Mr. Sunshine: Episode 16
The truth requires one to courageously accept the consequences, and it seems that Hee-sung is finally ready to embrace the consequences of his family’s sins. He makes major sacrifices, and he also follows his mantra of admiring beautiful and useless things to establish something that might become quite the opposite. Meanwhile, the resistance continues to brew under the pressure of the enemy forces, and we can only hope that all this buildup will amount to something soon.
EPISODE 16 RECAP
Ae-shin and Hee-sung kneel outside in front of Grandfather’s room, and Hee-sung says that he already knew that Ae-shin loves someone else. He takes out the letter from his family confirming their marriage and tells Ae-shin that he just adopted some ill intentions.
Night falls, and Aunt updates Grandfather on the Hee-sung/Ae-shin situation outside. She urges him to stay resolute and not allow these foolish kids to break a promise between their families. Grandfather tries to unpack this situation, thinking about Hee-sung’s claim that he doesn’t like Ae-shin, and Ae-shin’s claim that she loves someone else.
Outside, Hee-sung disapproves of Ae-shin’s rash confession to Grandfather and tells her that breaking a promise between families takes time. She realizes that Hee-sung’s ill intentions align with her intentions to break their marriage. Hee-sung sadly explains that there are two ways to admire a flower: cut it and put it in a vase, or follow the path toward the flower. He’s choosing the latter, an ill intention for him because there will be no flower at the end of this path.
Ae-shin apologizes, but Hee-sung tells her to only worry about herself since breaking this engagement will make her a flawed woman in society. He asks that she wait until he’s finished with his current project, after which he promises to grant her wish to become this flawed woman. Ae-shin agrees, and Hee-sung smiles at her affirmation.
When Hee-sung’s servant discovers him at Ae-shin’s house, Hee-sung instructs his frantic servant to assure his parents that he retreated to the hotel. He decides that they need to resolve their immediate situation and pretends to faint, since adults always need some excuse to break an impasse. Ae-shin holds an “unconscious” Hee-sung, and the servants urgently report that Hee-sung suddenly fainted. In response, Aunt orders Ae-shin’s servants to retrieve medicine and carry Hee-sung home, effectively freeing them from the locked storage room.
Hee-sung treats Ae-shin’s servants to soup and jokes that he could stand his legs falling asleep but couldn’t stand the hunger. They agree to the story that the servants retrieved medicine and that the maid carried him home, since that will be more believable than the manservant having managed to do it. Heh. Ae-shin’s maid agrees to this, and Hee-sung notices her pitiful glance. She says that it seems that none of them — Hee-sung, Ae-shin, and Eugene — have it easy and seem so lonely. Her voice breaks and she turns her attention to eating soup.
Eugene supervises his soldiers as they deliver supplies to the language school. As he walks through the school, he recognizes Ae-shin’s handwriting on the advertisement. The English teacher tells Eugene that the ad was written by a passionate student, and Eugene says that he remembers her from her visit to the legation. He notices that she’s not at the school, and the instructor informs him that Ae-shin hasn’t been to the school recently. Curious about Ae-shin, Eugene checks their correspondence cabinet at the medicine shop, but he finds no word from her.
When Hee-sung returns to the hotel, he runs into Eugene in the lobby and reveals that he knows everything about his family’s sins that caused Eugene’s tragic childhood. He says he won’t apologize yet, and Eugene says that he didn’t expect it, though he knows that Hee-sung is a person who will eventually apologize. Aw, that’s kind of sweet. Hee-sung also shares that for the first time, he’s the first to know news on Ae-shin before the others, but he won’t share it with Eugene because he hopes that Eugene is the last to find out. Ha, and that’s kind of petty.
With that, Hee-sung heads up to his room, and Hina comes down the stairs to hand Eugene his keys. She apologizes for setting him up in a meeting with Minister Lee without consent, and Eugene asks if Minister Lee is leveraging a weakness against her. She wonders if their business is driven by her weakness or a symbiotic relationship.
Hina then explains her symbiotic relationship with Eugene’s “friend,” aka Ae-shin, who she casually escorted out of the hotel when the Righteous Army targeted Eugene. She also spills the news on Ae-shin’s marriage with Hee-sung, informing Eugene of the formal marriage letter in Hee-sung’s hand.
Eugene thinks back to his conversation with Ae-shin at the east sea. Ae-shin told him about the prospect of her breaking her engagement. She imagined that she would be exiled, so she would escape to Shanghai, where she could meet her father’s comrades. She imagined that Eugene would have returned to the U.S. by then, but at that moment, she had imagined him beside her in this future. Back in the present, Ae-shin looks at an old letter from Eugene, and the message in the letter — about longing being the next step in love — seems to align with their current pathos.
Seung-gu pays Eugene a visit at Glory Hotel to return his gun that Eugene had left with Eun-san, and he starts to take off his shoes before noticing Eugene still in his shoes in his room. Yes, relatable. Seung-gu tells Eugene that Eun-san and Minister Lee are reputed to be the most cold-blooded people in Joseon, but he’s here to run this errand because he’s got a soft heart.
Seung-gu notes that Eugene stopped by their hideout with a new gun, and he brags that Eugene won’t have to teach Ae-shin much because she had a great teacher who built her a strong foundation. He tells Eugene that he taught Ae-shin for ten years, and she persevered through long and rough paths, avoiding the public’s eye to train at the hideout. He knows that Ae-shin will do the same as she travels the path to Eugene, which she claims is further than her journey to the east sea. If this is an inevitable path for Ae-shin, then Seung-gu asks that Eugene remain at the end of this path for her. Eugene asks the reason for Seung-gu’s change of heart, and Seung-gu says that he pities the two and wants to cheer for them since they’ll face plenty of opposition.
Eun-san’s apprentice brings him the last of Eugene’s beer, and Eun-san regrets that he won’t be able to taste this bland drink, which he’s finally come to enjoy. Apprentice wonders if the beer is expensive, and Eun-san admits that Eugene’s sincerity may be too expensive to buy.
After confirming the truth about Ae-shin’s lover with her servants, Grandfather sternly scolds Ae-shin for not telling him sooner. He tells Ae-shin to marry and live in the safety of her husband’s shield, but Ae-shin refuses and asserts that she will determine her own life. Grandfather refuses to believe Ae-shin until he sees this man in person, but Ae-shin once again asserts that she’s strong enough to shield herself and doesn’t intend on using this man as her shield. Grandfather puts Ae-shin on house arrest until she brings Eugene in front of him.
Ae-shin stumbles as she walks out of Grandfather’s room, and she asks her servants to remain silent if Grandfather asks them separately for Eugene’s identity. They agree to keep the secret, but they end up asking Eugene to reveal himself to Grandfather, as their worry for Ae-shin precedes their honor. They tell Eugene about Ae-shin’s stubborn refusal to marry, and he realizes that this was the news that Hee-sung was keeping from him.
Eugene and Ae-shin kneel through Grandfather’s questioning, and Eugene confirms that he and Ae-shin love each other. Even with Eugene’s explanation of his past — fleeing Joseon to save his life and becoming a solider to be accepted as an American — Grandfather can’t accept Ae-shin’s relationship with an American who’s a part of the invading army in Joseon. Eugene insists that he wishes for Joseon’s safety, but Grandfather doesn’t believe Eugene, who calls the U.S. his home country.
Then, Eugene reveals that he met Grandfather previously in his youth, when Grandfather had warned him, a slave, to keep his eyes on the ground if he wanted to live a longer life. Grandfather realizes that Eugene was the precocious boy who commented on the black bird in the blue sky, and he explodes with more rage at Eugene’s lowly background. Ae-shin defends Eugene, and Eugene retreats from the room upon her request.
Grandfather scolds Ae-shin for bringing such shame upon her family, and he forbids her from going to Eugene. He tells her to live alone for the rest of her life, and Ae-shin agrees to his terms. As soon as Ae-shin leaves Grandfather’s room, she runs after Eugene, fearlessly jumping over the wall in her dress. She chases after him through the hills and is out of breath when she finally catches up to him.
Ae-shin didn’t realize he would leave so fast and chased after him to say goodbye, since she doesn’t know when she’ll see him next. Eugene notices that she lost her shoe, and he turns back to retrieve it. He kneels before her to gently put on her shoe, and Ae-shin looks touched by this simple gesture, fighting back tears. She asks him to forgive Grandfather, and Eugene claims that he’s grateful to Grandfather for the opportunity to see her. He tells Ae-shin that she must have gotten her best traits from her wise grandfather.
Ae-shin anxiously looks behind her, and Eugene lets her leave, saying that they’ll meet again with a forced optimism. Ae-shin runs back home, holding back tears, and Eugene watches her leave longingly. Back at his hotel, Eugene looks at the American name on his uniform. In her room, Ae-shin stands with her soiled socks and thinks back to her trip with Eugene to the east sea.
As Ae-shin and Eugene walked along the shore, she shared her hopes of walking freely alongside Eugene in the U.S. She asked if people are used to seeing a man and woman walk side by side there, and Eugene said that they would stare anyway because they would look so good together. We see Ae-shin’s imagination come to fruition, as she strolls down the street in Western dress, arms linked with Eugene.
In this imagined life, Ae-shin enjoys a picnic with Eugene, and she marvels at a zebra in the yard of grass in front of them (lol). Ae-shin studies about the world and the stars with her diverse American friends and then she meets up with Eugene in front of a fountain. He waves at her, and Ae-shin narrates that she’s initially shy but then full of happiness. They also stand in front of the music shop, listening to the melody they both like. Then at the end of the night, they say goodbye.
In front of the music shop, Ae-shin tells Eugene that she’s learned how Westerners bid farewell, and she leans in toward his face in the motion of a cheek kiss. She steps back and says, “Goodbye.” But Eugene prefers that they say, “See you,” which doesn’t hold such finality. Ae-shin takes his suggestion and bids him farewell with a hopeful “See you again.” They linger in front of the music shop at night, staring at each other longingly. Back in her room, Ae-shin thinks about her hopeful fantasy and cries at the tragic reality of their relationship.
Hina looks at the photo of her and her mother, and she thinks back to Minster Lee’s deceitful use of her mother’s whereabouts. She calls him a bastard, but her anger is interrupted by a summoning by the royal at Gyeongseon Palace. The royal concubine asks Hina for a candid explanation of Japan’s push for currency exchange and the king’s stern opposition to this. In simple terms, Hina explains that Japan’s banknotes are worthless outside of Joseon, and with the pervasiveness of these banknotes, granting the currency exchange of these banknotes could result in Japan’s bank usurping Joseon’s economy.
The royal concubine says that this is why she’s building the school for girls, since it’s unfair for only men to be educated and worried about such important matters for the nation. Hear, hear! She tells Hina about Wan-ik’s appointment to the foreign minister position, and she scorns his venomous tongue for urging the king to lift this currency exchange ban. Hina’s face hardens at the mention of her father, and we visit the debate about this ban in the king’s court.
Wan-ik and his supporters pressure King Gojong to lift the ban, which is adding to Japan’s aggression against Joseon. They argue that the king must lift this ban to ensure the safety of the Joseon people, but Minister Lee urges to king to remain resolute on his position to protect Joseon’s sovereignty. The king finds more validity in Wan-ik’s argument and reluctantly grants the banknote currency exchange under the condition that these banknotes are inspected annually. Wan-ik looks at Minister Lee with a devilish smile and praises the king for this decision.
Dong-mae tracks down the police chief who interrogated him, and investigates Wan-ik’s motive to frame Nobleman Go, aka Grandfather. The police chief claims that he just followed orders, but he thinks more critically when Dong-mae loosens the sword from his scabbard. The police chief trembles in fear and reports that he heard something from the post office manager about letters that Nobleman Go sent.
Dong-mae follows these clues, and his lackeys bring the post office manager in alongside the police chief. The post office manager claims that he burned all of Nobleman Go’s letters at Wan-ik’s order, but he saved one just in case his life depended on it. Dong-mae says that the time is now, and he forces the two men to trace their hands as a signature on a blank contract. He hasn’t decided the terms of the contract yet, so he suggests (read: threatens) that the two men remain silent. Dong-mae eats at his regular bar with the copy of the letter at the table, wondering if rebellion runs in the family.
The bakery owner refuses a Japanese customer who tries to use Japanese currency, and he grabs Dong-mae’s attention as he passes through the streets in attempts to scare off this customer. Dong-mae draws his sword in annoyance, which effectively scares off the Japanese customer but also ends up frightening the baker as well.
Eugene visits the pawnshop to pay the duo for their services, but Il-shik requests a different form of payment. He explains the circumstances of another pawnshop customer, a young man formerly from a noble family who wishes to enlist in the military academy. The young man’s parents were killed for being the instigators for a movement to depose Wan-ik about five years ago, and they need to recreate an identity for the young man to enlist in the military academy, which only accepts nobles. They simply ask Eugene to sign a forged document as a guarantor for this young man’s enlistment. Eugene suspects that they’ll get caught, but the duo assures him of their perfect forging abilities.
This young man, who we’ll later know as JOON-YOUNG (the late but welcome addition, Jang Dong-yoon), and his friends discuss the different methods of obtaining a gun. One of his friends wonders if they could negotiate with a gunner, but another friend refuses to stoop that low. Joon-young says that the military academy is their best bet, and he assures his friends that he has a reliable source for the forged enlistment documents. They decide to make three more rounds around town in a casual stroll to prepare for training at the military academy. Yes, that’ll surely prepare them…
Minister Lee meets with Eun-san and requests for Seung-gu to be their new replacement for the head of palace security. He acknowledges Seung-gu’s skills for the job, but he also needs someone who won’t be bribed by Wan-ik or have any family for Wan-ik to target. Eun-san doesn’t think Seung-gu will accept the position, but Minister Lee expects Eun-san to come through with this proposal because he granted him a favor (clearing Joseph’s name for Eugene). On second thought, Eun-san remembers Seung-gu’s vow to become a rebel against Joseon and thinks that Seung-gu may fit the role.
Eun-san then asks about Eugene, and Minister Lee says that he convinced Eugene to accept the drill instructor position at the Joseon Royal Military Academy by using the Righteous Army as bait. Eun-san calls him shameless and leaves, promising correspondence about Seung-gu.
Dong-mae jumps over the wall into Ae-shin’s house and boldly approaches Grandfather. The servant calls for backup, and Ae-shin follows the sudden commotion to find Dong-mae confronting her grandfather while the servants around them panic. Dong-mae simply delivers Grandfather’s unsent letter and reveals that the remaining letters were burned. He warns Grandfather that someone is targeting him, but Grandfather expresses suspicion at the word of a foreign man who trespassed into his home. Thinking about his money exchange with Ae-shin, he assures Grandfather that he’s a Joseon person for now, since he received Joseon money.
With that, Dong-mae leaves, and Grandfather ponders how two foreign men — Eugene and Dong-mae — have entered his home to deliver these warnings. Putting his suspicions aside, Grandfather realizes that he’s in danger regardless because his cards have been revealed. He seems grateful to know that these letters never reached their destination because he would have drowned in despair at the lack of response. But now that he knows that these letters were never sent, he seeks an inkling of hope. He then orders his servant to send Seung-gu in secret.
Ae-shin paces in her room, worried about why Dong-mae would confront Grandfather. To figure out, she asks her maid to send the peddler the next day, and we see that Ae-shin used the peddler as a messenger for a letter to Hina. In the letter, Ae-shin asks Hina to find out why Dong-mae trespassed into her home and what he delivered to Grandfather.
Cue: Dong-mae entering Hina’s room and offering to buy her nice clothes for protecting Hotaru, the tarot card reader loyal to Dong-mae. Hina asks for another form of payment: Dong-mae’s reason for trespassing into Ae-shin’s home. Hina reveals that she’s selling this information to Ae-shin, and Dong-mae asks if Ae-shin’s engagement is broken. He admits that he doesn’t want her engagement to be broken because he fears that she’ll be further from his reach, but Hina doesn’t grant his wishes. She presumes that the engagement was broken because Hee-sung’s expression looked gloomy, much like Dong-mae’s expression now.
Hee-sung confronts his parents, who demand to know why he intercepted the official marriage confirmation letter to Ae-shin’s family. Before answering that question, Hee-sung reveals that he’s setting up a newspaper using the money that his grandfather left him through a ledger. That’s how he’s been collecting money, and now we know why he was claiming this borrowed money in a previous episode.
Next, Hee-sung finally addresses his marriage to Ae-shin, and he asks his parents to break their engagement. His father says that this engagement was the best thing that his grandfather left him, and Hee-sung admits that among all the precious things that his grandfather left him, this is the one thing that he most desired. But this is also the reason he needs to give it up. Hee-sung’s mother doesn’t follow his logic, and Hee-sung reveals that he’s discovered the full truth of his family’s sins against Eugene. Everything that his parents have been hiding from him, he now knows.
Hee-sung’s mother reaches for her neck as she remembers that traumatizing day, and Hee-sung pleads for his mother to save him one more time. His parents cry in defeat, as Hee-sung resigns to his penance to give up what he desires most.
At the pawnshop, Hee-sung sets up his newspaper office and admires the flowers on his desk. He takes one of the flowers and places it on his sign outside as a proxy for his newspaper name until he decides one. Hee-sung updates his fellow gambling ladies at the hotel about his newspaper and encourages them to send any content that they wish to learn the truth about. Ae-soon says that she’s curious about the truth behind Hee-sung’s engagement, and she tries to discourage any progress by telling Hee-sung that Ae-shin is far from demure.
Hina interrupts the conversation and compels Ae-soon to run out by whispering to her about her husband’s early return home. She joins the game and purposely spills a drink on her frequent lady guest that Minister Lee asked her to investigate. Hina invites the lady to her room and offers her a change of clothes, but the lady isn’t interested. She’s not interested in alcohol either, and just as Hina wonders what would strike her interest, the lady fixates on the fencing sword in her room.
The lady expresses a fascination with fencing and says that there’s a charm in quickly and accurately defeating your opponent by targeting a vital point. Hina notices that the lady uses the exact words she used to describe the sport of fencing, but she plays dumb about the sport and says that she knows of only two people in Joseon who fence: the English ambassador’s brother-in-law and the French ambassador’s secretary, Leo. At the mention of the names, the lady’s demeanor turns cold and she exits the room saying that she’s not feeling well. Hina senses the lady’s jealousy and wonders what her connection to the sport is.
A court lady from the royal palace visits Grandfather’s house to summon Ae-shin to advise the royal concubine, Lady Um, on school practices. She was recommended by Hina, and Grandfather seems embarrassed that all of Hanseong knows about Ae-shin frequenting the school. He initially rejects the offer, but Aunt convinces Grandfather to allow Ae-shin to serve the royal through this rare opportunity.
As Ae-shin rides to the palace, her maid notices the sudden darkness in the middle of the day. At the palace, Minister Lee informs King Gojong of the solar eclipse, and the king seems to associate this misfortune with Wan-ik’s infiltration into the palace. Minister Lee urges the king to confront their challenges with a clear mind and delivers some good news that Eugene has arrived at the palace to accept the instructor position for the Royal Military Academy.
In front of the king, Eugene officially accepts the position and receives a Joseon flag to commemorate his acceptance. As a side gag, we see Minister Lee instructing Eugene on the formal responses to the king’s commands and Eugene awkwardly repeating these phrases. King Gojong asks why Eugene changed his mind about accepting the position, and Eugene candidly responds that Minister Lee proposed an offer that he couldn’t refuse.
The king asks what this offer was, and Eugene says that he was given a mountain. Eugene thinks back to the real offer to allow Eun-san and the Righteous Army members to live longer, but he simply tells the king that it was a big mountain. [The san in Eun-san is a homophone for “mountain.”] The king laughs at this simple solution to persuade Eugene, and Minister Lee looks at him with a sense of relief.
As Ae-shin walks through the palace with the court ladies, she crosses paths with Eugene. He introduces himself to the court lady as the newly appointed instructor of the military academy, and he promises to fulfill his role well, as he may be training potential comrades. He continues his conversation with the court lady, but everything he says is meant for Ae-shin, who is standing behind her.
Speaking indirectly to Ae-shin, Eugene admits that he was surprised by her beauty in this sudden run-in at the palace. He comments on the falling plum flower petals and wishes that he could see them for all four seasons. He says he’s glad that they ran into each other, and Ae-shin silently receives Eugene’s message. Following the oblivious court lady who is flattered by Eugene’s greeting, Ae-shin passes by with an emotional look, avoiding eye contact with Eugene. The plum flower petals fall beautifully around them, making their indirect interaction more poignant.
Hotaru reads Dong-mae’s fortune while Dong-mae watches the sun as the solar eclipse begins. Grandfather distributes his letters to Seung-gu’s men, and they readily accept his request to deliver these secret letters by hand because they have been financially supported by Grandfather for years. The men bow respectfully to Grandfather before embarking on their journey. We see Hina, Dong-mae, and Hee-sung each being reflected in the image of the eclipse, and as darkness falls under the eclipse, the Righteous Army marches onward.
Hee-sung is finally done aimlessly wandering through these episodes — he’s found his purpose at last! I’m not sure why it took so long for us to get to this point of Hee-sung launching his newspaper, and I expect these next episodes to give us a good justification as we see his newspaper business unfold. It’s funny that I keep falling for the show’s false hope misleading me about Hee-sung’s second lead potential. Because I keep falling for the assumption that Hee-sung will fight for Ae-shin, I’m always pleasantly surprised when he poetically proves me and Ae-shin wrong. Beneath his frivolous exterior, he carries the weight of repentance, and I think Ae-shin and Eugene have come to realize his layered personality. From this, it’s interesting to see how the relationship between Hee-sung and Eugene has transformed from one fueled by revenge to one fueled by forgiveness. While Eugene still harbors an intense animosity toward Hee-sung’s family, Hee-sung’s sincerity seems to have saved him from Eugene’s wrath.
I found Ae-shin’s reasoning in refusing marriage to be illuminating, as it seems to be an issue of values and priorities than her marriage partner selection. She seems to be against the institution of marriage and the loss of freedom that a woman experiences once she is claimed to another family name. The conflict between modernity and tradition manifests in Ae-shin’s clash with her grandfather, and I’m interested to see if Grandfather’s deeper involvement in the resistance will bring them closer despite their fundamental differences in values. I admire Ae-shin’s relentless conviction to her beliefs, and though she may occasionally seem immature, her willingness to follow her passions and fierce commitment to her independence are really inspirational at times.
The whole imaginary sequence in the U.S. was a bit cheesy, but cinematically beautiful. I can appreciate an imagination running wild, especially if you have the budget and time to make it look beautiful. The only real problem I had with that sequence was the pure randomness of it. Instead of focusing on propelling the Righteous Army plot forward with the introduction of Jang Dong-yoon’s character, we were graced with the visual experience of a zebra and a studying scene with a striking resemblance to a college diversity ad. It’s moments like these that I should just resign to the visual experience and take a page out of Hee-sung’s book to appreciate how things can be so beautiful and useless.