Hwajung: Episodes 11-12 Recap

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Hwa Yi proves that even as a woman, she knows more than all the men in the weaponry bureau about how to deal with sulfur. Meanwhile the king starts to make moves against his hidden foe, Kang Joo Seon. But for every step forward is another two steps back.

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In Woo reveals Hwa Yi’s true gender, and she finally fesses up to misleading Joo Won. That leads to an incredibly hilarious overreaction from Joo Won, who freaks out over the fact that he held her hand while running from soldiers or after helping her escape. What a nerd. He’s so over the top in his emotions that it actually makes it a bit perfect – it hides any flaws in his acting over the shocking truth, but also makes him a character I can laugh at, since Hwajung isn’t a funny drama overall.

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While Joo Won confronts Hwa Yi about her lies (and they go drinking), In Woo confronts the spy that was snooping around Joo Won’s house. He discovers it’s one of his father’s men, and he interrupts his father’s schmoozing dinner with Lee Yi Cheom to confront him. It’s a surprise to learn that In Woo is actually aware of his father’s plans for world domination – or rather, Korean domination – and warns his father to stay away from his best friend. Of course, he is revealed to be an illegitimate son, because only illegitimate sons will always go against their father’s quest for power in drama land.

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Meanwhile, Heo Gyun drags one of Joo Seon’s henchmen, Yoon Do Ha, to try and share some gossip. The two knew each other before Heo Gyun’s long trip to Ming, and Heo Gyun was suspicious of Yoon’s rise to his current position and closeness to Kang Joo Seon. The king is also made aware of this and realizes he needs to keep a closer eye on the mayor, as Kang has been keeping too low of a profile all this time.

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It’s time for the celebration of the Ming emperor’s birth, which the king is supposed to lead as Joseon is still loyal and somewhat under Ming’s influence. Instead, Gwanghae feigns a stomachache and has his son, the crown prince, lead the ceremony instead. The officials all gripe about the king’s inconsideration, but are interrupted by Gwanghae’s arrival after being miraculously cured. They have to discuss the important topic of whether or not to send troops per Ming’s bidding to help them fight Nurhaci and the Manchus.

Gwanghae doesn’t want to send troops because he’s not going to get involved with the Ming’s affairs. The loyalists to the Ming argue that not sending troops would be a clear affront to the emperor and there might be more severe blowback. It would affect trade with the Ming (for sulfur too!) and could lead to an attack from them. Kang Joo Seon also points out that Joseon isn’t self-reliant yet that they can fight back any enemies easily. Not true! Gwanghae is happy that Joo Seon mentioned the weaponry bureau because he has something to show them.

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Back at the weaponry bureau, Hwa Yi is trying to prove herself as being useful by showing that she knows the smelting technique to get good sulfur for gunpowder making. She gets involved in the process and starts heating up the kilns, even adding charcoal to help make more steam that’s essential for better sulfur quality. The head of the sulfur department, Lee Young Boo (Kim Kwang Gyu) freaks out that she’s going to taint his system, but is surprised to see that what she does actually works. And so Hwa Yi gets to stay.

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However, before anyone can make a real decision on her fate, Joo Won is informed that the king is coming with all the officials in tow. He quickly assembles his men to organize the bureau and open everywhere for access except the most classified rooms. Hwa Yi is then banished to the kitchen, where she sets a fire upon the heart of the younger cook, Eun Seol, a silly girl who just crushes on flower boys. Hwa Yi desperately wants to see the king though, and with Eun Seol’s help manages to sneak a peek from afar at the goings-on.

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Gwanghae reveals a storage full of sulfur, thanks to a deal with the Japanese who will provide 24x the amount that Ming provides. And, thanks to the book that Heo Gyun retrieved, they now have the once-lost book on gunpowder technology. They have all the pieces in place to put Joseon on the map, to protect their borders, and to get away from the influence of the Ming.

Joo Seon is clearly angry, because he realizes that when Joo Won looked suspiciously dripping wet that night on the boat, that must have been when the smuggling took place. He slaps Yoon Do Ha for not having watched Joo Won better and preventing the deal from taking place, but Yoon reveals that Joo Won brought back a Japanese “spy” on that same trip. He saw Hwa Yi at the same bar where he was drinking with Heo Gyun, and recognized him from a previous sulfur deal with Maruno.

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Joo Won is somewhat inspired now because he understands that the king is trying to protect his country, but Hwa Yi isn’t. The thing is, I can’t tell with Lee Yeon Hee’s acting whether she is angry at Gwanghae for ruining her family, or angry that he’s become an admirable king. After all, she was there when he made his speech to the officials, but who knows if she heard it. She gets caught by some guards for technically being at a place where she shouldn’t be (as she doesn’t have a weaponry bureau ID yet) and encounters Lee Yi Cheom… and Gwanghae.

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Lee Yi Cheom demands that she reveal her identity, and seeing Gwanghae gets her really angry. She sounds like she’s about to admit she’s Jungmyung, but Joo Won intervenes. He reveals that Hwa Yi came with him from Japan, which worries Gwanghae as she could be a spy. However, Joo Won shows the king how the sulfur was finally properly smelted thanks to Hwa Yi’s help, and that Hwa Yi is a useful technician for the sulfur department. If Hwa Yi ends up being a spy, Joo Won is willing to take the responsibility.

So Joo Won gets to save Hwa Yi, and he gets really pissed that all the guards manhandled her and tied her up in ropes. Well, it’s not like they knew she was really a girl.

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In Woo meets up with Heo Gyun, and we learn that the two seemed to be buddies for their vices on drinking and women, though I’m sure Heo Gyun was a mentor of some sort at one point. At the gisaeng house, In Woo asks for any information he could get about the weaponry bureau. He also later asks Joo Won if he could possibly stop working there too and resume his quest to find the lost princess, otherwise it would seem like Joo Won is now the king’s man, which is something Joo Won had insisted he’d never be. In Woo does all this because he’s worried about his friend’s safety, but I think it could easily be misinterpreted as him acting on behalf of his father and usurping things from behind the scenes.

Meanwhile the king visits Joo Seon at his home with the excuse of making a secret inspection and checking out Joo Seon’s famed private garden. As they walk through Seoul, Gwanghae notices how everyone pays their respects to Joo Seon, seeing how powerful this mayor really is. Gwanghae finally reveals that he wants to keep a better eye on Joo Seon, having only seen recently what a sharp mind he is. And so, he wants Kang Joo Seon to take over the weaponry bureau – the very bureau that he’s been sabotaging!

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Throughout all this, Hwa Yi has been working really hard at the sulfur department, trying to prove herself as Young Boo and Soo Duk (a worker on the niter department who crushes on Eun Seol) are not really keen on her. No one is, and they’re apt to suspect her of doing something wrong. So when she gets more rice for lunch from Eun Seol and accidentally spills her lunch on Soo Duk (because he grabbed her arm forcefully), she starts an all out war between the two departments. While everyone as lunch, no one notices a traitor who messes with Hwa Yi’s kiln and makes the fire burn bright green instead.

Joo Won has to come in and break up the fight between all the workers, and he reprimands Hwa Yi for instigating it, without even listening to her side of the story. He wants her to quit, but she won’t go easily. She overhears Soo Duk talking about going to the palace where her mother is imprisoned to gather some soil for their niter supply, and she tries to follow them there too. However the guards stop her from entering as they were not informed that a fourth weaponry bureau worker would be coming to the palace, so Hwa Yi only gets a glimpse of her mother and her faithful court lady.

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While Hwa Yi is away, her kiln begins to let out yellow steam, like a sulfuric steam, and starts poisoning everyone’s lungs. No one knows what it is, or how to stop the kiln from heating up, and so they end up evacuating the entire bureau and the surrounding neighborhoods. Young Boo accuses Hwa Yi of tampering with the kiln, as she was the last to touch it.

The court is alerted to the danger as 20 men have died, and the officials who opposed the weaponry bureau barge to the king’s palace because they now have ammo to use against the king. Meanwhile two officials who were ousted from the palace after the regime change, Lee Won Ik, aka Lord Ohri (Kim Chang Wan) and Lee Hang Bok, aka Lord Ohsung (Kim Seung Wook), feel the need to return to the palace to help stop the king’s tyrannical ways of making decisions without the support of his court.

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And then surprise surprise, it seems that Gwanghae’s opponents manage to force the king to put Hong Young, Joo Won’s father, as the new head of the weaponry bureau. And Hong Young’s first act is to arrest Joo Won and Hwa Yi.

I know we’re just 1/5 into this drama, but it makes me so mad that there isn’t transparency in this government! I know, I know – if there were, there’d be no conflict. But ARGH! Why is it so hard for Gwanghae to gain supporters for his goals when all he really wants is to protect his people? Why can’t the politicians, so narrow-minded and stuck in the old ways of paying tribute to the Ming, see that they can actually change the fate of their country? I’m glad that Gwanghae starts to gain Joo Won’s support, but for me Joo Won is a weak character – thanks to the way he’s written and acted – and so I don’t feel that he’s powerful enough to help the king’s cause at the end of the day.

In any case, it’s kind of funny how Hwa Yi’s determination to prove she’s innocent in this accident will actually help Gwanghae more than hurt him. Considering how she wants to take her brother down somehow. If Hwa Yi can prove that she didn’t do it and that there’s a traitor in the weaponry bureau, it will bolster Gwanghae’s personal vendetta against the puppeteer of the royal court: Kang Joo Seon.

Sadly, what may come out of all this is Hwa Yi working with Joo Seon to install her son in the throne, as he would be her most valuable ally right now. And worse of all, this drama is doing nothing to make me want to support that at all.

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