Big: Episode 1
Big is here!
Interestingly, it has a different tone from the rest of the Hong sisters oeuvre; while still peppered with humor throughout, it’s got a much more atmospheric vibe and a touch of whimsy. I’m as enthusiastic a Hong sisters fan as you might find, but that doesn’t mean that change isn’t good; I’m very encouraged by the spare, moody moments in between the lighter beats, when the Hongs undercut moments with humor, which is their trademark. On the other hand, it means that we’re not at crack-drama levels yet (if ever; I make no assumptions).
I’m not sold on the drama yet, which doesn’t mean I don’t like it. I do, and I actually expect to love it based on what I think is coming and flashes of storylines and character beats in the premiere. It’s not an instant love, and I can feel that difference when it is. But I saw some promising emotional threads that have me looking forward to the next episode.
SONG OF THE DAY
Big OST – “너라서” (Because It’s You) by Davichi. [ Download ]
EPISODE 1 RECAP
Our heroine, GIL DA-RAN (Lee Min-jung) hurries into a wedding hall to deliver a bridal bouquet. The bride is about to rip into her for being late until they recognize each other, and so does her huge posse of girlfriends. They all used to be classmates, and Da-ran was conspicuously left off the guest list.
The bride (cameo by Best Love’s Lee Hee-jin) makes an empty offer to include her in the bridal photo while the snooty girls look down their noses at Da-ran, the plebe. Da-ran declines and starts to leave, then reconsiders, stuffing cash into a gift envelope and asking for a meal voucher. Heh. She’s here, she’s now technically a guest, she may as well eat.
But then she gets a call from her delivery service boss: The bride got the wrong bouquet. No matter that she already got married with it, because it (being way more expensive) was meant for another bride and Da-ran is responsible for bringing it back.
At least Da-ran has one opportunity to claim the bouquet without making everything terribly embarrassing for everyone: the bouquet toss. Ha. How like this drama to subvert that cliche, so that Da-ran is literally clenching her fists in determination to grab that bouquet, only for the opposite reason as everyone else.
The bouquet is tossed, and Da-ran goes deep. But someone bumps her from the side, knocking her off-course, and offers a hand as she teeters backward. It’s a glorious slow-motion introduction to our hero, SEO YOON-JAE (Gong Yoo), who essentially strikes a music-video pose as Da-ran goes flying.
A radio host jumps in at this point to narrate: This is the “how we met” story for a new couple. Sure, the woman fell down 36 stairs, broke a tailbone and wrist, and spent two months in the hospital. But she got herself a fiancé; he, a doctor, treated her and proposed the day her cast came off. Now she’s set to marry him in a month, working as a high school teacher while preparing for the teacher’s certificate exam.
In exchange for the story, the host awards the sender a a rice cooker as a prize. Da-ran cheers and the gift in her wish list notebook, where everything has a description and price tag. (The host also sends her a song, Lee Seung-gi’s “Will You Marry me?”—get in all the Hong sisters cameos up front, sure why not.)
Da-ran catches a youngster staring at her from a nearby bus seat, smiling at her knowingly. It makes her wonder, and when she gets off the bus he follows her out.
He joins her under her umbrella, placing his hand over hers, looking at her with an intense smolder. It’s hot, but also totally random.
Da-ran asks if he followed her, and starts to explain apologetically that she’s engaged, and way older than she looks. To which he grabs her hand and stops her, saying, “This is mine. You took my umbrella.”
Ha. You kinda saw it coming, but it’s made better by the fact that the kid turns out to be a smartass. He walks on, forcing her to scuttle along with him to avoid getting soaked by the rain, totally unconcerned with the fact that he left her umbrella on the bus. Why would he take hers when it was her mistake?
Now she gets annoyed and they start to bicker; she calls him out for smirking at her on the bus, and he says yeah, she was acting silly while listening to the radio. The whole bus was looking at her, but she only noticed him—it’s understandable, he says, that she’d ignore the ajusshis and only see the young hottie.
Embarrassed, Da-ran parts ways with him upon arriving in front of her destination, a high school. The kid knows something she doesn’t, and says, “Uh-oh.”
As soon as she steps inside the teachers’ room, Vice Principal KIM YOUNG-OK (Choi Ran, a Hong sisters fixture) starts giving her a hard time. Either she has a grudge against her, or VP Kim is just the kind of impossible-to-please boss who doesn’t like anybody.
Da-ran’s jaw drops when the new transfer is introduced: It’s bus boy, aka KANG KYUNG-JOON (Shin Won-ho, who apparently in the past few weeks has changed his stage name to merely Shin, who knows why), a top student from a top school in the States.
VP Kim puts Da-ran in charge of showing Kyung-joon the school. Not her idea of fun, especially since the wiseass asks, “Will it be okay if I follow you this time?” He uses banmal with her, and when she calls him out on it, he fakes an American accent and says, “I’m still awkward with Korean, sorry.” Oh, you are such a punk.
Da-ran knows he’s doing this on purpose and tamps down her annoyance to tell him he’d better remember: “I am a teacher, you are a student, okay?” He obviously understands Korean perfectly, but he still has her scrambling for her dictionary just to make things extra-clear.
Then she gets a call from her perfect fiancé Yoon-jae, ignoring her charge to arrange a date tonight. She’s giddy with girlish anticipation, even as this relationship seems a little… well, less than perfect in our eyes. (Yoon-jae is too busy to meet her for dinner, but she’s happy to bring him dinner at the hospital, assuring him she’s absolutely free and has nothing else to do.)
Kyung-joon guesses this is the guy from her radio story, which she asks to keep it a secret from everyone; she’d rather not have everyone know it was her. She only did it for the free rice cooker.
Kyung-joon agrees, on the condition that she stop pointing out that his Korean is too “short” (banmal, aka cut-down speech), and draws out her name to make his point (gil = long).
With that, Kyung-joon jumps out the window (on the first floor) and walks off. He’s stopped by a trio of students, standing there in the cool-kids stance, led by their jjang, GIL CHOONG-SHIK (Baek Sung-hyun). Choong-shik eyes him up and down like he’s angling for a jjang-vs-jjang confrontation, saying, “So I hear you transferred from America.”
He keeps that cool, badass posturing as he adds, “D’you a guy named Park Min-shik? He transferred there in junior high.” Omg, it’s hilarious. They’re another idiot trio!
Kyung-joon says (in that embarrassing stilted English), “Uh-oh. You don’t even know about States? Whatever.” Except in this case it doesn’t even matter that he’s terrible (and may in fact be the point), because Idiot Sidekick #1 marvels, “He’s speaking English! He’s really good.” So Idiot Boss switches over and says, in English, “My name is Gil Choong-shik. Are you… can… Korea?” HAHA. (He means, Can you speak Korean?)
Kyung-joon calls him “stupid,” and Choong-shik has to ask what that means. His sidekick reminds him it’s the word Krystal always uses on that sitcom (hehe, High Kick 3), which tips him off that it’s an insult. Angry, Choong-shik starts to pick a fight, only his attempt to grab Kyung-joon fails and he goes sprawling. Oh, I love that you’re a bumbling fool with James Dean pretensions.
Choong-shik goes in for a punch, but finds his fist stopped by another hand. Da-ran intercepts, sending him running away in alarm, only to trip over his own feet.
Noona chases him down and starts to scold him for fighting (he yelps, “I didn’t even hit him!”), so much that Kyung-joon wonders if they ought to report the teacher for beating a student. The sidekicks tell him she’s Choong-shik’s sister.
Afterward, Choong-shik threatens to tell Dad on her, but she retorts that that’ll get Mom to scold Choong-shik. The siblings head off together with harmony restored, and Kyung-joon looks after them with an interestingly intense look on his face; I wonder if it’s the sisterly doting he misses, or affection in general.
Kyung-joon goes home to a palatial mansion, makes himself a frozen pizza, and listlessly lies on the ground. Big empty house, nobody to care.
Da-ran goes to the hospital and runs into a familiar doctor: LEE SE-YOUNG (Jang Hee-jin), who seems friendly enough. There’s nothing suspicious about the way Se-young’s part of the photos on Yoon-jae’s bulletin board, but Da-ran adds her own photo to the mix while waiting in his office.
She thinks back to a previous conversation between them, when they’d made newlywed plans like buying furniture. A demonstration of her bed’s length brings them in close contact, and turns into an excuse to put his arm around her. Aw, he’s gentle and sweet, and they really are cute together.
The memory makes Da-ran feel the warm fuzzies, but then she sees the box peeking out from under his cot. It’s their unopened box of wedding invitations, probably neglected in light of his busy schedule, though she wonders somewhat disappointedly whether he’s not even curious to see how they came out.
Da-ran drops by to see her stern father (it’s Ahn Seok-hwan, who’s toned down his exaggerated comic villainy, it seems, to my great relief—he’s so much better being understated that it’s terrible that he tends to go so overboard). He warns Da-ran not to slack off on her exam preparations just because she’s getting married.
Meanwhile, Mom and Choong-shik eagerly present their gift: a cardio machine, which Dad barks is a frivolity. (Mom looks ridiculously young—I thought it might be a sister at first—but the character description explains why. Mom met Dad when she was a 19-year-old student and he was a 35-year-old teacher, which must’ve been scandalous at the time. Still, it’s terribly strange that actress Yoon Hae-young is 40 when Lee Min-jung is 30.)
At the hospital, Yoon-jae finds that Da-ran has gone, leaving a note reminding him of their furniture-buying plans tomorrow. To his credit, at least he looks bad about it, but I’m thinking he’s a curiously reluctant groom.
At Kyung-joon’s mansion, his uncle presents the brand-new motorcycle he bought for him. Kyung-joon coolly points out that to be semantically accurate, Uncle didn’t so much buy it for him as he used Mom’s inheritance to buy it. Ah, so Kyung-joon’s mother has died somewhat recently, all her money passing to her son, who’s now all alone in the world.
Uncle Hyuk-soo doesn’t seem like a horrible person, but it seems likely he and his wife are looking askance at the great stacks of cash his dead noona left behind. Kyung-joon picks up on this and keeps them at arm’s length.
He doesn’t want to replace his old bed, whose car-shaped wooden frame his mother first got him as a child. But as he lies down with his feet hanging over the edge, he figures he’s grown big enough. (Or has he? Title pun, badum-ching!)
Kyung-joon heads to the furniture store and picks out a great big bed, saying that if he can fall asleep on it, he’ll take it. Da-ran arrives to find that another customer is looking over her bed and is in the process of buying, which makes her grumble in disappointment.
She tries her powers of persuasion, which are few, to urge him to pick a different bed since this one’s not so great. In her demonstration of its flaws, she grabs the frame and breaks a part of it, which, on the upside, gets her the desired bed after all. Although she has to buy it as a damaged product.
On the downside, Da-ran doesn’t love the idea of buying a damaged bed to usher in her newlywed life, so she buys Kyung-joon lunch and tries to persuade him to buy it from her at a discount. He says he’s an orphan with no parents to buy his bed for him; he was just trying it out.
Another call from Yoon-jae follows the similar script: Da-ran answers happily, tracing a heart on the table unconsciously, and excuses him for being unable to make yet another date.
At the hospital, shifty rival Se-young sees the photo of Da-ran added to the bulletin board, and tosses it into the trash. Aha, so she does have designs on the groom.
But… does he have designs right back? Eep! When Yoon-jae and his fellow surgeons join her in the office area, she asks when he’s going to send out his wedding invitations—hasn’t he gotten them yet? Yoon-jae averts his gaze and says no, they’re not out, and that puts a smile on her face. Uh-oh…
The next morning, Da-ran arrives at school as Kyung-joon is being reminded by a teacher that he’s supposed to buy a uniform. Assuming he hasn’t bought it because he can’t afford it, Da-ran calls Kyung-joon in and slides over a bag—it’s a school uniform that she managed to find.
Kyung-joon’s amused since he never said he was poor, but he looks pleased enough at the gesture. Inside his wallet is a card bearing a drawing of two cherubs, which is the same image on a book Yoon-jae has on his desk in the hospital, which also bears the title “Miracle.”
The fiancé is looking more reluctant by the day, and he ponders a plane ticket to LA, which he tucks into the Miracle book.
Da-ran starts class, and her students point out a “gift” for her: a pillow on her chair, to help her sore tailbone. Flustered, she goes on with class while the class snickers and uses her radio story as joke fodder.
Kyung-joon notes her flustered reaction, but it’s her brother who reacts first: Choong-shik gets up and warns the offenders to cut it out. Aw, sometimes you wanna kill little brothers, but sometimes they’re just the best.
The teasing gets her down, and Da-ran tells her teacher friend Ae-kyung that she was quite embarrassed. It makes her feel like she scored the perfect man out of pity for her broken bones, though Ae-kyung encourages her to think of it as true love—they’ve made a love match where it doesn’t matter if you’re equally matched or not because you care about each other. A nice sentiment, though it suggests that everyone assumes Yoon-jae’s far out of her league.
It shakes her confidence enough that Da-ran second-guesses herself when texting Yoon-jae about their plans to go house-hunting, which he’s late for. She waits outside school glumly, checking her phone.
I’m not sure if she’d be able to cope with another missed date, and sure enough, when Yoon-jae calls to cancel, she finds herself on the verge of tears even though she excuses him. He sounds concerned and asks whether it’s okay, and she says that no, she’s not actually.
Crying now, she reminds him of his words when he proposed, which sound awfully reluctant to my ears: He’d said he’d felt sorry and was going to “take responsibility” for her, which can sound romantic when we’re talking about true emotional commitment, but terribly hollow when done out of sheer duty. Da-ran asks, “Do you really love me? If you don’t, you don’t have to marry me.”
Sobbing, she hangs up. Watching from a distance, Kyung-joon smiles in approval, saying, “Not bad.”
Da-ran freaks out a moment later, scrambling to call or text back to take back her words. Only to have her cell phone snatched out of her hands by Kyung-joon.
He gives her a ride on his motorcycle, taking her to a pretty park by a pond to cool her head. She admits that it’s better this way, thanking him for stopping her from taking back her words. He plays it cool but Da-ran isn’t fooled, telling him she knows understands—it’s to make up for spreading the radio rumors, right?
She isn’t angry about it, but now he feels wrongly accused, saying he didn’t do it, and she’d better not treat him like she does those idiots in class. She humors him, though clearly not believing his denial, and tells him that all kids are pretty much the same, year in and year out.
He gets sarcastic with her, saying it must be nice to be so old, but thanks to his absence during his study abroad period, he delivers a catchphrase wrong. She corrects him, and asks, “Do you not even know what puing-puing is?” HAHA, are the Hong sisters High Kick fans? That’s awesome. One catchphrase generator referencing another.
Da-ran is demonstrating the aegyo puing-puing maneuver when she gets a call, and Kyung-joon hands over the phone. It’s Yoon-jae, apologetic and now ready to answer her question from earlier, which can only mean good news—that he loves her. (You wouldn’t revisit that topic unless you meant to change her mind, after all.)
Da-ran cheers up when Yoon-jae asks to meet her right away so he can tell her in person, and Kyung-joon takes this as his cue to leave. He checks his wallet to check that he has gas money, showing us once again that he’s got the “Miracle” cherub picture inside—somehow this will be our drama’s miracle-maker, per the painting’s title.
Yoon-jae leaves his office and heads for the pond, just as Kyung-joon drives away from it. Yoon-jae picks up a persistent tailgater, who flashes his lights and honks at him to go faster, then overtakes him on the two-lane road. The car swerves, though, hitting an oncoming car, and that blocks the road completely.
Yoon-jae’s fast approaching the collision from one side, Kyung-joon from the other, and both swerve in to the guardrail, crashing into the water below.
Kyung-joon floats lifelessly in the water, while Yoon-jae finds himself trapped inside his car, which rapidly fills with water. After long, harrowing moments of pushing against the stuck door, it finally swings open and Yoon-jae swims out. He’s about to bolt for the surface—his breath is fast running out—but he sees Kyung-joon sinking nearby and makes his choice.
Yoon-jae swims for him instead, reaching for Kyung-joon’s hand, and in that brief moment the two men re-create the pose of the Miracle cherubs. It’s eerie and quite beautiful imagery.
It seems that Kyung-joon barely gets a glimpse of Yoon-jae swimming toward him before he passes out entirely. Then the two are rushed to the emergency room and doctors rush to revive them, using CPR and defibrillators.
It’s Yoon-jae who goes. The doctors remove the respirator and wheel him into the morgue, just as Da-ran arrives to get the bad news.
She’s led to the morgue to identify the body, but halfway there she asks for a moment, breaking down into sobs and overcome with emotion.
Inside the morgue, a body jerks upright. It’s Yoon-jae, doubled over and gasping on the cold gurney. He gets a glimpse of himself in the mirrored wall and stares in disbelief at himself.
Wrapped in that sheet, Yoon-jae ventures outside and into the hallway, where Da-ran is slumped on the ground and sobbing to herself. She squints at the approaching figure, then rises in recognition. She grabs him in a hug, crying that she was afraid he’d died.
But he pushes her away and asks, “I’m… who?” She babbles on that she was afraid he’d gone, but he says, “Gil Da-ran, who did you say I am? Teacher. I’m… Kang Kyung-joon.”
She’s utterly confused, wondering how he would know Kyung-joon. He blurts that there was this accident on the road, and he’d fallen into the water, and when he woke up everything was like this. Then he has another thought: “Where am I?” Freaking out about his own teenaged body, Big Kyung-joon runs back to the morgue, with Da-ran confusedly calling after him.
Big Kyung-joon finds the body lying next to his slab and wonders in horror, “Is this me? Did I die? Am I totally dead? I’m only 18.”
He turns to Da-ran with aggrieved eyes, saying, “I’m dead. This is me!” And he reveals the body underneath the sheet, looking away in anguish.
But Da-ran just slaps his hand and tries to cover up the body: “What are you doing to this poor dead grandpa?” He’d uncovered a random body, HAHA!
Da-ran supposes he must have been addled in the accident and urges him to think back and remember: He was just about to tell her something before the accident. What was it? Can he tell her now?
Kyung-joon remembers, and she leans forward in nervous anticipation, wanting to her the declaration. He says, “Puing-puing,” and then does the hand gesture for good measure. HAHAHA, best use of puing-puing ever.
She’s disappointed, saying that she wanted him to say he loved her. He says insistently, “No, Gil Teacher, you told me to say ‘puing-puing.'”
Then to add to the craziness, a scream chimes in to their confusion: It’s a nurse, who sees (in her eyes) a woman talking to a supposed corpse in the morgue.
Yoon-jae’s body undergoes tests, and despite the doctors’ confusion for the sudden recovery, they determine that he’s normal. Da-ran says that he seems like a different person, but the doctor says that’s a likely effect of the accident, and that they’ll continue with tests.
Kyung-joon faces his new body in the mirror, slapping his face and wondering where his own body went. Then he hears his uncle’s voice asking about him at the front desk, and follows Uncle and Aunt to a room, where his own body lies unconscious and unresponsive.
He stares at himself in shock, hardly noticing when a patient is wheeled by him on a gurney, getting his blood onto his hand. Kyung-joon sees the blood on his own hand, which makes him tremble, taking him into a flashback of another time when he’d trembled at the sight of blood on his hands: when Kyung-joon had found his mother’s body, broken and bloody on the ground.
Now he wipes the blood from his hand agitatedly, traumatized at the memory and fighting a panic attack.
Da-ran wanders around looking for her errant fiancé and overhears a doctor speaking to Kyung-joon’s guarantors. She sees Kyung-joon lying unconscious in a hospital bed, and the coincidence is enough to make her wonder whether Yoon-jae could really have been telling the truth. She shakes her head, saying it’s impossible, but she won’t know till she finds Yoon-jae.
She heads to his apartment and office, but he’s not there. So she puts in a call to another teacher to ask about Kyung-joon’s address, just in case he wasn’t lying. (The teacher is Na Hyo-sang, played by another Hong sisters alum, Moon Ji-yoon, who played Jae Hee’s best friend in Delightful Girl Chun-hyang.)
So Da-ran heads to Kyung-joon’s mansion that night, where she finds the front door open and a trail of clothes leading to the racecar bed. Where Yoon-jae lies curled into a fetal position.
He opens his eyes, and they stare for a long moment at other. She asks, “Kang Kyung-joon?”
He says, “Yes, Teacher Gil Da-ran.” Well, this is awkward.
As I said, Big feels different to me. Every other Hong sisters show has immediately felt like a Hong sisters show, and this is the first one to not have that manic-comedic vibe. Which, perhaps, may be a very good thing for some people who either don’t usually respond to their shows, or have grown tired of it. I don’t qualify as either, but I’m still encouraged by it since change can be refreshing, and I like seeing them try new things rather than churning out the same plots over and over. (They do repeat some motifs, but I like how diverse their premises have been, especially in recent years.)
This does mean that Big probably has the least outright funny premiere episode of any Hong sisters drama, and that includes the sageuk (Hong Gil Dong) and the fantasy melo (My Girlfriend Is a Gumiho). Again, this may be both a good and a bad thing, depending on your expectation.
Some of this difference in vibe can be attributed to Big’s two PDs, Kim Sung-yoon (Merchant Kim Man-deok and Dream High 1) and Ji Byung-hyun (Delightful Girl Chun-hyang, Hot Blooded Salesman). A lot of the mood is established in the music choices and editing style, and I’m warming to it. I LOVE the image of the cherubs in the water, superimposed over our two leading characters, and it’s probably that moment that had me feeling invested in the show.
Because these high-concept series do take a bit longer to establish the rules of their world than a normal trendy without fantasy elements, I expect that the series won’t really settle into its tone or plot until at least the next episode. Shows like 49 Days and Who Are You took a few episodes before falling into their groove because their characters had to first get into the body-swap scenarios before they could carry out the out-of-body premises, so I’m waiting to see what direction Big takes from here on out.
As yet, we barely get to see a glimpse of the whole concept driving the show, which is Gong Yoo acting like a kid. Although, I’m pleased to see that the premise is more than that, with deeper emotions driving our characters. Or, at least, ONE of our characters. It makes sense that the adult Gong Yoo—Dr. Yoon-jae, that is—has less development than the adolescent Kyung-joon, since the soul that will be inhabiting the body will be the latter, but I hadn’t expected Yoon-jae to be such a cipher.
Yoon-jae seems like a nice guy, but he’s got his shifty moments, and that’s interesting. He doesn’t act like a cheater or a playboy, but he also doesn’t seem all that into her, which suggests that perhaps this isn’t our OTP. And yet, you can’t have our adult teacher paired with the 18-year-old student who’s the same age as her brother, can we? I know we’ve had Biscuit Teacher Star Candy and Flower Boy Ramyun Shop, but this setup seems different than those, somehow. I got the sense that Kyung-joon craves love in a sense of family and belonging, not necessarily romantically.
Speaking of whom, I was pleasantly surprised with Shin Won-ho’s (er, Shin’s) performance, since I hadn’t known what to expect. I’d hoped he would be good, but just because he looks like Song Joong-ki doesn’t mean he acts like him, and he’s such a new face that you can’t predict based on past performance. (Though apparently he was pretty good in Bachelor’s Vegetable Store.)
He gives Kyung-joon a nice depth, though, and plays both sides of his character well—the flip, cool side and the lonely little boy. He’s not an outrageous character in the vein of Cha Chi-soo, but an understated presence. In fact, he reminds me most closely of Jung Il-woo in Unstoppable High Kick, all quietly brooding, keeping his emotions close to the vest. Maybe that’s why I feel like this pairing isn’t an ultimate romantic pairing, either, because of the High Kick vibe. But this is a romantic comedy, so we can’t shirk on the romance, can we?
Gong Yoo didn’t have much time to do much—by which I mean, he was Kyung-joon for a pretty short time—but I love what he’s doing so far. He’s got the same sad eyes as Shin, and I feel like they’re well on their way to getting that character down. I definitely feel like he’s the teenager, but not in a silly, slapstick way; just in the way he reacts, and looks at things. Subtlety is definitely better than broad, in my book.
Which is why it’s disappointing that I’m not liking Lee Min-jung’s grasp of Da-ran, considering how much I love her and think she’s a talented actress who can do comedy and drama equally well. She’s doing that typical rom-com thing by overexaggerating everything—I’m used to that style in trendies, but there’s a fine line between what’s cute and what’s overly bumbling (see: Go Mi-nam, Geum Jan-di).
The thing is, Lee Min-jung can DO cute and winsome (Smile You, Boys Before Flowers) so I want to see her pull back and tone down the stupid. She was wonderful when she broke down in the hallway; she can do it. I hope she recalibrates her settings, and soon. She’s too good to waste on a role that could have gone to just another mediocre flavor of the day.
All in all, I’m looking forward to how Big develops. I wasn’t immediately hooked, but I like it so far and can see myself growing to like it more. *Knocks on wood*