“Hwajung” (“Splendid Politics”) Episodes 9 & 10: Escape from Edo

This week, the adult actors have settled into their roles and look more assured. Episode 9 starts slow, setting up the action to come, but when things get going, Hwajung delivers some dynamite scenes. At the end of episode 10, I was desperate for what’s next.

I’m surprised at how quickly things are unfolding—the princess has grown up, made it home from exile and re-encountered Joo-Won and In-Woo already.

This week’s uncap is full of pictures, because episodes 9 and 10 were beautiful. The locations varied and Lee Yeon-Hee has an interesting face. In screen-capping, I spend a fair bit of time looking at everyone’s faces, and Seo Kang-Joon, who plays Joo-Won, is less captivating—he looks somewhat young and unformed.

But Lee Yeon-Hee has her own original face and expressions. Gong Myung, who plays Ja-Kyung, and Han Joo-Won, who plays Kang In-Woo, also bring expressive faces to the screen.

Not too many men with beards in these episodes. We do have to figure out what the king’s up to. On the whole, though, these were episodes for action and adventure, not politics.

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Smugglers’ Paradise

Joo-Won may be fairly bookish, but he isn’t afraid to put his life on the line. And Hwa Yi is a bold adventurer. She’s going to find palace life a bit dull if she succeeds in returning to her old life.

At the start of episode 9, Joo Won’s surprised and put off by how casually Hwa Yi talks to him.

Interestingly, he doesn’t suspect she’s a woman, which makes me wonder about his vision. She may be dressed in men’s clothing but Lee Yeon-Hee has none of the androgynous qualities that allow an actress like Yoon Eun-Hye to pass for male.

Hwa Yi sets up a meeting for Joo-Won with Edo’s biggest sulfur smuggler. She also takes a bold hand in negotiations, for which Joo Won rebukes her (above).

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Because sulfur is so precious for making gunpowder, smuggling it is a capital offense. When Joo Won and Hwa Yi meet the Japanese smugglers later that night, they’re risking their lives.

And, alas, someone has betrayed them. Japanese police descend and Hwa Yi makes a quick decision. She pretends to hold Joo Won hostage. This gives us a memorable image of the bold princess holding a knife to bookish Joo Won’s throat.

Princess Jeongmyeong is awesome. I’m going to call her Princess Leia from now on.

She tells Joo-Won in Korean that she’ll take responsibility by saying she tricked him into smuggling. But he has to rescue her.

“I have to get back to Joseon,” she says fiercely. “So you have to live and help me.”

Then she releases him and goes to prison.

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Back at his quarters, Joo-Won agonizes over his “promise” to her. She didn’t give him much of a choice, but he feels as if he did promise to help her. The fact that she accepted arrest in order to save him and his men makes him feel obligated.

But who betrayed Joo-Won’s plan to the authorities?

When his sergeant-in-arms enters, Joo-Won swiftly seizes and draws the soldier’s own sword and holds it at his throat. He demands to know whose orders the sergeant’s following.

The man hesitates for a time in fear, then confesses: it was the king himself who gave the orders.

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The king ordered him to find out who was behind the disruptions in smuggling sulfur to Joseon. When the king sent Joo-Won to Edo, he never intended him to succeed. He simply used Joo-Won and his sulfur mission as bait to draw out the person who’s interfering with the sulfur purchases.

Joo-Won is horrified to discover he was used as bait and that he was intended to fail. What’s worse, Hwa Yi will be executed tomorrow for sulfur smuggling. And the Korean emissaries are sailing back to Joseon tomorrow.

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We see him next going to ask Ja Kyung for assistance. Joo-Won is determined to save Hwa Yi from prison. He also intends to steal the entire sulfur shipment back from the magistrates.

And so he does, but not without a few wrinkles.

One theme of these episodes is that the princess suspects Joo-Won of loyalty to Gwanghae—that’s why she hasn’t revealed her identity. Joo-Won makes a tough decision as his soldiers start a diversion and steal the sulfur. Does he have time for the soldiers to assist in Hwa Yi’s rescue, or is Ja Kyung on his own?

Joo-Won decides the sulfur is more important. He needs every soldier on hand to take it to the ship as quickly as possible. He and his men reach the ship on time, but Minister Kang is impatient to leave immediately.

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But Hwa Yi and Ja Kyung aren’t there yet. While Joo-Won’s men start a diversion, Ja Kyung gets into the magistrate’s small prison and releases Hwa Yi. As they’re leaving, however, several officers intercept them. Hwa Yi and Ja Kyung are both courageous and determined beyond their years. They face their enemies standing back to back, arguing with each other over who’s going to save whom.

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