Next up for our melodramatic pleasure, Big Man premiered on KBS this week, taking the usual “I want your heart” phrase to a very literal degree. The show’s premise is like crossing your classic rags-to-riches fairytale with a medical nightmare with a chaebol group after your actual ticker. They say that revenge can sometimes take on a bloodthirsty edge, but that takes on an entirely different meaning when it’s a beating heart at stake.
This show isn’t one I’ll be recapping long-term, but Big Man saw better numbers for its first episode than its predecessor with a 6.0% in ratings. Still, that’s pretty impressive despite being up against Empress Ki’s finale week, and while that number may change once Doctor Stranger and Triangle hits the airwaves next week, one can only hope that the show keeps its steady beat.
Note: This is a one-off first episode recap.
SONG OF THE DAY
Kim Tae-woo – “오늘도 찬바람이 (Con Amore Mio)” from the OST [ Download ]
EPISODE 1 RECAP
We open with a shot of our hero KIM JI-HYUK (Kang Ji-hwan) scoping out a cafe from a nearby rooftop. His messy lookout is strewn with half-eaten junk food, and when his target—a young man—finally turns up, he moves in to block his path. Recognizing our hero at once, the man in black takes off in the opposite direction.
Ji-hyuk chases his target through the streets and into oncoming traffic, where one car screeches to an abrupt halt to avoid collision. He points angrily at the car before continuing his pursuit.
The surprised man behind the wheel, KANG DONG-SEOK (Daniel Choi), is on his way to propose to his ladyfriend, but it’s apparent that he isn’t going to make that lunch date because a truck slams into his car moments later. Don’t text and drive, folks!
After successfully capturing his target, Ji-hyuk drags him to the police station, where he pumps the man in black (cameo by
Mo Il-hwa, er I mean Song Jae-rim) for a confession. One might be led to think that Ji-hyuk is a cop given the way he demands answers… until he gets smacked over the head by the actual detective for trying to act like one. Thus Ji-hyuk is forced to sit through and listen peevishly in silence to Jae-rim’s denials of all allegations made against him.
We find out that the reason why Ji-hyuk is so determined at hunting down Jae-min is in order to clear his own name, as evidenced by the wanted poster hanging on the wall with his face on it. Despite his insistence that he’s cut ties with those ruffians long ago, his checkered past is still a mark against him, and is told to leave the poster up. He tears it down anyway. Ha.
As Dong-seok is rushed to the emergency room, his chaebol family is alerted of the grave situation. The attending physician is well-aware of Dong-seok’s heart condition, but tells the family that the patient’s heart is too weak to beat on its own—he needs a new one.
Acquiring an organ transplant could take some time, since neither money nor prestige can bump him up on the list. But Dong-seok’s mother won’t hear of it and demands that it be done immediately.
Aside from waiting helplessly, their only other option is to find a willing donor within the family. With the firm belief that a donor match must exist somewhere, Chairman Kang orders his chief secretary to comb for ideal candidates.
He’s willing to go to any lengths to save his son, even if it means adding a total stranger into the family registry. “Bring [him] in by any means necessary,” he growls menacingly, “even if you have to kill him.”
Elsewhere, Ji-hyuk gets chased out of a tiny restaurant by Mom, who brandishes a sheet pan to wallop her good-for nothing son over the head. He swears the police won’t come looking for him anymore now that the real culprit is in custody, but that doesn’t save him from another beating for his month-long disappearance.
Mom frowns sadly when Ji-hyuk bursts that he’s the only one who can look after himself, and then feeds him dinner. At the mention of inviting his buddy Dae-sub over to eat, Mom says he’s at the hospital, and we see that’s because his father just passed away. Aw, sad.
Giving his friend a comforting hug, Ji-hyuk asks why he wasn’t the first to hear about the sad news, only to be reminded that he was unreachable. As they eat together by the memorial, Dae-sub can’t help but grieve over losing a parent, even an awful one, and says that Ji-hyuk wouldn’t be able to understand.
Ji-hyuk disagrees, arguing that being born to someone doesn’t make one a parent by default, but that a parent needs to earn that title by raising their children well. Dae-sub remarks that Ji-hyuk would feel differently if his actual parents happened to show up one day (omo, so does that mean Mom at the restaurant isn’t his biological mom?), but Ji-hyuk doesn’t think so.
Still, Dae-sub regrets not being able to send his father on an overseas trip while he was still alive. Even though Ji-hyuk pretends not to care, we see he’s thoughtful when it counts: like when his buddy is just about to spread the ashes by the river, Ji-hyuk comes running with balloons in hand.
They watch the box float away into the sky together, hoping it’ll land somewhere far away.
As for Dong-seok’s date, she’s left waiting at the restaurant for hours, unaware that her boyfriend was in a car accident. Her name is SO MI-RA (Lee Da-hee), and she wonders why Dong-seok would suddenly leave for America without a word.
Chief Secretary Do plainly tells her that it’s their jobs to do as they’re told by the Kang family—it isn’t their place to know why. When she presses for more anyway, he raises a suspicious eyebrow and basically tells her, Google it.
After Mi-ra is promptly dismissed without any answers, Chief Secretary Do scans the batch of possible donor matches. He sighs at how the success rate of each candidate is less than fifty percent, but then stops at one name with the closest match of 95 percent: Kim Ji-hyuk. Bingo.
Speaking of, Ji-hyuk is busy stuffing his face when he gets called in for work. He’s approached by a few thugs on his way out, and even though Ji-hyuk has put his ol’ gangster days long behind him, he still pulls rank and advises the leader to teach the others some manners.
As they watch him leave, the leader sighs over how Ji-hyuk was once the best among them. And then he receives a call asking after Ji-hyuk, whom the leader acknowledges he knows very well. Gulp.
It turns out that Ji-hyuk works as a designated driver, and he quickly swishes some mouthwash (to get rid of the scent of soju he drank earlier) before picking up his fare. His red-haired customer gets annoyed at his questions about the public transportation in her neighborhood, saying that she doesn’t bother with that.
She’s got ears like a bat though, and promptly calls him out when she hears him muttering an insult under his breath. She may be a snob, but she’s no ditz, and doesn’t buy his answer that he was talking about his rude little sister who ran away. So she dishes it right back, saying that her godforsaken big bro is probably a designated driver now. Damn.
Their tiff is put on pause when Ji-hyuk spots a police checkpoint up ahead. Thinking fast, he suddenly swerves the car into a u-turn and drives off in the opposite direction. He speeds down the road with the police hot on his tail, ignoring his customer’s screams at him to stop the car.
He loses them by pulling into an alleyway, and his red-haired customer accuses him of drinking before getting behind the wheel—why else would he run? Ji-hyuk tries to explain himself, but she barks back that a DUI should be the least of his worries when he nearly killed someone.
She storms off, which is when a scooter comes zooming down the road. Ji-hyuk pulls her out of the way just in time, though he gets side-swiped himself. He lets the deliveryman go, but they’ve got bigger things to worry about when a police patrol appears nearby.
So Ji-hyuk launches at her and kisses her until the police car drives past, then she pushes him off of her and slaps him hard across the cheek, calling him “trash.” Something about that particular insult sets Ji-hyuk off, as he grabs her wrist when she tries to hit him again.
He warns her to think before she acts because “there are only two pieces of trash here.” Stuffing the mouthwash into her hand, he tells her to get rid of the trashy smell.
With that, Ji-hyuk staggers off in his injured state. And his evening is just about to get a lot worse because he’s suddenly attacked with a blow to the back of the head and knocked out cold (thanks to those gangster thugs we saw earlier).
Ji-hyuk is carted off to the hospital, where the doctor asserts that his blood test results confirms him as a good donor match for our chaebol patient. Acting on Chief Secretary Do’s orders, the gangster leader injects Ji-hyuk with something that makes his vitals go haywire. The doctors are all puzzled over the case, worried that their patient might go brain-dead.
And while the hospital is busy with all this commotion, Chief Secretary Do goes ahead to draw up paperwork to officially add Ji-hyuk to the Kang family registry. Chairman Kang is pleased to hear that everything is going smoothly and reports as much to his wife.
It isn’t certain whether their daughter has eavesdropped on her parents’ conversation or just daydreaming, but she’s the same red-haired girl we saw earlier. This is KANG JIN-AH (Jung So-min), who excuses herself from the table, leaving the parents to discuss among themselves about marrying off their children to each other.
Chairman Kang is greeted by an old face, whom he identifies as Chief Prosecutor Jang. Neither party is terribly excited about seeing each other, but they keep up terse pleasantries as the chief prosecutor says he looks forward to running into Chairman Kang more often now that he’s recently moved to Seoul.
Mi-ra walks into Dong-seok’s empty office with a heavy heart, and the place triggers a flashback to when he had surprised her with a kiss. As suspected, they were as adorable as could be, even when Dong-seok had explained to her why they couldn’t go public with their relationship yet.
He mostly feared his mother’s reaction, but then teased that he’d be disowned and her hopes to become a company president’s wife would be dashed forever. That prompted Mi-ra to say that suggests she was a gold digger, and he smiled back, “Wasn’t that the case?” Aw, they’re cute.
Amused by her miffed response, he challenged back if he can really leave if she doesn’t want to be married to the president. Back in the present, Mi-ra wonders whether Dong-seok really meant those words.
Evidently Jin-ah excused herself in order to find Ji-hyuk, causing a scene at the call center where he works at. Mi-ra swings by to drive her home, and when Jin-ah refuses to take the legal route (since that would needlessly complicate matters), she asks after the real reason why Jin-ah is looking for that man. To that, Jin-ah deflects the question and pretends to sleep.
It appears that Jin-ah doesn’t know of her big brother’s hospitalization as well, judging from how she asks if it upset Mi-ra that oppa left without a word. Encouraging Mi-ra to understand that her brother can be like that sometimes, Jin-ah heads inside.
Mi-ra turns back to the grand house to see/imagine(?) a paper airplane shoot out a window. Regardless, it takes us back to when Mi-ra and Dong-seok were kids and the plane had landed by her feet.
She had tried to launch it back up to where a friendly young Dong-seok stood waiting, but the plane’s wooden nose had broken off in its attempt. Dong-seok had been good-hearted about the accident, however, and had told her to repair it if she could. Back in her room, Mi-ra holds the old but repaired plane in her hands.
Back at the hospital, as the doctors prep for surgery, Chairman Kang and his wife receive the saddening news that their legal “son” Ji-hyuk is now brain-dead. Right on cue, the chairman’s wife bursts into tears as a minister reads Ji-hyuk his last rites.
Ji-hyuk is then wheeled into the operating room, but just as the attending surgeon makes his first incision, Ji-hyuk shows a flicker of life. As the seconds pass, his brain activity grows stronger. The attending is willing to continue with the surgery, but the other medical personnel point out the ethical dilemma.
Thus the attending has no choice but to report to Chairman Kang and his wife that their “son” Ji-hyuk is alive, to their shock. Naturally this means that they cannot proceed with the organ transplant for Dong-seok, and the chairman’s wife shrills that there must be a mistake. Operating on Ji-hyuk now would make him a murderer, the doctor argues.
Chairman Kang is displeased at this turn of events, especially when his chief secretary likens it to a miracle. All they can do is keep their options open (as in, hope Ji-hyuk becomes brain-dead again?) and keep things quiet.
Dae-sub swings by the restaurant, worried that he hasn’t heard from Ji-hyuk again. Mom says she isn’t worried, protesting that she’s going to cut ties with Ji-hyuk this time. She makes a big fuss about NOT caring about a boy who isn’t her flesh and blood, but then we see her waiting up for Ji-hyuk outside, wrought with worry. Aw.
Mi-ra is a competent team leader at work, delegating tasks for an upcoming event and solving rising issues with effective ease. Chief Secretary Do is called away to speak with a guest, which doesn’t escape Mi-ra’s notice.
Once they’re alone, Chief Secretary Do says they’re in need of a matching “machine” with Dong-seok’s records, pointing to the heart. When you say “machine,” do you mean an artificial heart? Or is it code for something else?
Mi-ra wraps up the staff meeting, but her eyes grow wide at the tidbit about Dong-seok’s wrecked car. She offers to take care of it herself and discovers his cell phone and a jewelry bag in the wreckage. The mechanic isn’t at liberty to discuss the details, but he does inform her that the driver survived the accident, to her great relief.
She opens up the jewelry box in her car to see the diamond ring inside, and then drives to the hospital murmuring over and over again that everything is fine. Soon after she arrives, Chief Secretary Do calls with instructions to check in on Kang Ji-hyuk.
When she asks who that is, she’s reminded that their family business (FB) department carries out their tasks without question. In regards to Dong-seok’s whereabouts, he tells Mi-ra to stay focused and do as she’s told.
And so when she drops by Ji-hyuk’s room, a nurse steps inside and informs her of his miraculous recovery—not many are declared brain-dead and come back to life.
Mi-ra then heads over to ask about Dong-seok only to be turned down. A few co-workers arrive carrying some items, which she recognizes are from Dong-seok’s office, but they too are denied further access.
At the WBS newsroom, an employee reports to his boss about an interesting finding: Chairman Kang appears to have a newfound son who was recently added to the family registry.
Chief Secretary Do relays updates on Ji-hyuk’s speedy recovery with the added measure to have him transferred to a general hospital once he wakes. Chairman Kang tells his right-hand man to make sure that there’s no paper trail.
The chairman’s wife, Madam Choi, turns on classical music for her son (using the sound system from his office). She steps out for some air, which allows Mi-ra the opportunity to slip inside.
Following the sound of the music, her eyes fall upon Dong-seok’s unconscious state. Tears fall from her eyes as she urges him to wake up—to tell her that he’s fine. At the sound of the door, Mi-ra slips into the closet.
She listens as Chairman Kang is told that Dong-seok has about a month in his current state. Normal functioning would be difficult for any period longer than that. Madam Choi demands to know what they can do NOW, even if that means ripping “that heart out” for her son. Whoa, lady.
She’s simply frustrated by the little to no progress her son is making, and is led outside by her husband. Inside the closet, Mi-ra’s eyes widen at what she just learned.
The pieces of information fall like a ton of bricks on her shoulders, as it becomes clear why Kang Ji-hyuk’s heart is so necessary. She recalls the time Dong-seok once collapsed in a restaurant and told her that this might happen again in the future. Placing a hand over his heart, he said, “This [heart] inside me, it isn’t originally mine.”
Chief Secretary Do is informed that the media has caught wind of Ji-hyuk’s existence and instructs that he be transferred immediately.
Mi-ra walks down the hallway in a daze and steps inside Ji-hyuk’s room, hovering over his bed. Is that… a slightly murderous gaze?
She raises a shaking hand towards Ji-hyuk’s face, inching closer and closer… but then pulls back, overcome with guilt. Tears stream down her face as her fingers hover over his oxygen mask.
Ji-hyuk’s finger twitches before his entire body jolts awake moments later. And why yes, I totally jumped and screamed in shock. His eyes fly open, his hand tightly grasping hers.
Holy crap, those last few seconds scared the bejesus out of me. Truthfully, I came in with little to no expectations for Big Man, in hopes that the latest melodrama in this drama cycle would breathe new life for the KBS Monday-Tuesday lineup (which I must admit has been spiraling downward for some time now. Seeing single-digit ratings over a six-month period does strange things to people. But I digress), so I’m happy to see a fairly solid number for this show, if only to see KBS see some better days ahead.
I’ll be the first to admit that medical terminology often flies over my head, and while I wouldn’t be able to point out the accuracies (or often inaccuracies) in the medical aspect of a show, I do know two things about medicine in dramaland: (a) one must willingly suspend disbelief so that (b) anything is possible in a fictional hospital. Do you need a brain transplant? Done. How about selective amnesia? No sweat. For Big Man in particular, however, I did a little digging out of pure curiosity to find out how much the narrative deviates from what a real organ transplant process looks like. Some details that remained (like how the organ donor for a heart transplant should be brain-dead, but on life support) impressed me while others I still scratch my head over. Is it really quicker (and cleaner) to find a donor match, risk killing him while adding him to your family registry without thinking that the public might find out?
So while it all seems like a realistically tedious process (because why would you go through the trouble of finding a living donor when you’re also considering spending oodles of money on an artificial “machine” that could do the work? Unless “machine” suggests something else), the conflict still makes for interesting character fodder, especially for our hot-headed, act before he thinks hero in Ji-hyuk. For some reason, I had initially thought that Ji-hyuk and Dong-seok’s hearts would be swapped (which, granted, is still a very real possibility for this show), and that Ji-hyuk would have to fight the world with his weak heart to bring down the conglomerate Hyunsung Group who stole his original heart, along with his very real obstacles of how no one would believe the word of an ex-gangster. But who knows if that will happen. Instead, I still like that Ji-hyuk struggles with the idea of parents, especially now that he has a new set of legal (and ruthless) parents who are only after his literal and only heart. Compare that to the bickering yet emotionally sweet relationship with the maternal figure in his life, and we’ll have to wait and see how those relationships change his perspective on family, love, and life.
Speaking of which, I did appreciate watching Mi-ra’s dilemma over whether to take Ji-hyuk’s life by her own hand play out on screen. We know that she shared an adorable, loving relationship with Dong-seok and was aware of his heart condition. What made her conflict more intriguing than in the operating room was that it was more than just an morally ethical dilemma of saving a patient because she had the opportunity to save her loved one’s life by robbing someone else of their own. It’s a scary yet legitimate question, which then eerily puts our chaebol parents’ motivation in perspective: what wouldn’t one do for the sake of a loved one?
Furthermore, the quiet, seemingly calm nature in Chairman Kang has me uneasy, since I can never tell what he’s thinking of next. Perhaps seeing Eom Hyo-seop (the actor who plays him) previously in nice paternal figures has led me to a false security, so I’m excited what he has to bring to the table. I’m reminded that Dong-seok once said that the heart he has isn’t originally is, which then begs the question of how many heart transplants Dong-seok had before and just how he obtained them. Eep, does Chairman Kang have more legal family members who he then had disposed of?
So while I can say with some confidence that Big Man offers up some intriguing questions, it isn’t a show that instantly grabs me either. All I hope is that Daniel Choi’s character comes out of his unconscious state so that we can learn more about Dong-seok other than being Mr. Perfect, lest he end up like some other comatose patient we saw stay under for sixteen hours.
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