Thursday, July 12, 2012

Big: Homestretch, Here We Come

Watching Big as it airs in Korea has been a weird experience for me.

Usually, I wait until a drama is fully subtitled and available online before starting it. I’m now realizing this means that I spend very little time assessing the show’s ongoing quality—it’s an organic whole when you’re free to watch episodes at will, a complete entity rather than 16 (or more) free-standing episodes that each demand individual scrutiny.

Spending time with a drama that’s currently airing is also strange for another reason: I’m not spoiled rotten the way I usually am when watching older shows. When deciding what to watch based on years worth of online reviews, there’s no way to avoid spoilers. I almost always know what’s coming from the very beginning—the way the OTP will fizzle out by the drama’s midpoint, that the show will take a quality nosedive after episode 12, that the shocking surprise ending involves incest. (Okay. I guess that one’s a surprise to no one watching a Korean drama.)  Truly, I’m not convinced that I want to avoid spoilers, anyway; there’s something to be said for the comfort of knowing just what to expect.

This is exactly what I don’t have with Big. Waiting for new episodes to air feels like hanging in suspended animation: there’s no moving forward of my own volition, so I have lots of time to think about exactly where the show stands, snapshot-style, at any given moment. And episodes watched this way take on their own independent identities (“episode 2 was amazing, but episode 8 was kind of boring”) in a way that just doesn’t happen when marathoning an already completed drama (“Dal Ja’s Spring was awesome!”).

At this point, it’s hard for me to judge Big’s quality because my experience of watching it has been so very different from all the other dramas I’ve seen.

Here’s what I know for sure: At the beginning, I loved how Big’s traditional-to-the-bones noona romance was enriched by the drama’s trippy premise and mindfucky storytelling. With each passing episode, though, the former is overpowering the later. After the time skip, my greatest fear was that the changed circumstances would downplay the body swap angle and level the balance of power in the OTP’s relationship, turning Big into a straightforward romance just like all the others. And guess what? That’s exactly what happened.

I still enjoy watching Big and am excited to see where it goes, but as things stand my primary reaction to the show is disappointment. As of episode 12, the originality and excitingly skewed perspectives of the first few episodes have been jettisoned in favor of a slightly above average love story and enough mercenary product placements to choke a blue whale. And now that much of the mystery has been revealed to the viewer it’s physically painful watching the characters slowly, sllloooowwwwllly piecing it together for themselves.

What’s good about this show could still save it—an amazing, knock-your-socks-off performance by a beloved lead actor (although even Gong Yoo’s significant charms seem to be flagging in the most recent episodes, thanks to the underwriting of his character), a compelling central storyline that is chock full the of potential for greatness, and a pleasantly amiable tone and cast that shouldn’t be underestimated.

I could easily fall back in love with Big, provided that the home stretch uses some snazzy narrative sleight of hand to pull the many fragments of this drama into focus. Will that happen? Painfully, the only option is waiting another two weeks to see.

Some notes:
• There are still random mysteries out there:
—Did Kyung Joon’s dad fall in love with his mom, the surrogate? Is that why Yoon Jae’s mom hates them so much?
—Why did Da Ran’s mom have a shaved head, as mentioned in episode 12? Did she shave her hair in protest of her parents’ disapproval of her lover? Or was she being treated for cancer, maybe bringing her into orbit with Yoon Jae’s dad?
—Will Ma Ri’s talismans—and Choong sik’s involvement with them—come back into the story?
—Does the Miracle book have another part to play? Da Ran and Kyung Joon don’t know about it yet, after all.
—Did anything significant happen at the wedding? Why hasn’t the drama included a single scene from such a momentous event? Was another wedding not in the budget? Or are those wily Hong sisters intentionally holding out on us?
—Will Kyung Joon’s body wake up on his birthday, as Ma Ri’s dream seemed to portend? And whose soul will be in it if it does? (I suspect the catalyst for this will be gathering the four family members together in one place—Yoon Jae, Kyung Joon, and mom and dad.)

• When Da Ran removed her ring and put it in a glass in episode 12, it recalled Kyung Joon’s soul-swapping demonstration in episode 2. But in contrast to the earlier scene, Da Ran’s soul is represented by the ring and the ties she has to another person. It’s oddly fitting that such a flat, motivationless character is embodied by nothing more than a symbol of matrimony, while Kyung Joon and Yoon Jae’s souls were embodied by fully-formed beings in the shape of robot figurines.

Big: Gong Yoo with cups
In his cups, episode 2

Big: female lead with cups
In her cup, episode 12


  1. You're totally right- watching it live like this does change how I've been watching k-dramas lately. Consuming it all in one go usually allows you to forgive stalling narratives a bit more I think (although weirdly, in the case of K2H, I think having to wait allowed me to love it much more than I maybe would have otherwise).

    Out of curiosity- what are you referring to when you talk about Da Ran's mother having a shaved head? When did that happen???

    1. I think there's something to be said for a prolonged viewing experience making you like a show more...with lots of time to dwell on what might come next, you appreciate that new episode all the more when it arrives. The problem with Big for me is that the lag between episodes gives me just enough time to realize how great it could have been, if the script's approach was slightly different.

      As for the shaved head thing, how's this for weird: It comes up in the Viki translation when Da Ran is talking to her dad. She asks "How did it feel when 19 year old mom came to you with her shaved head and asked you to marry her?" In the Dramafever subs, though, the shaved head part is left out. A lot of sageuks show their tragic heroines cutting their hair as a way of standing up to their parents, which is what I suspect happened here. Maybe there will be a flashback later?

      Not knowing Korean really blows when it comes to things like this :b

    2. Oh my god, that's hilarious- from my memory of that scene, I'm pretty sure she doesn't mention a shaved head of any kind!

      I think it's amazing how quickly subs get put out for a lot of k-dramas, but since they're community translated, really weird errors like that pop up out of nowhere! When I watch k-dramas with friends who don't speak Korean, I drive them crazy by constantly pausing and going 'That's not what they said!'- I can't help it though- sometimes the subs get the subject of the sentence wrong - like 'you' instead of 'I', or worse, they'll translate the exact opposite of what someone's said. I suspect a lot of translators don't actually speak Korean OR English as their 1st languages. On the other hand, considering how fast they sub, the quality is actually pretty good...

      Right- this drama feels like one giant 'what could have been'.

    3. I guess suckers like me should just be grateful that so many dramas get subbed in the first place. Not speaking any Korean, they could throw pretty much anything into the subs and I'd never know. ("God, wasn't the unicorn scene in Coffee Prince amazing?!?") There was actually another weirdness earlier in Big--the Dramafever subs made it sound as if Da Ran's brother was shall I say...bodily fluids to the woman making the talismans, which was why he went off behind the screen with the basket. I wonder if the subbers were just playing with our heads ;)

  2. You couldn't state this any better. Will this drama be saved in the next two weeks? Or will it crash and burn into obscure mediocrity... siiigh.

    This is only the second drama I have watched "live", the first being K2H - but even that show lost me by ep 5. I only finished because I liked watched the second couple (grr). I also tried out something new this week. After marathoning QIHM in 3 days, I tried only watching ONE Kdrama ep a day (and absolutely nothing yesterday! I thought I was going to die). So I had a 4 day gap between Big eps. 11 and 12. The resolve does me good. It doesn't really make ep 12 that much more awesome though.. Oh well.

    Not knowing Korean does suck.. at least I can understand basic conversational (less than 3 word phrases) Korean, but I also missed the shaved head?

    1. Watching only one episode a day!?!?! While that would probably be good for both my health and social life, the thought is too horrifying to entertain ;) I think going forward I'm going to pick one show of each drama cycle to watch as it airs, though, instead of waiting for its run to be completed before starting. (As long as the subs are easy to find, Arang and the Magistrate will be my next pick—I love me some Lee Jun Ki.)

      The real root of my problem with Big is probably that my expectations are just too high, so it's hard to sit back and see where the drama goes. Even when I say all these critical things about it, it's still a strong B+ in my book ;)

      Maybe the shaved head is a subbing fail? I checked some recaps and none of them mentioned it. Viki is usually pretty trustworthy, though, and foreshadowing with a throw-away line like this does feel like something the Hong sisters would do in this drama. Guess we'll have to wait and see. (Damnit. Where's my timeslip when I need it?)

    2. No worries. I'm back to marathoning today! Major company comes on Monday, so I won't have time to steal the computer/tv for hours and hours ALL NEXT WEEK!! I have to log my Kdrama time in NOW while I still have the chance! Project "You're Beautiful" is now in full swing!

  3. I found your blog through other blogs lol I enjoy reading your posts, and was trying to get through everything before posting anything. However, I just wanted to clear up the whole head shave thing. Head shaving can be seen as a form of punishment/disapproval. There are times when "head shaving" is used as a threat to get children to obey the parents. It can also be a form of defiance. From the context, I assumed Daran's mother's parents shaved her head to show disapproval of her love for the father back when he was her teacher. When one's head is shaved, one is usually seen as unattractive and could be the parents' way of keeping the father away. By her father accepting her mother in her state, the acceptance showed that he really loved the mother. I think the writers mentioned it to show Daran's parents went through obstacles to be together as well as teacher-student relationships can work as long as there is strong love involved. Well, something along those lines.

    1. Thanks for sharing! Literally every scrap of knowledge I have about Korea comes from dramas, so my understanding of these things is (pathetically) limited. I've seen girls cut their hair in protest, like in Princess' Man, but never seen anyone's head shaved as punishment.

      The relationship between Da Ran's parents is actually one of my favorite things about this show—I love that they have this great, supportive, and fun marriage even after their rough beginning and raising two kids. And, of course, it means they can't complain when Da Ran comes clean about being in love with a student ;)

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