First Impressions: “Big” is a Hit With Me
It’s hard coming off a drama that stole your heart and time for the past few months. But unlike the weeks after Damo ended, I’ve had a creative outlet to pour out my feelings and help find closure. So this week I was ready to tackle a new drama and see where it took me.
Before Queen In-Hyun’s Man stole all my attention, I was very excited for Big. Who wouldn’t be? It would star Gong Yoo (Crucible, Coffee Prince) in his first drama comeback after his military service and it was being penned by the Hong Sisters. Despite not being completely enamored by their most recent project- Greatest Love- I have been a longtime fan of their dramas and I always look forward to them. I was also excited aesthetically about the pairing of Lee Min Jung (Smile, You) and Gong Yoo. I couldn’t wait to see all the pretty exploding on my screen. These two are one of the few couples that find to be very aesthetically compatible (e.g. Lee Min Ho and Park Min Young). Can you guys name some others?
I was wary, though, of what kind of antics Big would deliver. As a drama about an 18-year-old boy switching bodies with a 30-year-old doctor, I knew that there would be a lot of situational comedy. But I was worried over whether the comedy and inevitable angst would take over the story, leaving me disconnected with the characters themselves. I had no real complaints with Greatest Love when it was airing but I couldn’t connect emotionally with the characters and I ended up skimming the last half of it. When I look back now, I think I found the hero over-the-top and the comedy predictable. After watching so many Hong Sisters dramas, Greatest Love seemed formulaic and I could smell every drama, angst, and pun coming from a mile away.
After watching four episodes, I am finding Big to be a nice surprise. The Hong Sisters always put a lot of heart into the romance and their main characters, and Big is no different. But because of all that heart, their stories often lose the quietness and subtlety of love and all its lessons. Fortunately, Big is definitely toned down in comparison to Greatest Love, and the comedy is balanced with a sense of wistfulness and quiet heartache.
Ah, the quiet heartache. While I think the writing, which allows the characters to breathe a little, has something to do with it, I mostly attribute this to Gong Yoo. In the first episode, we saw Shin Won Ho play the 18-year old boy, Kang Kyung Joon. Through the body-switching, Gong Yoo is now playing both the 30-year-old doctor, Seo Yoon Jae, and kang Kyung Joon stuck in Seo Yoon Jae’s body. (I will refer to Kyung Joon in Yoon Jae’s body as Kyung Jae from now on.) While Gong Yoo’s Kyung Jae is different from Shin Won Ho’s Kyung Joon, Gong Yoo is still knocking it out of the park in portraying the lonely 18-year-old boy. Shin Won Ho’s Kyung Joon was more subdued and tried very hard to be an adult while Gong Yoo’s Kyung Jae is loud and childish. I attribute this to the need in emphasizing that a child is in an adult’s body. So while there is a disconnect at first between Kyung Jae and Kyung Joon, I can’t help but praise Gong-Yoo. His incredibly expressive face makes the comedy funnier and his English pronunciation tickles me in my funny bone. But it is when Gong Yoo portrays a sad and hurt Kyung Jae that I become completely engrossed with the character.
Gong Yoo portrays Kyung Jae’s pain and loneliness with a quiet subtlety. He has the ability to draw you into the sadness of a character and not just leave you as an outside observer. I can’t help but compare him to Cha Seung Won, but when Cha Seung Won was playing Dokko Jin, all I saw was Cha Seung Won playing Dokko Jin. I think this is a trait in many veteran actors who develop such a presence that they are seen more as the actor rather than the character. (Tom Cruise and recently, Leonardo DiCaprio come to mind.) Don’t get me wrong; I think Cha Seung Won is an excellent actor with a lot of charisma. But when I watched him in Greatest Love, all I saw was a skill set honed by years of experience. Cha Seung Won wasn’t Dokko Jin; Dokko Jin was Cha Seung Won. Here in Big, I see Kyung Jae, instead of Gong Yoo.
It doesn’t mean that I don’t see Gong Yoo’s body because sometimes, I think that is all I see. Wooh! Someone pass me a fan. It is heating up in here.
I know a lot of people have trouble with Hong Sisters’ heroines because they can come off as noble idiots, dimwits, and complete doormats. I for one, have never really had any trouble with their heroines because I understood what the Hong Sisters were trying to portray. One thing I really enjoy about Hong Sisters’ dramas is how much they show that the writers believe in the innocence of people and the innocence of love. So Hong Sisters’ heroines are often the pure-hearted type who will think of others first and think the best of them. While this can be frustrating sometimes, I still want to root for the heroines because I like their version of the world.
Lee Min Jung, playing the sweet high school teacher heroine, Gil Da Ran, is not anything spectacular in this drama but she is well suited for this role. Lee Min Jung in general does not bring a lot of energy to a character and that is a plus for this drama since it keeps her Gil Da Ran quieter and approachable. Oh, and I love how shy Gil Da Ran’s love for Seo Yoon Jae is. It’s a breath of fresh air from the usual K-drama prickly love.
Typical of a Hong Sisters drama, the villains or second leads are truly detestable people whom I can’t have any sympathy for. Seo Yoon Jae’s ex-girlfriend and hospital colleague, Lee Se Young, is already annoying the hell of out me, and I want to claw out the eyes of Kyung Joon’s aunt and uncle. As for Jang Mari, played by Miss A’s Suzy- she kind of borders on the annoying side because of my own personal distaste for stubborn people like her, but I can stand her for the time being. She’s pretty harmless.
Can I say how surprised I was by Shin Won Ho? What a cute-hot boy! He’s like the love-child of Song Joong Ki and Lee Min Ho. Or the love-child of Song Joong Ki and Yoo Ah In. Or the love child of Song Joong Ki and Ji Chang Wook. Anyway, from the brief one episode appearance, I see a lot of potential in Shin Won Ho. He emits a similar aura to Lee Min Ho and that is a good thing in my book. I look forward to his reappearance later in the drama and his future projects. Yay for jail-bait! (Well, not exactly. Born in 1991, Shin Won Ho is technically of legal age.)
Overall, the writing is dependable, the directing decent, and the acting well suited. The chemistry between the OTP isn’t off the charts but I’m invested in the characters and I want to know what will happen to them in the future. There is also the larger mystery that has slowly been developing around Seo Yoon Jae. Was he really cheating on Gil Da Ran? Why was he planning to leave South Korea? And what is the connection between Kang Kyung Joon and Seo Yoon Jae?
While I won’t be writing recaps for this one, I will definitely be tuning in every week. Who knows? I just might fall head over heels for Big and the creative juices might follow.
Have you guys seen Big? What are your thoughts on this drama?