Go big or go home. That’s the advice Bong Sam receives. He comes up with a plan. Will he succeed?
The Merchant Gaekju Episode 19 Recap
Bong Sam (Jang Hyuk) intercepts and kneels in front of the Head Merchant. Bong Sam asks how he can raise big money (890,000 is specified amount). The Head Merchant is astonished at the large amount. Bong Sam specifies 300,000 for stables and 500,000 for the taxes on the stolen rice. Bong Sam declares the Head Merchant is the only man that can help him. The Head Merchant says that money must be sensed, then grasped, then played with to expand it. Bong Sam asks for specifics. No risk, no reward is the Head Merchant’s advice. In today’s words – Go Big or Go Home. Bong Sam thanks the Head Merchant and leaves. The Head Merchant is impressed. So Sa (Han Chae Ah) is impressed. I’m impressed too.
So Sa apologizes for upsetting her husband and appreciates his willingness to help. The Head Merchant notes to earn big money requires blood at some point.
Bong Sam wonders what will his bold move be.
Gol Dae wonders how they can raise that kind of money. Bong Sam says they have to give it their all and be positive. Sun Dol notes they must expand beyond cattle to make major money. Man Chi’s former assistant brings a letter asking for someone to transport quality paper. Bong Sam sees an opportunity.
The Head Merchant is angry that the paper vendor is looking for an alternative mechanism to get paper to market. So Gae (Yu Oh Seong) agrees to the Head Merchant request to determine the price of high quality paper.
Bong Sam, Gol Dae, Sun Dol realize that the paper vendor wants to avoid the huge markup the Head Merchant’s transportation by ship adds. The bad news is the land route is riddled with bandits and has been avoided for 20 years. Bong Sam suggests they replace the Head Merchant’s transportation by ship with transportation via ground.
So Gae realizes that ship transportation only benefits the Head Merchant and the distribution merchant…who happens to be the Head Merchant’s nephew. Nepotism rears it’s head!
Bo Hyun’s head is on the chopping block for the rice transport mess. So Gae realizes a major ally will be lost. The Head Merchant is thrilled but So Gae is not (and they both know it).
Bo Hyun demands that So Gae find a way to eliminate the Head Merchant. So Gae hesitates. Bo Hyun tells him to man up or get lost. If So Gae plays it right, he can take over for the Head Merchant.
Bong Sam commits to the ground transportation for the paper. He tells Man Chi to run the stables while he is gone. Man Chi is furious Bong Sam assumes he’ll run the stables, but he will. I liked the way Bong Sam basically ordered Man Chi to run the stables.
The Head Merchant is livid at the high price for paper So Gae suggests. They are both surprised to learn Bong Sam signed up to provide ground transportation eliminating the Head Merchant’s ship transportation. The Head Merchant challenges So Gae to beat Bong Sam. So Gae takes the challenge even though he doesn’t think the low price the Head Merchant sets for the paper is achievable. So Gae leaves knowing he must bring the paper back at the price the Head Merchant set, a tall order.
Mae Wol (aka Gae Dong (Kim Min Jung)) and So Gae ponder the situation. Mae Wol tells So Gae to block Bong Sam and transport the paper himself. So Gae advises Mae Wol that Bong Sam is not the right man for her. Mae Wol warns So Gae, don’t mess with Bong Sam, he is my destiny. He asks what she feels for him. Friendship. So Gae wants more. Mae Wol says they are friends and like family. So Gae is not a man to her, only Bong Sam is a man to her. So Gae is not happy to have it so clearly defined. Wanna bet So Gae will mess with Bong Sam?
The Head Merchant sends his assistant to warn his nephew. The Head Merchant wrongly assumes no one knows about his nephew. The Head Merchant realizes that if the ground transportation is successful, his empire will crumble. I like that the Head Merchant sees it clearly. His transportation monopoly is crucial. If it dissolves, his power base is greatly reduced.
Bong Sam gives a speech to his men before leaving the transport the paper via the ground route. He tells them they must succeed this will ensure their future. If they fail, they have no future. Man Chi arrives to the surprise of all. It is a full circle moment as Bong Sam gives the speech and leads his team just like his father did in episode 1. Cue swelling music. Destiny awaits!
Mae Wol pulls the death stick according to prophecy. She’s upset. She does not want Bong Sam dead.
So Gae sees the Head Merchant’s assistant receive a secret message via a note.
Bong Sam’s team arrives at the paper vendor.
So Gae arrives at the paper vendor.
The paper vendor wants to sell to the person that will give him the highest price. So Gae tells the paper vendor this is a two part equation – price + transport = sales. He says that Bong Sam was the captain on the ill fated rice voyage impying that Bong Sam cannot come through on the transportation side of the equation. The paper vendor refuses to sell to Bong Sam who demands to have the opportunity to purchase. The paper vendor asks the price So Gae is willing to purchase the paper at only 10 a roll. Incensed at the low offer the paper vendor leaves. Bong Sam tells So Gae his low offer is thievery.
Mae Wol disguised as a man searches for Bong Sam.
Bong Sam learns the paper vendor has decided to burn the paper rather than sell at such a low price. Bong Sam reads him the riot act for his selfish intentions. Trade is the circle of life. So Gae claims trade is only about money. Bong Sam calls him crazy and stupid. His low offer is an insult to those that need the paper and supply the paper. Bong Sam pleads with the paper vendor to allow him to buy and transport the paper and continue the circle of life through trade. With a dramatic flourish Bong Sam and his team kneel before the paper vendor and ask for the opportunity to buy and transport the paper. Incensed So Gae pulls Bong Sam away.
Bong Sam says cheating the paper vendor is wrong. So Gae says this is a chess game between the Head Merchant and the paper vendor, keep out. So Gae warns Bong Sam that transporting the paper will not be easy. Bong Sam declares the merchant rules are clear cheating through a low price is illegal. That pushes So Gae’s buttons. I love it! Incensed So Gae tells Bong Sam this is about money and the Head Merchant is the primary person in this deal. He tells Bong Sam to back off.
The paper vendor has been eavesdropping on their conversation. So Gae tells the vendor that Bong Sam cannot deliver on the transportation. The vendor asks why Bong Sam spoke about the Chun Merchant group. Bong Sam shares his father was the head of Chun Merchant group. The paper vendor knew and respected his father. In fact, he was working the border when Bong Sam’s father was accused and killed. Now So Gae starts to sweat. Could the paper vendor realilze So Gae’s role as a youth in framing Bong Sam’s father? The paper vendor decides. He cannot continue to trade with the low price Head Merchant. He will be bold trade with Bong Sam who offers at fair price. Bong Sam is grateful for the opportunity. So Gae is shocked.
So Gae’s man finds and takes the note the Head Merchant sent his assistant. He reads it and becomes incensed. I had to laugh when he snatched the note from the former Head Merchant’s assistant saying they haven’t worked together long enough for him read the note first. I’m enjoying So Gae’s unhappiness.
So Gae tells his men they got the job! Everyone is happy. Gol Dae points out the transpiration will be difficult. Bong Sam tells him they will worry about that tomorrow. Mae Wol shows up surprising Bong Sam.
Mae Wol urges Bong Sam NOT to transport the paper. Bong Sam counters he must transport or face bankruptcy. Mae Wol shares the prophecy of death. Her concern for him is evident. Bong Sam appreciates the concern but he cannot back down. He will defeat the bandits and transport the paper. He urges her to rest before she returns home. She urges him to do something to earn money. Bong Sam cannot – this is his life. He will reopen the ground transportation route helping not only himself but all the other merchants that have been blocked from using that route. The circle of life and trade will flourish – that is his goal and wish. Mae Wol can only respect his goal. He tells her to travel safe and leaves. Mae Wol whispers this morale man, Bong Sam, is her destiny.
The Head Merchant wakes and So Gae is concerned that he is fretting about the ground transportation route. He tells her the ground transportation route is a source of power. He shares it could diminish his power base. His concern and tinge of vulnerability is well done.
Bong Sam and his men prepare to leave. So Gae is stumped, what should he do? I had to laugh when he snipped that for a tongue-less man the former Head Merchant’s assistant talks too much. I’m enjoying So Gae’s frustration.
So Gae meets with the Head Merchant’s contact (his that his nephew?) instead of the Head Merchant’s assistant. The contact is suspicious but So Gae produces the merchant ID and note. The notes reads – Bong Sam will try to reopen ground transportation. Don’t let them succeed. So Gae confirms that the Head Merchant has blocked the ground transportation route all these years. So Gae offers a counter deal. Steal the paper from Bong Sam and sell it to him. The man considers.
The Head Merchant learns that his letter to his contact was lost. He is upset. The Head Merchant realizes that So Gae stole the letter.
The paper vendor offers big money to Bong Sam for transporting his goods. Gol Dae et al are thrilled. Bong Sam refuses the too generous offer. It must be a fair price Bong Sam schools. They agree on a fair transportation price. Gol Dae et al leave the room.
Bong Sam boldly asks the paper vendor for the right to leverage the money from the trade to purchase goods he and his merchants will sell on the way home. He offers a 50/50 split on profits. The paper vendor is impressed that on the eve of a dangerous ground transportation Bong Sam is looking to the future, assuming he’ll survive the bandits to trade another day. He tells Bong Sam he is proud of him and will invest in him. I love it! Those sentiments – I’m proud of you and will invest in you – will never be earned by So Gae. In fact, So Gae would not understand the value of it.
Speak of the devil, So Gae eavesdrops on the last part of Bong Sam’s conversation with the paper vendor. Bong Sam asks if the paper vendor knows his father did not trade opium. The paper vendor confirms he knows Bong Sam’s father was innocent of opium trading. Bong Sam asks the right question – Who put the opium in my father’s bag? So Gae freaks and moves to interrupt the conversation. Does the paper vendor know that So Gae put the opium in the bag?
If you had told me an episode based strictly on trade, no romance, no death, etc. would a strong episode I wouldn’t have believed you. I have to commend the writers Kim Joo Young (who wrote the novel), Jung Sung Hee (series writer) for crafting a solid foundation of characters and events that continue to layer interesting story points. Taking a successful novel (I’m assuming it is a good novel, I don’t know for a fact) and breaking down into a series offers a more stronger story than what a single writer would likely produce for a series. I notice that over and over kdramas can start strong but often fade in the final third of a series as the writer, producing last minute scripts for just in time shoots to meet the production schedule, overloads trying to keep up and the story wanes. Is this series riveting? No. Is this series well crafted and interesting? Yes.
* Bong Sam took his destiny in both hands and was strong, confident, and honorable. Bong Sam leading his men to the paper vendor was a full circle moment mirror his father leading his men on the selling journey from episode one. Bong Sam radiated confidence and compassion when Mae Wol tried to stop him from taking the perilous ground transportation route. He knew she cared. He respected her concern but told her this was his destiny. In essence, Bong Sam showed us in the episode he was blossoming into the merchant that can and should be the greatest of them all.
* So Gae does not want to lose to Bong Sam. The entire episode, So Gae worked to stop Bong Sam from besting him. So Gae revealed his shallow view of trading – it’s all about money. Bong Sam countered that trading was really the circle of life. So Gae scoffed at the notion. Also of interest was So Gae’s first declaration that he wanted more than friendship from Mae Wol.
* So Sa supported her husband. The Head Merchant openly shared that the blocked ground transportation route was a source of power. He has every right to be worried that if Bong Sam succeeds, his person power will drain away. Oh the irony that the Head Merchant advised Bong Sam to be bold and choose a challenge to make big money. Isn’t cool that the Head Merchant does not belittle So Sa for carrying another man’s baby? And the Head Merchant considers So Sa’s opinion worth listening to!
* Mae Wol rejected So Gae’s desire for a romantic relationship. She probably did not see it, but she rejected So Gae in a similar manner that Bong Sam rejected her. Bong Sam is in her heart. There is no room for So Gae. She told this to So Gae in a matter of fact manner. Similarly when Bong Sam told her that the perilous ground transportation was his destiny, she understood, and reconfirmed he was her destiny.