Flash Review: Joseon Gunman

Long before Joseon Gunman actually aired, I was already chomping at the bit for the show to hurry up and air already, mostly coz of its stylish, gorgeous posters that just reverberated with promises of epic-ness and badassery.

I mean, just look at ’em. The posters are So. Freaking. Gorgeous. I seriously want the folks responsible for those posters to make all the posters for all the dramas in all of dramaland.

On top of the very effective posters, the other thing adding to my interest in the show, is the fact that I also have a big soft spot for Lee Jun Ki, and couldn’t wait to see him be all edgy and kickass as a rebel gunman.

So. Beautiful. Seriously.

I was so, so ready for Show to blow me away with its greatness, and for a while, it actually seemed to be doing an awfully promising job of it, too. It’s just too bad that Show ultimately fell short of my (admittedly very high) expectations.

In Show’s defense, it remained a solid watch throughout, even though it didn’t quite attain crack status for me.

For the record, here are the things that I really appreciated about it – before I get into the things that I didn’t like so much.


1. Lee Jun Ki in a sageuk

Lee Jun Ki tends to rock in period shows, particularly sageuks. And he rocks when he gets to be badass too. Plus, he’s an actual marksman, having won a sharpshooter award while in the military. Joseon Gunman pretty much took all of those awesome elements and put them together in one show. Awesome.

Also, how useful, that Lee Jun Ki really does speak Japanese, since his character Yoon Kang really does have occasion to speak Japanese more than a few times in the show. More awesome.

In that sense, Show does not disappoint, because sageuk Lee Jun Ki wielding a gun really is nicely badass. And he gets to be freaking cool, too, when single-handedly taking down whole groups of armed men.

That gun. That glare. And that awesome sageuk hair.

2. Gorgeous cinematography + solid soundtrack

The cinematography is thoughtful, excellent and quite a feast for the eyes. Just a few minutes into episode 1, I found myself quite impressed.

The face-off between gun and sword is glorious yet gritty, with so much attention to detail. The entire scene is very artistically conceived. The slightly muted color palette, the deliberate slow motion, the shaky-camera effect when characters are running, the interesting camera angles and close-ups, all come together really well to create an immersive and masterful scene.

Shots regularly intercut one another in a sweeping manner, while sound effects, complete with a bit of echo built in, heighten the excitement. I particularly liked the touches of light refracting in the rain. 

So much intricate detail in the entire scene, and yet, through it all, it doesn’t feel at all indulgent. So. Good.

The thoughtful, beautiful cinematography shows up often throughout the show, almost always in a different form, like these underwater shots from episode 3. Really lovely.

The OST is also solid and appropriately immersive. I especially liked how, in the tension-filled moments, the music’s grand enough to make it feel like a big world, and also, pumping enough to get the adrenalin levels up.

On the downside, though, there were moments when the OST distinctly reminded me of the OST in The Princess’ Man (2011). Not that that’s inherently a bad thing, since I really liked TPM’s OST. It’s just that with the association, Joseon Gunman felt a little less like its own show, and it is its own show.

3. Solid OTP that’s well set-up

Character establishment for the OTP is efficient, but doesn’t feel forced.

Very quickly, we get a sense of what our leads are about; that Yoon Kang’s a bit of a laggard, but who’s extremely nimble and skilled in swordsmanship, and who’s hiding a righteous heart underneath it all; that Soo In (Nam Sang Mi) is kinda feisty, has strong ideals and political views, and puts her money where her mouth is, facing danger for what she believes in, even when she’s really scared.

Their bickering in the early episodes is cute rather than grating, and Lee Jun Ki and Nam Sang Mi share a nicely sparky chemistry that made them very fun to watch together.

4. Interesting supporting cast

Aside from the OTP, I was also suitably intrigued by Jun Hye Bin, who plays Hye Won, and Yoo Oh Sung, who plays her father Won Shin. Both of them bring a good helping of depth and dimension to their characters, which made them a treat to watch.

As a character, Hye Won is strong, bold, and doesn’t hesitate to make things happen to get what she wants. Jun Hye Bin makes Hye Won elegant, articulate and quite regal, and I couldn’t help but sit up whenever she appeared on my screen.

Yoo Oh Sung makes Won Shin a fascinating antagonist, with his impressive depth and range. He plays Won Shin with subtlety, texture and intricacy, and remains completely convincing through it all. When Won Shin is menacing, he’s downright scary; when he’s scheming, his shrewdness is conveyed by a single blink. Yet, when he shows shades of vulnerability, I feel like we are looking into the depths of his very soul. Amazing.

5. Good initial pacing

The early episodes are engaging and satisfying, managing to balance tones and threads in a way that feels organic. The action with the romance; the tension with the cute. The different pieces are very disparate in tone, and yet, the story manages to weave in and out of these tones deftly, making it all flow in a textured, interesting, organic sort of way.

The dramatic tension is also great in the early stretch, and Show manages to make the blossoming romance between our OTP feel right at home within the more intense life-and-death stakes. In fact, those stakes heighten the emotional connection between Yoon Kang and Soo In, and that’s pretty great indeed.

Tonally, I was pleasantly surprised that Show managed to keep its light and almost fluffy touch amid the angst.


Given such early promise, it felt like Joseon Gunman was poised for greatness. Which means I was extra disappointed with the things that eventually got in the way of true awesome.

1. Show stops short of being truly badass

While I was kept suitably on my toes by Show’s cliffhanger rhythm, and dutifully wondered how Show would get Yoon Kang out of each Dangerous Cliffhanger Situation in its next episode, the pattern eventually got a touch predictable.

I mean, thrusting our titular character into apparent life-or-death situations when there are still multiple episodes left is exciting and all, but really, I already know that he’s not going to die. Coz, otherwise, how will the story continue, right?

Also, while it was great to see Yoon Kang wielding a gun, it eventually started to feel ineffectual when he kept pointing his gun at people and then not killing them. I mean, I know Show is working to keep Yoon Kang as the Good Guy, but how is a gunman badass unless he gets to actually do some shooting?

2. Pacing slump

As early as episode 7, I felt the pacing slump a little, as the balance shifted more in favor of revenge and political machinations, rather than the central romance and other relationships.

In and of themselves, political machinations don’t have to be boring, but the ones in Joseon Gunman did eventually feel repetitive, and therefore uninteresting. By episode 11, I felt like we were running in place in a merry-go-round of sorts, and not going anywhere significant despite the hours of screentime.

As a result, Show felt a touch slow, and the narrative fabric, rather loose. On the whole, I was still interested in the story, but I honestly didn’t feel very invested. Which, when you think about it, makes a world of difference to the viewing experience.

3. Anticlimaxes [SPOILERS]

Yoon Kang not actually getting to shoot people, was already pretty anti-climactic, but the final confrontation between Yoon Kang and Won Shin was even more underwhelming.

Yoon Kang’s face-off with Won Shin feels oddly short, given that this has been something that either of them have been gunning towards at any one time, almost all series long. If Won Shin wasn’t after Yoon Kang, Yoon Kang was after him.

When the face-off happened, it was over so quickly, like there never was a fight to begin with. When you spend hours of screentime circling around the narrative’s One Big Confrontation, it’s extremely disappointing to have that face-off not live up to all the build-up.

Additionally, I felt that Yoon Kang forgiving Won Shin and therefore not killing him is appropriate for his character, but found Won Shin taking out his pistol and raising it to his own temple instead of aiming it at Yoon Kang with any last shred of strength, questionable. I just didn’t know if I believed that decision to be true to his character, and therefore felt rather underwhelmed by how that arc was resolved.


For a show that started off with so much promise, it’s painful to admit that by episode 16, I was just hanging on to see how it all ended.

I came into the show for the promise of badass Lee Jun Ki, but came away more interested in Yoo Oh Sung’s villain instead. That’s really weird, for me. Show really managed to mess with my head, right there.

On a more positive note, it struck me that in much the same way that Tree With Deep Roots (2011) helped me to see that people fought hard for the establishment of Hangul, Joseon Gunman helped me to see that people fought hard for the establishment of freedom and equal rights.

The things that we take for granted nowadays – like education, modernization, freedom – were all part of the enlightenment that people sacrificed their lives for, and that’s not a bad lesson to take away, from any show.


A solid watch, even though it hurts to think that Show came close to – yet fell short of – greatness.




26 thoughts on “Flash Review: Joseon Gunman

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  4. neve

    Dammit I should have read this before I started the show. I stopped at the exact same episode you started losing interest. It was annoying how the same plot was repeated over and over again, like Yeon Hwa getting kidnapped, chased, and basically be a victim throughout the show. I knew I should drop the show when I kept obsessing how weird LJK’s ear piercings look in a sageuk. I kept looking at the holes in his ears instead of following the story lol… I wanted to know how it all ended and jumped to E21-22, fast-forwarding often, and was just left feeling meh. I’m glad I skipped all those episodes. I only started watching this while waiting for new episodes of Scarlet Heart Ryeo to be available… LJK is molten hot in that 😍😍😍

    1. kfangurl

      Hahaha!! I’m sorry you got burned by this one, neve! Joseon Gunman looked all kinds of promising, but was ultimately very underwhelming. If you’d like more LJK between Scarlet Heart eps, I do recommend Arang and the Magistrate. I loved him in that one. 😍

      1. neve

        I’m watching Arang and the Magistrate now hahaha… It’s a welcome respite after Joseon Gunman. I’m slowly falling for LJK because of Scarlet Heart Ryeo, though. I can’t wait for the next episode!!! 😍😍😍😍

        1. kfangurl

          That’s great, that you’re deep in LJK appreciation!! I really loved him in Arang – he delivers with a restraint which I found very becoming. He can get a little OTT at times, he’s so immersed in the role. But in Arang, he holds back just a touch, and I love it. ❤ I’m slowly warming up to Scarlet Heart, and I must say, he looks amazinggg 😍

          1. neve

            I’m only on E2 of Arang, so I’m looking forward to his restrained acting. In Joseon Gunman he was just meh. In Scarlet Heart Ryeo, his Wang So is so heartbreaking. That scene in the bath when he covered up his scar with his hand, OMG I wanted to give him the hug he so desperately needs. And he can be creepy as hell too, like when he came into his mother’s bedroom all bloody in the middle of the night. I must admit, though, it was creepy sexy (if there’s such a thing).

            1. kfangurl

              If memory serves, he was pretty restrained all through Arang. I don’t remember him slipping into OTT territory during that show. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did! Yes, he’s definitely heartbreaking as Wang So.. and I get what you mean about creepy sexy. He’s scary coz he looks like he might kill you, but the blazing angst in his eyes and the mane of glory are very compelling. But he might kill you anyway. 😉

  5. asotss

    Didn’t finish it. I was expecting a different story and the funny thing is that I don’t why, maybe because of Show’s name, Josean Man. Isn’t it bound to display some grandeur ? Sth like the little story in the big History, the right man (great values with lots of balls) at the right time (turning point in History marked by the introduction of new technologies) setting an example for the next generations but the boy just basically want to avenge his father and that’s it, so much for history and as for setting the bar, well as you noticed as well, he never shoot… I know it’s not right to ditch Show when it never claimed to be what I expected but who said life is fair ?
    One thing truly remarkable from this show though : the action scenes. We can see that the choreo- and photographer are taking their jobs very seriously. Camera placement, slow/normal/speed motion alternation, lighting, their game was on point. If only the team from The Three Musketeers has taken some inspiration from them (only remembering that horse pursuit gives me seasickness)….

    1. kfangurl

      You know what, asotss, your expectations aren’t THAT far off, [SPOILER!] except that Yoon Kang becomes that man at the end of the show instead of the beginning. In that sense, I suppose you could consider Joseon Gunman the origin story of the people’s hero?

      Still, as you noticed as well, Yoon Kang doesn’t get to do much shooting at all even then, so that’s one thing that I wanted the show to do differently. I mean, I wasn’t so much bloodthirsty for him to kill people, but more of, I would’ve liked him to show off his quick-thinking and sharp-shooting skills in other ways. Like shooting inanimate objects & perhaps shooting enemies in non-fatal ways, that kind of thing.

      But yes, the action scenes were something else, weren’t they? I found some of the choreography and camera work around that quite breathtaking. So artistically conceived and so glorious to watch! I’d love more of THAT on my screen, thank you! ^^

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  7. Yllegjord

    Agree with everything. Those posters were indeed great baits. I actually loved the action scenes, the soundtrack and Soo In’s nerdiness in the first episodes, but then it start going in circles, like you wrote.
    This ”deal is off/deal is on” gimmick was pretty tiring too.

    ”But how is a gunman badass unless he gets to actually do some shooting?”
    Exactly. He didn’t even have to kill people, he could solve situations by shooting inanimate things, door latches, water barrels, lamps, this sort of thing. It’s been done Before and I was sort of expecting it but, nope. Disapointment.

    1. kfangurl

      YES. I wanted to see him use the gun smartly – inanimate objects, or even just shooting people in the arm and not actually killing them – so that we could see his quick-thinking and sharp-shooting skillz. Instead, Show opted to have him just NOT shoot, most of the time, and that got old pretty fast.

      I think JG was still pretty solid as a drama, but it just never became cracky and fantastic like it had the potential to, and THAT was my biggest disappointment with this. Oh well.. next time, maybe? I’m hopeful that LJK’s next drama will work out better!

      1. Yllejord

        Those darn posters. They turned our expectations way too high.

        I liked the characters and the ending, though. And I thought it would be great if we got a second season, whith some awesome people’s hero action and stuff.
        Oh well, Dreams for free.

        1. kfangurl

          Hahaha!! Yes, those posters did dial up our expectations in a big way! Even so, I love them, and wouldn’t want crappy posters in their place! XD

          Ooh, now that’s an idea, Yllejord! A whole season just on being the people’s hero sounds intriguing! Although, I don’t prefer the full facial hair on LJK.. it covers too much of his lovely bone structure! ^^

    1. kfangurl

      It DID looks amazing on paper, didn’t it?? Especially with those amazing posters. I’m sad that JG didn’t live up to the hype, but at least I found it a reasonably solid watch, even though it never attained crack status for me. I hope LJK’s next drama will hook us better! Fingers crossed! ^^

  8. A.K.I.A. Talking

    Great Review!
    Also your blog is doing great it seems. Your Alexa ranking is 491,104 in the world currently.
    How do you do it?
    2 thumbs up which I cannot say the same for this show.
    I stopped after 2 episodes.

    1. kfangurl

      Thanks, I’m glad you enjoyed the review, AKIA. It’s too bad that you didn’t like the show enough to continue.. It didn’t live up to my expectations, but I still found it a reasonably solid watch. Also, thanks for letting me know about the Alexa ranking. I’m not sure how that all works, but I’m so pleased to know the site is doing well! 🙂

  9. 1sunnylady

    * nods * i agree with everything. So is it because I’m biased now, but I feel like Lee Jun Ki (at least post-army and mature Lee Jun Ki) is one of these actors that can make it work no matter what? Like for “Joseon Gunman”, show had potential to be sooo great, but even the fact that it wasn’t soooo great doesn’t make it fall in the “i-want-those-hours-of-my-life-back” drama? At least for me. Of course, it’s not JUST about him. The cinematography and all made up for what the writing didn’t always deliver… I was honestly not a fan of Lee Jun Ki when I watched it, but I did keep watching. Same goes for 2 Weeks and for Arang and The Magistrate. I was not a fan when I watched these dramas and I didn’t feel as emotionnally invested as everyone seemed to be BUT I was entertained. I was entertained enough to feel like I didn’t waste my time, so… he’s doing his job right, right? 😡

      1. kfangurl

        Tee hee, thanks for clarifying, coz the previous smiley made it seem like you were really upset with LJK for doing his job well, HAHA! XD

        And yes, I do agree that LJK is very dedicated and effective at his craft. I do think that he sometimes overdoes it a little, and he can afford to be more restrained sometimes. Those are the times that he shines the most, in my opinion. He was nicely retrained in Arang, and was reasonably restrained in Two Weeks. In JG, he was a touch OTT at times, but I could totally tell that he was just that into character, so I choose to close an eye 😉 And YESSS, post-army LJK is a definitely upgrade from pre-army LJK! I love the post-army gravitas, so much <3

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