see Kyle’s full injuries with his limp and right hand in a cast. Kyle presumes that Eugene going back to his homeland as a United States affiliate will be good for him and the Joseon people, but Eugene clarifies that the U.S. is his homeland. “Joseon has never taken me in,” he says.
We go back to 1871 as American ships sail towards Joseon, now in its 8th year under the reign of King Gojong. The king’s court gathers to report that five American ships are sailing towards Joseon, and the head of the court, DAEWONGUN, explains the history of America breaking off from Britain. He calls them barbarians and looks impatient as Gojong hesitates to formulate a command.
Daewongun steps in and asserts that they cannot allow barbarians here. He orders cannons and soldiers to be sent to the peninsula as King Gojong looks dispirited by his lack of initiative.
Two nobles discuss Daewongun’s decision to set up a meager defense against the incoming Americans. One noble finds the decision curious, but the friend knows that Daewongun is more worried about internal rebellion than intruding foreigners. The noble applauds his friend’s political insight and asks him to continue his good work beside Daewongun. But the friend is fixated on the servant who’s setting up their table.
The nobleman notices this and offers to send him another girl, as the servant that the friend wants already has a husband. But the friend slams down his cup and demands a simple solution — if she has a husband, then they can get rid of him. Around the corner, a male servant listens to this exchange with a wary look.
In the woods, a young boy carries a pile of sticks on his back and stops to stare at the sky. Another servant accompanying an older noble asks the boy what he’s doing, and the young boy responds that he’s pondering how a blackbird can ruin his view of the sky.
The older noble advises the boy: “Live while looking at the ground. The sky is far. For a servant, the higher you look, the shorter your life.” The expressionless boy responds that he knows this, which seems to surprise the nobleman. With that, the boy continues on his way.
When the young boy returns home, he finds that his mother and father are being punished by their owner, who happens to be the noble who promised to give his friend the lady servant. The young boy’s mother is that lady servant, and his father (the male servant who overhead the conversation last night) is ordered to be beaten to death for attempting to run away.
The boy runs to his crying mother, who begs to the ignoble owner to save her husband’s life. But Ignobleman finds this situation too perfect and watches the beating smugly. The boy runs to Ignobleman’s son and his son’s pregnant wife, begging them to do something, but the cowardly son pushes the boy away, fearing the consequences of intervening.
Seeing this disobedience, Ignobleman orders for the boy to also be beaten to death. Although it’s a shame to lose such a young life, Ignobleman finds this public beating to be a great lesson for his other servants. The boy runs toward Ignobleman with a stick, but he’s pushed to the ground by guards and consequently beaten.
The mother screams for her boy, “Yoo-jin!” (Aha, this is a flashback for Eugene’s background story.) Then, her eyes sharpen in defiance.
Mom pulls herself away from the men holding her back and runs toward Ignobleman’s pregnant daughter-in-law. She pulls the hairpin out of her hair and holds the daughter-in-law hostage with the pin pointed at her neck. She warns Ignobleman’s men not to move and pierces the daughter-in-law’s neck, a fairly deep cut that causes blood to rush out. Mom vows to protect her family, and challenges Ignobleman to protect his own.
Mom yanks an expensive ornament off of the daughter-in-law and throws it at the boy, and tells Yoo-jin to pick it up. He slowly gets up and picks up the ornament, and Mom tells him the minimum amount he should sell the ornament for. She orders him to run away with that and never come back.
Ignobleman tries to get his men to intervene again, but Mom threatens to go for the daughter-in-law’s pregnant belly next. Scared for her life, the daughter-in-law screams at the men to let Yoo-jin go. Yoo-jin cries as he calls out to his mother, and Mom tearfully pleads for him to go. “You need to survive so that our sacrifice is for something. Go very far, Yoo-jin…”
Yoo-jin clenches the ornament and runs away in tears. Ignobleman tries to stop Yoo-jin by shooting arrows at the boy, but he misses as Yoo-jin gets away. Mom’s grip loosens as she watches her son vanish out of sight, and she drops to the ground. She looks straight at Ignobleman and tells him, “Kill me.”
Ignobleman aims his arrow at her, but he can’t shoot because his political career depends on her. So he redirects the arrow towards her husband and shoots him dead. Blood pools on the ground, and Mom looks at her dead husband in disbelief. Meanwhile, the daughter-in-law has gone into labor.
Before the men can capture her, Mom makes a run for it. A group of men are sent to capture Yoo-jin, and as they pass by the well, we see a piece of linen caught on the well contraption. In the well, one straw shoe floats on the surface. Yoo-jin stops to catch his breath in the woods and hears his mother’s voice echo in his head. The shoe in the well slowly sinks, indicating Mom’s death, and Yoo-jin can only mourn for a moment before he continues his escape.
Ignobleman hires captors to chase Yoo-jin, and his son describes Yoo-jin’s features for a sketch, which ends up being a string of compliments on how good-looking the kid is. Ignobleman tries to shut up his son, who argues that it’s pointless to hire captors, since Yoo-jin will probably die along his journey anyway. But Ignobleman isn’t willing to let his property just run away from him.
The chase ensues, with Yoo-jin traversing fields and creeks, day and night, with the captors one step behind him. Yoo-jin steals food from farms and homes, and one day, as he’s stuffing his face at a humble home, he’s caught by the homeowner. But this man is kind, telling the boy to slow down and pointing him toward the water.
Yoo-jin approaches the man as he’s tending to the fire and offers his ornament as payment for the food. The man (who we’ll come know as HWANG EUN-SAN played by Kim Gab-soo) asks Yoo-jin how he got the ornament and suspects that he stole it, given his bedraggled state. Yoo-jin clarifies that he didn’t steal it — it’s the price of his mother’s life.
That makes Eun-san pause for a moment, but he still rejects the ornament. Yoo-jin begs him to let him stay one night, as he’s exhausted from his journey, but Eun-san doesn’t want to take him in. They’re interrupted by a foreigner, an American man in a suit and top hat, who speaks to the man in broken Korean in attempts to buy some ceramic pieces before he boards the ship back to America that day.
Annoyed by these two unwelcome guests, Eun-san shoos them both away. Yoo-jin catches onto the tail of the American man’s suit and asks where America is. Then suddenly, they’re distracted by an echoing boom that sends birds flying in surprise.
On the coast, the Joseon forces exchange cannon bombs in a battle against the oncoming American ships, but it quickly becomes obvious that the Americans outnumber and overpower the Joseon army. Casualties emerge with each new cannon that hits the Joseon fort, and an adolescent boy barely escapes death in a bomb that sets a tent behind him aflame.
The adolescent boy’s ears ring from the impact of the bomb, and he stares in shock at the men incinerated before him. Another soldier shakes him back to the moment, and they continue fighting. In a voiceover, an American man narrates:
“The enemies are still desperately fighting back, even in the face of crushing defeat. Despite being on the verge of losing, there has not been a single deserter. Even with the overwhelming motor power of our forces, the enemies keep getting back up, time and time again, under the battle flag of their general. Those with broken spears and swords are putting up a fight by throwing stones and soil. I’ve never witnessed such a raging and fierce battle.”
The American forces take over the fort, and a Joseon man is in their midst. His identity is not yet revealed, but we’ll later know him as LEE WAN-IK (Kim Eui-sung).
As the battle reaches its end, King Gojong enjoys a luxurious meal with Daewongun, a striking contrast to the bloody defeat of his people. The adolescent boy runs to his father and desperately tries to persuade him to run away, but his father stays committed to defending their border. As his father stands to aim his gun, he’s immediately shot as the Joseon flag also falls. The boy freezes in shock as his father crumbles to the ground. He holds his father’s face with his trembling hands, and his father dies in his arms.
The boy screams for his dead father, and his mourning transforms into rage, as he grabs the gun and points it towards the approaching American soldiers. He yells for their leader and blindly shoots the gun. The bullet hits the Joseon man, Lee Wan-ik, in the leg, and the American soldiers immediately surround the boy with their guns all pointed at him. When the boy spots the fallen Joseon man, his expression turns blank, and he nervously grabs for the soil, ready to fight.
The American flag waves in victory over the dead Joseon soldiers, and this news is delivered to King Gojong. The young king asks what this defeat means for Joseon, and Daewongun frames the battle to mean that the Americans failed at their attempt to create diplomatic ties with Joseon, so it’s an empty win for Americans and a full defeat for Joseon.
The king struggles to accept this confusing interpretation, and one of his loyal ministers SONG YOUNG (Jin Seung-hwan) argues that they must save the war prisoners taken from the battle. Daewongun strongly disagrees and claims that the survivors are cowards because they did not die fulfilling their duty. He also asserts that amity between the two nations would be betrayal.
The Joseon man with the Americans, Lee Wan-ik, speaks in English as he updates the general in a meeting with a representative from the Joseon royal court. They have yet to establish diplomatic ties with Joseon, and the general regrets his method of force — which worked with Japan — in trying to establish diplomatic relations with Joseon.
The minister from the Joseon court asks Wan-ik to translate, and the irreverent Wan-ik purposely mistranslates the tone of the general’s statement as a more offensive one about Joseon stupidly resisting enlightenment and prosperity. The minister is greatly offended, and his outburst causes the American solider to reach for his weapon, to which the minister calmly sits back down.
A Joseon prisoner urgently asks Wan-ik about their fate, and he tells them that Joseon has abandoned them. The prisoner refuses to believe that a nation would abandon its people, and Wan-ik scoffs at their naïve allegiance. Wan-ik pokes at the boy who shot his leg and promises to personally kill him. The prisoners are aghast at this Joseon traitor, but Wan-ik proudly declares his hatred for Joseon.
An American soldier approaches Wan-ik and informs him that the righteous United States forces have decided to release all the prisoners, out of respect for the Joseon people’s loyalty. In Korean, Wan-ik derides the Americans for claiming righteousness after slaughtering all the Joseon people. With this plan failing, he wonders if he must resort to the Japanese now.
Now released, the adolescent boy buries his father and relives his last moments with him. He’s crying in mourning, when Hwang Eun-san (the man who refused Yoo-jin’s ornament) finds him. We finally learn the boy’s name — Seung-gu — and as we zoom out, we see a field of mourners burying their loved ones.
Eun-san tends to Seung-gu’s wounds, and he says that they can visit a healer the next day. But Seung-gu plans on heading home to take on his father’s work as a gunman and tells Eun-san not to worry. Eun-san tries to console Seung-gu that his father’s death was intentional, that his father died so that his children can live on this land.
Seung-gu tears up and vows to never die like his father. He admits that he’s taking on his father’s trade to get revenge on a nation that abandoned its people. He plans to become a rebel of the state. Eun-san nods in understanding, and Seung-gu continues to cry in sorrow.
The next morning, Eun-san is met by the captors looking for Yoo-jin. He dismisses them, and when one of the captors begins to pull out his sword, Eun-san swiftly knocks the captor to the ground with a mere stick. The captors run off in fear, agreeing to Eun-san’s terms.
Eun-san finds Yoo-jin hiding in a box, trembling in fear. He knocks over the box and tells Yoo-jin to get lost. But Yoo-jin has nowhere to go in Joseon — if he gets caught, he’ll get beaten to death and if he doesn’t, he’ll starve to death. Yoo-jin asks for his help to be sent to America or somewhere far, and Eun-san’s eyes soften.
The suited American man visits again, and Eun-san asks him if this “God” being he talks about really exists. The American confirms this, and Eun-san tells him to pray to this God that the price of the slaughtered Joseon people can be met by taking in this orphaned boy. The American isn’t pleased with this exchange, but this seems to be the deal for him to get his hands on the ceramic.
Yoo-jin thanks Eun-san and promises to never forget his kindness. He tries to offer the ornament again, but Eun-san rejects it one last time and gruffly tells the boy to make it to America alive. Yoo-jin stuffs the ornament in his shirt and awaits his new journey.
The American man smuggles Yoo-jin onto the ship in a box, and Yoo-jin spends his days looking through the cracks of the wooden box. He waits for visitors to the carriage to clear out, and then he sneaks out to bite into some chestnuts. Occasionally, the American man visits to deliver water, and the cycle repeats until Yoo-jin finally arrives in the United States.
Yoo-jin wanders the foreign streets in confusion, covering his eyes at the loud noise of the elevated train passing by. The passersby point to the young foreign boy as he follows the American man through the streets. The American man tries to get rid of Yoo-jin, but Yoo-jin begs him to help, promising to do everything the man asks and work hard. He knows nobody and doesn’t have a place to sleep. Yoo-jin asks if God exists in this land as well, and the man seems slightly charmed by this clever boy.
The man agrees to take him in and asks the boy his name—Choi Yoo-jin. The man says that such a name exists in America as well—Eugene—meaning “noble and great being.” And for the first time, we see Eugene smile.
Eugene runs around the train station offering to carry luggage for a dollar, and he happily receives his reward after his hard work. But a group of boys approach him from behind and jump him. Defeated and busted up, Eugene walks down an alleyway and stops at a music shop. He looks through the glass and begins to cry audibly, feeling alienated and desperate.
Eugene continues to be bullied as he grows up, with the bullies insulting him and beating him up. One time, he sees the bullies stop to run towards a group of soldiers, and his eyes lock on an African-American solider. When one of the bullies returns to take back his belongings, Eugene tells him that he’s got something else. The bully starts to pat down Eugene for an item, but he’s found something intangible: the way to become an American.
Eugene goes to the shore and cuts off his long braided hair with a knife. He drops the braid in the ocean with a new revelation and conviction.
It’s 1875, and in Tokyo, a man describes his upbringing. He was the fifth child of a poor tenant farmer and had nothing growing up. But he discovered that he actually owned something very lucrative: Joseon. The man looks up, and we find that it’s Lee Wan-ik, the Joseon traitor who previously sided with the Americans. He’s speaking to Ito Hirobumi, the prime minister at the time.
Wan-ik offers to sell Joseon for dirt cheap, since the nation has very little value right now. He pushes for unyoho (also known as the Ganghwa Island incident) to force the opening of the Joseon ports. Wak-ik claims that Japan has nothing to lose — either they open the ports or kill the poor Joseon people.
As Wan-ik limps through the Tokyo streets, he’s followed by a man, Sang-wan (omg cameo by Jin Gu), who pulls out a gun as he turns the corner. But Sang-wan is also being followed. A gunshot rings, but we don’t know who’s hit.
Joseon-minister-turned-resistance-member Song Young rushes into a room, where young mother Hee-jin (omg omg cameo by Kim Ji-won) carries her sleeping baby. She asks about Sang-wan, and Song Young reports that they have a traitor among them.
Quickly assessing the situation, Hee-jin hands her baby to Song Young and breaks her picture frame that held her and Sang-wan’s wedding photo. She gently tucks it into the baby’s blanket and tells Song Young to go without her. It’s only been one day since she’s given birth, and she’ll slow them down.
Hee-jin ushers them to escape through the secret passage under her bed, and she asks Song Young to keep her and Sang-wan’s child alive. She bids farewell to her comrades and to her one-day-old child before grabbing the gun and closing the secret door.
The enemies arrive, and Hee-jin fearlessly shoots at the shadows that appear in front of her door. Wan-ik orders more soldiers to replace those shot by Hee-jin’s bullets, and they fire relentlessly through the door. Looking through the holes, they see Hee-jin’s bloody body limp on the ground. But when they enter, she grabs her gun and starts shooting again until she’s fatally shot to the ground.
Wan-ik slowly walks toward her and drops a brick of gold on the ground, telling the traitor to step up and grab his earnings. In a quick flashback to the betrayal, we see Sang-wan pointing his gun at his comrade and Wan-ik’s forces. Sang-wan refuses to put down his gun and asks, “How much does it cost to become a shameful father, a shameful son without honor, without a homeland…?” Before he can finish, he’s shot in the head by Wan-ik.
Sang-wan sinks to the ground as blood drips down his face. With his last breath, he tells Wan-ik that he asks this in the name of Joseon. With that, his eyes glaze over, and Wan-ik mockingly says that it’s a shame that Sang-wan will never be able to hear his answer, thanks to a traitor that they mistook as a comrade.
Hee-jin hears this story, and she’s relieved to know that Sang-wan didn’t betray them. Wan-ik rhetorically asks if they thought that getting rid of him would change the fate of Joseon. He says that traitors are all around them, profiting off the land of Joseon. Wincing in pain, Hee-jin returns the rhetorical question: Did he think that getting rid of one resistance group would change the fate of his life?
Wan-ik ignores the question and asks where the other members are. She responds that they left to kill him. She promises that even if it takes a very long time, they will kill him. Then, Hee-jin’s eyes close and her body goes limp. Wan-ik tells dead Hee-jin that he’ll be waiting for them as he rips Joseon apart.
Song Young and his comrade return to Sang-wan’s home with the ashes of their fallen friends and the baby. Sang-wan’s father (the old noble who told Eugene to keep his eyes on the ground) and his servants mourn the passing of Sang-wan and Hee-jin as the rain falls. Song Young introduces the nobleman to his granddaughter, and one of the servants cries as she holds the baby in her arms.
The baby girl, who we’ll know as GO AE-SHIN, narrates: “That’s how I first met by grandfather, with my mother and father in ashes. And that autumn, the Joseon that they died to protect fell to the armed forces of Japan. The Joseon army was a mere fourteen people.” We see the Joseon people being murdered and utterly defeated by the Japanese.
Then it’s 1894, and a new reform has been implemented. The news is posted in the village center, and slave captors IL-SHIK (Kim Byung-chul) and CHOON-SHIK (Bae Jung-nam) are shocked to find out that slavery has been abolished. Behind them, scholars also collapse in devastation because the civil service has also been abolished. But Il-shik is taking the news well and seems optimistic to find an opportunity in this crisis.
Il-shik and Choon-shik decide to set up a shop to bridge the gap between the newly freed servants and powerless aristocrats, which is basically a pawnshop and private detective agency rolled into one — a multi-purpose shop to buy, sell, or ask for anything. Their first customer arrives, and Choon-shik recognizes him as a servant they once captured for a noble. The former servant requests that they track down the noble who ordered his capture, and the duo is shocked at how much the world has changed.
A tenant farmer begs to our familiar Ignobleman to return his land, which was his whole livelihood. Ignobleman refuses to feel a drop of sympathy and complains that he wouldn’t be able to buy his precious grandson a fancy watch if he didn’t sell the land. His grandson, KIM HEE-SUNG (Byun Yo-han), sits facing away from the scene and listens to this exchange uncomfortably.
Eventually, the farmer is dragged away, and Ignobleman returns to his conversation with his precious grandson. He asks if Hee-sung likes his gift, and Hee-sung forces a smile as comments on how valuable the watch is. Ignobleman tells Hee-sung to spend a year abroad in Tokyo broadening his mind, then return to get married and enter Joseon politics.
Even though Hee-sung is not interested in politics, his grandfather urges him to carry on his legacy — to never be satisfied with what you have and never limit yourself from what you could have. He holds up the watch and uses infinite time as an example of what he could have. Hee-sung looks conflicted about his grandfather’s grand plan.
A grown-up Ae-shin (Kim Tae-ri) reads a book while a peddler asks what she thinks about the hair ornaments and trinkets she lays out. She’s clearly uninterested as she comments on how beautiful they all are without even a glance. Then, the peddler sneaks out a stack of folded papers and hands them to an expectant Ae-shin, who hands her a pouch of coins in exchange.
The peddler finds it odd that Ae-shin is more interested in the newspaper than the pretty ornaments, and Ae-shin responds by asking for more newspapers next time. She opens up the paper (while keeping it hidden behind her book) and reads as she narrates in voiceover: “It was a turbulent time, when yesterday was far, today was unfamiliar, and tomorrow was feared. We all, in our own ways, were experiencing a turbulent Joseon.”
What a beautiful introduction to the show. There were so many distinct moments in this first episode that somehow stood out independently and also blended into the overarching story. I was afraid that these storylines would get jumbled and disconnected, but I truly think that every moment was intentional and mindfully placed. The emotion, the details, the visuals are so strong to the point that I feel a bit overwhelmed trying to recap this show. What’s captured visually is hard to describe in words, and I find myself scouring through dictionaries to find words that may possibly represent the intensity of what’s onscreen. I’d consider this a good dilemma to have because it’s exciting to have a show that has so much to digest and discuss.
First off, I am blown away by the young talent in this first episode. Who are these kids and how do they express so much emotion? Young Yoo-jin is so adorable, and I hope that we can get a little more out of these kids before we get into the heartbreak that will surely ensue in adulthood. And by heartbreak, I mostly mean the emotional pain that these characters will experience in their exploration of identity and allegiance. The beauty and agony of setting a drama in this period is that these characters will inevitably pour their hearts into the movement that they believe in — whether it’s out of loyalty or revenge. It’s hard to be apathetic in this time, and that guarantee of passion and emotional investment makes me eager to watch more of this show.
And wow, this show and its badass mamas! There are some moments in dramas when I just want to drop all the formalities and recap a scene using profanity and colloquialisms. The scene with Yoo-jin’s mom going rogue and the one with Hee-jin taking bullets for the resistance both really got to me. My jaw dropped and my heart pounded, seeing how badass these women were. Those moms are an inspiration to fight for your family, fight for your beliefs, and to fight for yourself.
Speaking of Hee-jin, the cameos by Kim Ji-won and Jin Gu were amazing. This is exactly what I wanted for them in their past life. The fact that they were married in this cameo is a nice little homage to the writer’s previous work, and it was great fan service to those who loved this couple (me). In my head, their noble deeds in this show were good karma for them in their next lives in Descendants of the Sun, where they got to live their best lives together. Someone go write a full fan fiction novel about this please, thank you.
Something I think this show is really good at is utilizing history at pivotal moments to evoke a strong emotion. Obviously, the history of the Japanese occupation evokes a strong sense of loyalty and pride for the Korean people. But also, that short scene with the black soldier and Eugene’s realization of how to belong really stuck out to me because the show was branching out into U.S. history. Whether it meant to or not, I felt an emotional response to that scene. It’s crazy how real that moment got, especially if you’re aware of the history of the United States, and I think it was a great way to show how Yoo-jin becomes American, how he really becomes Eugene. It’s moments like these that I think this show is able to reach a wider audience, and I hope the show continues to stretch its limits in exploring the deep pathos of history.
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- Period drama Mr. Sunshine secures slot on tvN’s early 2018 schedule
- Byun Yo-han added to Mr. Sunshine’s star lineup
- Yoo Yeon-seok joins Mr. Sunshine as tragic second lead
- Film ingenue Kim Tae-ri cast opposite Lee Byung-heon for Mr. Sunshine
- Lee Byung-heon makes drama comeback with Goblin writer’s Mr. Sunshine
- Goblin writer Kim Eun-sook returns with period drama Mr. Sunshine
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