Loyalties and friendships are tested when the “good guys” become the “rebel bad guys,” and the “bad guys” end up on the side of “the greater good.” I really can’t help but wonder what would have happened in history if things had gone any other way.
(I know I’m a week late. Sorry! >.<)
The revolution begins with a spark, and the officials at the party start scattering. Min Young Ik finds himself surrounded by swordsmen and is killed on the spot. Choi Won Shin witnesses this and runs off to tell VP Kim at the same time as Ho Kyung arrives to help his father escape. It’s nearly too late for them when the swordsmen break through the walls and start slashing left and right. Ho Kyung protects his father from being killed while Won Shin is less lucky. He ends up being injured quite badly by a swordsman. Luckily for him he manages to hide behind a long tablecloth under a table until the chaos subsides, and he can escape unseen.
As Ho Kyung and his father run off, they encounter some swordsmen. Ho Kyung answers the secret code correctly, which freezes his father to the core. Ho Kyung… was spying on him!? Ho Kyung tries to remind his father of more important things (a.k.a surviving this night) but his father refuses to budge an inch further with him. Did Ho Kyung hate him so much that he wanted to see his father’s downfall and death? VP Kim is so blinded by the betrayal that he refuses to see that Ho Kyung is trying to save his life right now. The son leaves first, needing to help the revolution, and that’s when VP Kim is slain on the spot by another group of swordsmen. That’s exactly what Ho Kyung did not want to see, and he ends up cradling his father until the life leaves his body.
Kim Ok Gyun and Park Young Hyo wake the king and queen up from their slumber to inform them that a war has broken out. The queen, ever so smart and informed, asks if the Qing or the Japanese started the war. Kim Ok Gyun is unable to answer, as either one would lead to a trap and their duplicity found out. He continues to insist that the king’s life is in danger, and is clearly waiting for a well-timed boom.
That boom is in progress. Soo In lights the fuse to the bomb outside the king’s quarters, but she gets caught by another court lady and a palace guard. The latter two think they could go near a lit fuse and “check it out,” but thankfully Yoon Kang arrives just in time to push everyone away from the bomb. He protects Soo In (for the third time) from the explosion. The bomb rattles enough nerves that finally the queen accepts the need to move to Gyungwoon Palace. Which means that the king is also okay to move.
As Ok Gyun and Young Hyo escort the king and queen out of Changdeok Palace, they discover that Ho Kyung is not at his post to secure the exit. Just then, palace guards arrive to arrest the progressives. They have just been informed that all the officials were killed at the inauguration of the post office, and that the progressives were leading the revolt. Of course Ok Gyun denies this and it becomes a battle of he-said-he-said.
Yoon Kang arrives with a slightly injured Soo In, and his presence just confirms that the progressives are the rebels. It all fits in the queen’s mind because she was warned that this could happen. I hate that the bad guys are technically in “the right” here, because everything they predicted has come true for the king and queen, both of whom we want on our heroes’ side rather than against. Yoon Kang promises that he will lead them to safety, and Ok Gyun practically admits that he had to resort to a rebellion to carry on the king’s original goal of enlightenment. Cue Gojong’s guilty and betrayed face of having failed his subjects. He can never please anyone, can he?
Moon Il Do and Jung Hoon arrive to see that their friend is currently their enemy. Oh this is sad. They can’t bring themselves to arrest Yoon Kang but under the king and queen’s watch they have no choice. Yoon Kang tells Ok Gyun and Young Hyo to take the royals to safety; even if the king and queen don’t trust them they have to leave as the palace is now a battle ground. With just two other swordsmen, Yoon Kang takes on the palace guards and eliminates all of them until he’s faced against Moon Il Do.
Yoon Kang gains the upper hand and aims his gun at his father’s loyal servant. Moon Il Do maintains that he’s doing nothing wrong by protecting the king, as that is what Yoon Kang’s own father once said. But Yoon Kang knows that protecting the king does not mean he’ll be protecting the country, and he picks the country over the leader. He leaves the palace grounds with that, leaving Il Do and Jung Hoon alive.
He exits the palace gate to find Sang Chu desperately looking for him. Not joining the rebellion was a source of guilt for Sang Chu, who wants to help create a new world so that his child won’t be born a slave. Oh Sang Chu…
Ok Gyun, Young Hyo, et al arrive at Gyungwoon Palace where they find Ho Kyung waiting for them. Ho Kyung’s very angry that Ok Gyun never told him all the details of when the rebellion would start until it was too late. Ok Gyun admits that he thought Ho Kyung would have wavered if he learned that his father was going to die. At the end of the day, blood is thicker than water. Ho Kyung holds a grudge against him for that, but he still completes his duty for the progressives by keeping his post.
The queen is already planning their escape when she and Gojong reach their private quarters. It’s imperative they find a way back to Changdeok Palace so that they can enlist the help of the Qing. Meanwhile, Won Shin has hobbled his way home and wants his daughter to call all the merchant soldiers to help and save the royals. If the progressives manage to take over the government, he and everything he’s fought for will surely disappear. Hye Won reminds him that the merchant soldiers won’t move unless given a notice with the commerce department’s official seal. And that seal is at Minister Min’s office in the commerce department.
Soo In brings food for the king and queen, but Queen Min flips over her tray and rejects it. She hates everything about this palace and demands to be taken back. One of their loyal retainers, who’s in the room with them, insists on the queen’s behalf to return to Changdeok Palace. Ok Gyun interferes and rules that it’s unsafe to go back there. If the retainer continues making a ruckus he will have him killed.
Whoa – those are some very serious words that should not be said lightly. The retainer is so offended he tells Ok Gyun to watch his tongue and declares that he’ll go see the Qing for assistance. Sheesh! Talk about making the situation worse! The retainer’s words do nothing to soothe Ok Gyun’s already frayed nerves, and Ok Gyun orders he be killed.
Gojong freaks out. Is Ok Gyun seriously going to kill his favorite retainer right then and there, in front of his very eyes? With steely reserve, Ok Gyun says yes. And a swordsman slashes right through the retainer’s body. The shock renders the king speechless and only solidifies the hate Queen Min has for Ok Gyun. Yoon Kang rushes in to find the retainer’s dead body and realizes that Ok Gyun has gone just too far.
Outside the king’s quarters, Ok Gyun himself knows that he’s gone just too far this time. He’s scared because he doesn’t have confidence that the revolution will succeed, and he’s acting impulsively to make sure that the changes to the government will be made no matter how extreme the actions are. Yoon Kang pretty much says, “I told you so” without saying those exact words: had Ok Gyun worked harder in getting the people’s support and been more patient with the revolution, things wouldn’t have reached this point. He reminds Ok Gyun that as the leader he’s going to have to be a lot calmer and more level-headed than he just was.
Young Hyo has troubling news: it looks like the merchants are gathering soldiers. Yoon Kang is confused because he thought Won Shin was dead, especially since the swordsmen insist that they killed everyone at the post office. However when he and Sang Chu return to the post office department they can’t find Won Shin’s body. This just confirms that Won Shin is gathering men to attack Gyungwoon Palace, and the only way to stop him is to get the commerce department’s seal first.
It’s a race to the department, and Won Shin finds the seal first. He entrusts it to his daughter so that she can send the message out, but as soon as she exits the department a gunshot is fired. Hye Won falls, dropping the seal several feet away. Sung Gil drags Hye Won away before she can grab it, opting to protect her and find cover before Yoon Kang shoots at them again.
Yoon Kang runs from his hiding place to grab the seal from the ground, and he kills off Won Shin’s other gunmen who come running out of the department. At the sight of Won Shin, Yoon Kang avoids his bullets and runs for cover. Hye Won tells Sung Gil to distract Yoon Kang from the front and she’ll approach him from the back with her tiny pistol.
Hye Won’s plan works, and Yoon Kang is completely surprised to be face-to-face with Hye Won and her gun. Instead of shooting her, he breaks through the wooden shutters and falls into the building. Now the Chois have got him. She enters the dark room carefully as Yoon Kang tries to make himself invisible. Won Shin and Sung Gil follow, and they each walk down through different aisles, separated by tall book cases.
Hye Won senses something to her left just as Won Shin senses something to his left. Yoon Kang is crouched down between them, waiting for them with his gun. Father and daughter turn, and father shoots daughter before he gets a good look at her.
Oh. My. God.
Won Shin freaks out, and Yoon Kang stands up in shock, momentarily forgetting that he’s in plain sight. Won Shin pretty much forgets that Yoon Kang’s in the room too. Only Sung Gil has the sense to shoot at Yoon Kang, but our hero escapes with the seal. Won Shin carries his daughter home, hoping that a doctor will come soon enough to save her. However her wounds are too deep.
Hye Won is still worried about the seal’s whereabouts but Won Shin doesn’t care. If his daughter dies he doesn’t care what happens to himself anymore. With her last breaths, Hye Won relives their early life right after they escaped from their ruthless master. Back then their lives were much happier. Though they only had rice and soup for a meal, it was simpler back then. After everything that has happened, it seems like both regret being so greedy because it’s only led to tragedy. And with that, Hye Won dies.
Yoon Kang returns to Gyungwoon Palace and hugs Soo In as soon as he sees her. He’s unable to explain that her best friend-turned-enemy just died by her father’s hands. It’s bad enough that he had to witness it.
Walking through the grounds, Yoon Kang then finds Gojong outside, deep in thought. The king is resigned, and he knows that many people have died because of him and for him. All Gojong wants is that no more officials and retainers be killed, and in exchange he’ll agree to Ok Gyun’s plans for a new government. It’s unfortunate the king is so weak-willed, but it seems through this drama that he feels guilt very strongly and genuinely wants the best for his people. He just doesn’t know how to achieve that without getting manipulated by men smarter than he.
The following day is a dismal one for Gojong and Queen Min as they agree to Ok Gyun’s terms. The death of their favorite retainer before their very eyes really affected them. Ok Gyun happily makes the announcement from Gyungwoon Palace: henceforth there will be no slavery, no class systems, no eunuchs, no tributes to Qing, no commerce department. It will be a true meritocracy where even the lowest born can rise up to become an official, and Gojong’s father (who disappeared after the initial coup headed by Leader Kim) will return from Qing. The guards and supporting officials cheer, but it’s such a small number that one wonders whether the revolution is truly worth it.
For now though, everything is over. It’s the start of a new day after the longest night ever.
On this new day, Yoon Kang meets Soo In in his western suit while she is made up in her nicest hanbok. Their happy future can now begin and they’ll never be parted again. And with that, Yoon Kang kisses Soo In. Eeeeeee! I blush.
The people are rejoicing on the streets over their newfound freedom while Soo In and Yoon Kang help post notices all over town. So how long can this happiness last? Looks like not that long because the Japanese troops come marching through the streets.
Soo In and Yoon Kang rush over to find Ok Gyun at the palace for an explanation. Ok Gyun, in his naivete, believes that the Japanese will assist in bringing the enlightenment to Joseon. Yoon Kang disagrees; the Japanese will only find more reason to act like they own Joseon, and because the people inherently distrust the Japanese they will not support the enlightenment. Since Ok Gyun is set in his ways, Yoon Kang will no longer support the enlightenment cause.
That actually scares Ok Gyun, who knows that the soldiers respect and will follow Yoon Kang. If they don’t have the soldiers’ support, this coup could fail.
But more worrying news arrives: the Japanese just allowed the king and queen to return to Changdeok Palace. That just puts the royals back in a place where they can contact the Qing and also in a larger palace that’s harder to defend. Ok Gyun decides to put them in the smallest building in the palace and begs Yoon Kang to control the army for now until they get the situation under control. Yoon Kang’s like, “I told you so.” And just like Yoon Kang said, the people are not happy about the revolution after they hear of Japan’s support.
The Prime Minister comes to greet the king and queen as soon as they arrive, and the queen hands him a gift of a gold frog for good fortune. A progressive official first inspects the gift and the box before allowing the Prime Minister to take it, checking to make sure the queen isn’t trying to send out secret messages behind their backs.
And a secret message she does send. Trusting that the Prime Minister will send it, Queen Min had hidden a letter to the Qing asking for military help in the folds of the cloth lining the box. Gojong had no idea his wife was doing this, and when he hears of it he’s fearful of what may happen. But he goes along with his smarter wife’s plan.
Soo In promises to stay by Yoon Kang’s side no matter what, so he doesn’t have to continue to lead the soldiers if he doesn’t want to. But Yoon Kang has a sense of duty, and doesn’t want to think that his work has all been wasted. So he will stay behind and help guide the troops for the progressives a little longer until the situation stabilizes.
That will never happen though, as the following day Soo In learns of Queen Min’s plan to get the Qing army’s help. The Qing troops advance to the palace. At first Yoon Kang’s soldiers and the Japanese soldiers stand in front defending the palace, but then Envoy Takejo decides to retreat, leaving Yoon Kang’s small number of troops to defend a huge palace against a large army. Well isn’t that great.
Yoon Kang sends Soo In along with Ok Gyun and Young Hyo to the king and queen’s residence to hide while Ho Kyung defends the entrance. So many casualties as the Qing army methodically advances and Ho Kyung is forced to retreat. Yoon Kang and Sang Chu work to set up a second defense within the palace to take out any soldiers that make it through the front entrance. Yoon Kang wants Sang Chu to go home as he has a family to protect, but Sang Chu stubbornly stays. He will stay with Yoon Kang to the very end because that is his destiny.
Ho Kyung meets up with them and tells them they’ll need to leave because too many Qing soldiers have broken through. Yoon Kang hurries inside the palace to get Soo In, and bumps into Ok Gyun and Young Hyo, who are running away. Takejo had promised them safe passage to Japan if they make it to Jemulpo Port. So, they rushed into the coup, gave up really quickly, and are now on the run. Great!
Yoon Kang saves Soo In just before she is killed by Qing soldiers and they make a run for it. Sang Chu is shot in the leg though, rendering him unable to escape. Ho Kyung leads Soo In away first, and Sang Chu then requests that Yoon Kang name his child for him. He thinks that if Yoon Kang names his kid, his son will live a cooler life. Yoon Kang refuses to leave his friend’s side and continues to shoot the approaching Qing soldiers.
Realizing that he’ll never leave, Sang Chu stands up with all his might and rushes headlong behind the barricade, allowing the Qing soldiers to shoot him down.
It’s a good thing Ho Kyung comes back for Yoon Kang because if he hadn’t, Yoon Kang might have been killed too. Ho Kyung provides backup while Yoon Kang grabs Sang Chu’s near lifeless body behind the barricade. He cradles his dear friend on his lap until Sang Chu passes away. Now he has no reason to stay behind and Ho Kyung grabs Yoon Kang’s arm to escape.
The rebellion is over and the palace is secure.
Now that they’re branded as the rebels who will be locked up, Yoon Kang and Soo In head over to her mother’s home to tell her to leave. Anyone associated with Soo In will surely be arrested. Her mother is surprisingly understanding this time around, as she knows that her daughter could have died during the palace attack. Knowing that her husband and daughter’s dream of the enlightenment was alive even for a day made her happier than anything. She reassures Soo In that she’ll take Jan Yi to her brother’s place and they’ll survive in hiding. Soo In should just go and live her life and escape, and believe that her mother and Jan Yi are alive.
It’s a bittersweet goodbye, as now the Jung family is forever torn apart.
Moon Il Do and Jung Hoon arrive at the palace to find dozens of scattered bodies but none of them Yoon Kang’s. No body means he’s alive, and when Won Shin hears of this it strengthens his resolve to hunt down Yoon Kang.
Ho Kyung, Yoon Kang, and Soo In do their best to sneak around the capital without being noticed, but it proves difficult as there are many soldiers on the streets looking for them. Just then they see Won Shin and his gunman coming after them in another direction, and they all start running with Ho Kyung leading the way out.
Won Shin aims and fires. The bullet hits Soo In in the back and she falls. Ohhhh boy. Yoon Kang piggy backs her away while Ho Kyung stays in the rear, shooting at the gunmen. They hide in an abandoned home, and Won Shin’s men surround the place. Police officers arrive wondering why these merchant soldiers are causing a ruckus, but once they hear that ‘rebels’ are inside the place they join in on the siege.
Ho Kyung encourages Yoon Kang to run away with Soo In and protect her. He’ll stay behind as a distraction and will take care of the guards himself. It’s so sad how he sacrifices himself because he knows that if he lives through this he has nothing to really live for. He doesn’t have a girl and he doesn’t have a family. He only asks that Yoon Kang take on the harder path of surviving and getting out of this with Soo In. They all know this is the way it has to be even though Yoon Kang and Soo In don’t want to admit it. Ho Kyung makes the decision for them by leaving the safe room and facing Won Shin and the guards by himself.
At least Ho Kyung manages to kill Sung Gil for good.
However Ho Kyung is no match to all the police officers that arrive and shoot him down. Yoon Kang and Soo In hear these shots and know he’s gone, and have no choice but to plunge forward.
Soo In is barely lucid as she rides on Yoon Kang’s back, but thankfully they encounter some familiar faces: Il Do and Jung Hoon. Whatever happened at the palace is long forgotten, and they escort Yoon Kang and Soo In to the port by claiming that they’re a Japanese couple who must get out of the city now. The guard at the city gate does not question this, and finally Soo In and Yoon Kang are free. Just where they’ll go is anyone’s guess.
As Jung Hoon hands Yoon Kang his gun, Il Do admits that Yoon Kang was right. Protecting the king is not the same as protecting Joseon, and though they have like minds they’ll do it in their own separate way. Yet another bittersweet farewell as Yoon Kang says goodbye to his past.
The couple hides in the caves for the night and Yoon Kang extracts the bullet from Soo In’s shoulder. It hurts like hell but Soo In bravely grits through it until he finishes bandaging her up. After much sacrifice and death, they’re together safe and sound, and they’ll have to bravely march forward to live out their lives for the loved ones they’ve lost.
They arrive at the temple only to find out that Je Mi, Yeon Ha, Dong Yi, and some of the monks have been arrested and led back to the capital. Uh oh. Yoon Kang takes his gun that night and shoots down the guards that are with them. Well that was easy. He frees all of them, including the bookshop keeper who happened to get caught too, and Dong Yi picks up a bow and arrow. New protege right here!
Soo In is relieved to find the whole gang back together. It’s a happy reunion until Yoon Kang has to break the news to Je Mi that Sang Chu is dead. With nothing to stay behind for, the group heads out to the mountains to get as far from the capital as possible. That’s when Won Shin arrives at the temple, looking for blood. He heard that Yoon Kang had saved his sister and other monks as they were being transferred to the capital and quickly had him tracked down.
Yoon Kang has a bit of a head start on the gunmen but he’s slowed down by an injured Soo In, two other girls, and a young boy. They can hear Won Shin behind him, calling for a duel with Yoon Kang to end everything. If Won Shin can kill Yoon Kang, he will spare the others’ lives. Soo In stops Yoon Kang from acting like a noble idiot and tells him to ignore Won Shin’s cries. They’re all going to stick together.
It gets dark and both parties set up camp deep in the mountains. Won Shin stays up all night by the fire, vigilant. An arrow whizzes past his head with a message.
The following morning, Soo In wakes up and doesn’t see Yoon Kang around. He’s left her a message (and I’m surprised they managed to pack paper, a brush, and some ink while running away) saying that he has to go fight Won Shin. He has to end it somehow, and it’s better now than later. He promises that he will make it back so they can be together, though that doesn’t stop her from fearing the worst and rousing everyone up to look for him.
Yoon Kang is waiting in a small clearing alone for Won Shin, who likewise comes alone. The two face each other. It’s the final showdown!
Except really all that happens is who can load the gun and pull the trigger faster. That person is Yoon Kang; no matter how skilled Won Shin is he can’t reload faster than Yoon Kang with his rifle that doesn’t require him to insert a new bullet each time. Yoon Kang shoots Won Shin’s leg, making him double over in pain. Won Shin won’t give up though and cocks his gun again. Yoon Kang shoots his chest.
Now Won Shin is completely done. However Yoon Kang chooses not to kill him. There is no reason to kill such a pitiful man, and he chooses forgiveness over empty revenge. Yoon Kang walks away, which enrages Won Shin even more. But the merchant is also depressed because he was not given an easy way out and didn’t fulfill his ill-fated destiny against Yoon Kang. So he takes out Hye Won’s small pistol and shoots himself in the head.
Thus ends the sad story of Choi Won Shin.
Yoon Kang reunites with his family and we jump ahead to three years later. A small self-sufficient community in the mountainside is full of runaways and run by Yoon Kang and Soo In. Yoon Kang has trained all the men in how to fight with guns as well, so they’re kind of like their own village outside of capital’s rule. Soo In hands out the day’s meals and then is handed a bowl with flowers. It’s from Yoon Kang, sporting long hair and a full on mustache and beard. Looks like he’s shed the Japanese western look!
The flowers are payment for a meal, beautiful flowers for a beautiful lady. Aw he sure knows how to make a girl blush! She then asks where he’ll be off to this time. Yoon Kang will be going to Gobu Town with a few of his fellow gunmen to teach a corrupt magistrate a lesson on why he shouldn’t mistreat farmers. When the magistrate hears of the Dark Gunman’s attack, he freaks out while the farmers look around hopefully for their savior. Clearly his reputation precedes him now, and he’s no longer alone in fighting for the people’s rights.
Wow this was a bit of a journey.
I’m glad the ending was a happy one, but it also felt somewhat empty and anti-climactic. I was fully expecting someone to die and for Soo In and Yoon Kang to be tragic lovers. To see that the bad guys are dead and Yoon Kang alive is comforting. But the final showdown between Yoon Kang and Won Shin felt too easy. Admittedly there’s not much you can do when your weapons are guns instead of swords: you aim, you fire, and you either miss or hit your mark. Nevertheless I was hoping for a greater battle between the two after their rivalry was built up over 21 episodes.
I think the drama’s height was in the first 14 episodes as we watched Yoon Kang battle Won Shin through smarts, gun-wielding skills, and deception. It was fun to see the two of them dance around, always suspecting of each other but unable to pin evidence on each other. Once Won Shin was shot and fell off the cliff I rejoiced because I thought the end was near and Yoon Kang could regain honor for his family. But then history started coming in at full force. It was difficult to keep up but interesting to see the world Yoon Kang was living in. It wasn’t like he was in his own drama-world bubble. The writer really grounded him in history and made him a part of it.
Nevertheless the historical part of the drama (the last eight episodes) felt overbearing. While the political shifts were happening, the lines weren’t being updated very much. The same lines be reused over and over again by Soo In (“Young master…”), Yoon Kang (“I promise to be with you forever… this is the last time…”), and Won Shin (“I will get Yoon Kang!”). The character relationships, which were so interesting in the first 14 episodes, became less interesting and less deep because there wasn’t anywhere else for the characters to go. The good stuff for their characters was used up early. I don’t think the drama had to go all the way to the aftermath of the Gapsin Coup. It could have ended before it, or had a different scenario that led to Won Shin’s demise and Yoon Kang’s escape.
Speaking of characters’ relationships, I still believe that Won Shin and Hye Won’s relationship was by far one of the best father-daughter relationships out there. For such an evil pairing, the actors gave a lot of heart to these characters and made you almost want to root for their happiness. Second to them would be Yoon Kang and Soo In. Lee Jun Ki was absolutely fantastic here with his ability to convey so much emotion through his eyes and facial expressions. Lines were almost useless to him as you knew how he felt and what he thought without him vocalizing it. He made a cute pair with Nam Sang Mi, and I’m kind of happy to see them mature as actors after Time Between Dog and Wolf (which I want to rewatch now…).
For a secondary character that becomes more prominent in the last eight episodes, Kim Ok Gyun was an incredibly interesting character. He started out good and suddenly becomes corrupted when his fears cloud his judgment. He just shows the duality in the world where rebels become the good guys, and the good guys become the evil rebels depending on which side of history you’re standing at. Though well-intentioned, he quickly became a character I did not want to root for or see succeed. It’s partly the acting that makes him such an incredible secondary character, so kudos to Yoon Hee Suk (who was also a bad guy in Two Weeks).
Overall, I think this was a fairly solid drama. I enjoyed it, even though the ending felt dragged out. I wish it ended at 16 or 18 episodes, as it could have benefited from a tighter storyline and less history. But overall, it was a wonderful drama to watch and experience.
Verdict: A solid 7/10.