So I’m currently road tripping through the midwest to the east, and it’s more exhausting than I expected. Driving on long boring highways with nothing but farmland, thunderstorms that come and go, slippery wet roads from the persistent rain, and the occasional “working zones” on the roads that limit the lanes to one. And did I mention the trucks? The trucks! In any case, road tripping is hard, but I can’t imagine how road tripping from one end of Korea to another – or sailing from Japan to Korea – could be any easier. The mountains!
This show really likes to juxtapose one fighting scene with another in two different countries. We cut from action to action.
Hwa Yi immediately recognizes Hong Joo Won and begins planning how to use him to help her return to Joseon. First step: get Joo Won a meeting with Idachi, the most famous merchant in Edo who provides sulfur to governments and also smuggles on the side. Idachi (played by Otani Ryohei) is ruthless and difficult to meet with, but I’m cheering at the idea of a Roommate reunion.
Meanwhile back in the palace, Gwanghae’s concubine refuses to drink the “herbal medicine” that Gae Shi prepared for her because she suspects the court lady of poisoning all the concubines and preventing them from getting pregnant. She’s heard all the rumors – as has the Queen – that Gae Shi is secretly jealous and won’t let the king have a child with another woman, or any other child for that matter. The court lady herself practically admits that she’s doing it to protect the king because he himself was among many brothers fighting for the throne. By leaving the crown prince as the only son (from the Queen too), it secures his direct ascendance to the throne. I love how this manipulation could also explain why Gwanghae really had only two children according to history – the crown prince and a princess with a concubine.
Gwanghae has plans to send out the new weapons to armies near the Ming border, and to bolster their morale. As he is leaving the capital, he leaves the matters to his son and advises him to keep his true feelings to himself and be careful. The Queen Dowager also gets a look at the king when he passes by her palace, as she doesn’t want to forget the man who ruined her family.
At the meeting, Idachi is unwilling to make a deal with the king of Joseon, even a smuggling one. After all he has a deal in place already with Ming dynasty and doesn’t want to mess up his “loyalties.” However Hwa Yi, who joins the meeting, points out frankly that Idachi is bullshitting them. She knows that he knows he can make a lot more money trading with Joseon, especially if Joo Won lets Idachi smuggle other goods. In the end, Idachi finally agrees, but he has one more condition that they must meet.
After the nearly disastrous meeting, Hwa Yi takes Joo Won to eat at the local shops. Intrigued, he begins documenting everything he eats, smells, sees – from soba to fun haunted houses to brothels.
Gwanghae’s men set up camp, and Yi Cheom suspects the king of having ulterior motives for coming near the border. He tries to find out, but the king ends up going to sleep early. In reality, Gwanghae does have an ulterior motive – he meets with his former comrades during the Imjin War – volunteer soldiers who fought alongside him and would do anything for him – to break into the Ming camp and save his trusted friend and advisor, Heo Gyun (played by Ahn Nae Sang instead of Im Ji Kyu).
Heo Gyun had gone to the Ming to find a secret book that had disappeared from Joseon 300 years ago. Not sure what that book is, though I wonder if it has anything to do with a king’s face. Or it could deal with gunpowder. Either way, Heo Gyun knows that unless they find the other secret power who’s pulling the strings in court, they will not be able to properly develop gunpowder.
Meanwhile in Japan, the smuggling deal is going wrong. Very wrong. Though Idachi delivered premium quality sulfur disguised as grain to Joo Won and Hwa Yi, someone has raised the alert and warned the government police. They get raided by the police, and Hwa Yi quickly takes Joo Won “hostage,” making her appear to be the mastermind of the entire deal. She tells Joo Won to blame it on her, that he was simply an envoy responding to a deal that she had offered, and she had led them astray. She tells Joo Won to save her using his power and grant her passage to Joseon. Hwa Yi then goes to jail, and Idachi and Joo Won’s men are all set free.
So who betrayed them? Kang Joo Sun of course. He had his men tail Joo Won, and had stopped the trade by outing them. Joo Won is really pissed, and suspects his right hand man. However his man admits that the king actually sent him on this delegation with a different purpose. The sulfur trade deal was just a bait to draw out the secret power and see who was stopping Joseon from getting sulfur. He had discovered who was the traitor, but it doesn’t seem he’s tracked it back down to Kang.
Joo Won is pissed at having been played by the king this way, although honestly, Gwanghae’s brilliant because if Joo Won and the assistant all succeeded, Gwanghae would have the traitor’s name and the sulfur for gunpowder. So Joo Won resolves to do two things: get all the sulfur, and save Hwa Yi. He enlists Ja Gyung’s help, and they set up a smoky diversion to get the guards away from their stations. Ja Gyung breaks into the cell to free Hwa Yi and Joo Won’s men grab the sulfur. They’re on a time crunch too because the boat for Korea is sailing earlier than expected.
While Joo Won is a man of honor, I’m really impressed that he chooses to protect the sulfur over Hwa Yi. Even though he was going to send soldiers to help her get on the ship, and even though we get that “telling” flashback of her saying she needs to get back to Joseon no matter what, he orders his soldiers to take the sulfur to the ship first instead of meeting Hwa Yi and Ja Kyung outside the jail.
So it’s bad news for Ja Gyung and Hwa Yi when the leave the jail and are greeted with Japanese soldiers. Hwa Yi encourages him to leave her, because she would have done the same thing if their situations were switched. But Ja Gyung won’t do that – so he fights his way out and they run through the streets of Edo. Meanwhile Joo Won loads all of the sulfur onto the ship, without telling anyone what it really is, and then requests to see the map. Perhaps the path of the ship will pass by the jail!
Ja Gyung sends her ahead to run to the dock. There’s still hope that she could reach the boat, so he’ll stay behind and hold the Japanese guards back. That’s sad – because we all know he’s going to die in the process of protecting her and helping her go home. What’s worse is that when Hwa Yi reaches the shore she sees the ship sailing around the bend, far away from her.
But we can’t have her stay behind in Japan! Nope – she ends up getting saved by Joo Won, who got on a smaller boat and went to save her. Now that she has this hope, Hwa Yi is free to let the tears loose for having left Ja Gyung behind.
Back at the Joseon camp near the border, the Ming border guards come for a visit to strengthen their security and also ask if they had anything to do with the “ruckus” the other night. Gwanghae has not revealed anything about his expedition, and has hidden his shoulder wound from everyone, so he tells Lee Yi Cheom to simply take care of the “misunderstanding” as he usually does. Gwanghae also promotes him to Minister of Defense, which makes Yi Cheom really happy. It doesn’t dispel his suspicions that something is underfoot though.
The ship to Joseon stops in the middle of the sea in the middle of the night. Kang Joo Sun’s man believes something is up because he can’t find Joo Won anywhere since they left the port. However, Joo Won appears right before their very midst to “fix” the problem that the ship has. Right before the ship sailed, he told his right hand man to break the rudder at around 4am. He himself will go pick up Hwa Yi, hoping to cross paths before he reaches the boat. Joo Sun barely believes him, as he notes the dripping wet robes, but he gives Joo Won a pass as he doesn’t know what the kid did exactly. Meanwhile, Hwa Yi is hidden on the boat, and will be given a new identity for her passage to Joseon. She thanks him, despite his not arriving in front of the jail on time, for saving her this time around.
Joo Won wonders if they’ve met before, but she doesn’t reveal her true identity just yet. After all, she thinks that he’s become Gwanghae’s man. Speaking of whom, the king is really really happy that they’ve caught the traitor’s tail, and got sulfur on top of that. When they arrive in Joseon, Joo Won asks where Hwa Yi used to live. However, he catches her in one lie after another since she clearly doesn’t seem to be able to remember the areas in Hanyang (a.k.a Seoul), or where she used to live. He drops her off at an inn, forbidding her from leaving the place until she has a proper identity card. Like she’ll keep her promise.
Joo Won goes to the palace to report to the king, who congratulates him on getting all the sulfur. Gwanghae can easily read Joo Won’s mind and sees that there are questions regarding his motives on the trade. However, Joo Won doesn’t care to hear the answer. He only got the sulfur because he didn’t want to lose to the king. This tickles Gwanghae – Joo Won, challenging the king?! Why, that makes him like the kid more! On top of that, when Heo Gyun sees Joo Won leave the palace he notices that Joo Won has the air of Lee Deok Hyung about him.
Gwanghae then orders Gae Shi for his plans to be ramped up: first, Heo Gyun will locate the traitor by following the “tail,” Joo Sun’s right hand man Yoon Do Ha. Second, he’s going to raise the stakes starting “tomorrow,” which could possibly mean an offensive attack using the newly acquired sulfur.
Meanwhile Hwa Yi tries to locate her mother and discovers that she’s been banished to another palace and that no one wants to talk about the Queen Dowager for fear of committing treason. Hwa Yi does see that her mother’s loyal officials are still around and considers meeting with them for help. When she returns home, she sees a thief escape, someone who had been rifling through Joo Won’s room. However, she bumps into Kang In Woo first (now played by Han Joo Wan) and when he slides up her sleeve he realizes she’s a woman.
So when Joo Won comes home at that moment, In Woo starts laughing. Did his best friend leave home not just because of conflicting ideals with his father, but because he had a hidden woman?!
Dun dun dun. I must also mention that this entire time, Joo Won’s thought that Hwa Yi is a boy. Quite difficult to believe really but I guess when you’re a pretty boy yourself, anything is possible. It’s kind of cool to see how Joo Won’s sense of needing to protect someone still carried up to when he’s older. It’s a bit irrational, and he takes on burdens that are unnecessary, but at the same time it makes the character consistent. I was hoping that he was not going to go back for Hwa Yi in the prison because I thought that plan was too irrational for his character, but it would have been a bigger break from his character to not protect her at all.
- Hwajung: Episodes 7-8
- Hwajung: Episodes 5-6
- Hwajung: Thoughts on Episodes 3-4
- Hwajung: First Impressions