Friday, July 27, 2012

Big Post-mortem

I wish I’d averted my eyes, too, Kyung Joon.

So I finally got around to watching episodes 15 and 16 of Big. (And yes, it was just as much of a chore as that sentence makes it sound.) On a WTF scale of 1 to 10, this drama’s ending easily rates a 32.

I find it amusing that episode 4 featured a guest appearance by the work of a Russian writer—Turgenev’s First Love, per the Dramabeans recap. If only the Hong sisters had been thinking about Chekov instead, we might all have been spared a significant amount of frustration and annoyance. But I guess they missed the Literature 101 class when Chekov’s greatest gift to beginning writers was discussed: “If in act one you have a pistol hanging on the wall,” he advised a friend, “then it must fire in the last act.”

This is a helpful reminder to avoid pointless excess, to “make every character sing for its supper,” as one of my own writing teachers put it. If someone had piped up with this tip while the Hongs were drafting Big, I suspect I’d be writing a swooning, sloppy-with-love review of the show instead of shrugging it off as an embarrassing waste of time. Because, after 15 episodes snoozing in Kyung Joon's body, the unused pistol’s name is Yoon Jae.

Whether it’s because low ratings forced a mid-shooting change of strategy or because the Hong sisters need to lay off the crack cocaine, the first half of this drama set up a scenario that the second half had almost nothing to do with. The nifty mystery of Yoon Jae’s true feelings for Da Ran? Unaddressed. Why Yoon Jae was going to LA? Unaddressed. The reversal of the body swap? Unaddressed. Were memories lost and then regained, as posited in the last few episodes? Unaddressed. The giant, glowing, neon pistol that was the centerpiece of the early episodes was not only unfired by the time this drama’s finale rolled around, it was thrown out on the trash heap with yesterday’s dumplings.

I cannot even believe what I just saw: Did the character of Yoon Jae truly never make an appearance in this show’s entire timeline? Did Da Ran never have to face up to the fact that she cheated on her fiancé when he was in a coma? Did Yoon Jae’s family never become a real family? Did Kyung Joon never accept the familial love he longed for? Did Kyung Joon and Da Ran never have to convince her parents they were in love? His parents? Did Yoon Jae never have to let her go?

Sure, the last few episodes were deeply terrible, but I’d checked out a long time before. Big’s trajectory had clearly been out of control for a while (if not since the very beginning), so it’s no surprise that the end result was a catastrophic crash.

As far as I’m concerned, Big’s slow-motion failure began with the time jump at the end of episode 5. Up until that point, the show’s focus was on its compelling cast of characters and the complex web of relationships between them. The body swap was a device that allowed the writers to twist that web of relationships to the breaking point, giving us an opportunity to see what happened to the characters when their every point of connection was suddenly and fundamentally changed.

When the time jump happened, it was as if someone hit the Reset button. While some shows have benefited from this sort of narrative compartmentalization (Will It Snow at Christmas? comes to mind), Big just lost its way. Instead of developing the themes and characters it had created, it turned into a one-trick pony—a saccharine love story stripped of anything like nuance, spirit, or momentum. 

Episodes 15 and 16 felt as if the writers were throwing in any old scenes to fill time, intentionally staying away from the heart of things. Did they decide that the boy playing Kyung Joon looked too young to actually hook him up with Da Ran in the end? Did the allure of Gong Yoo prevent them from telling the story they needed to tell? Heck, did he have screen-time stipulations in his contract that made undoing the body swap impossible? The shift away from the show’s original premise might have been one thing if the romance was so epic it couldn’t be denied, but the scenes focusing on Kyung Joon’s relationship with Da Ran were cute at best, and dragged-out product placements at worst.

The Hong sisters may not be Shakespeare, but before thus show I actually trusted them to tell a decent story. How they went so tin-eared this time around I can’t even begin to imagine. I’m not ready to write them off forever, but I’ll be watching any future dramas they pen with a parachute on, ready for a dramatic escape at the first sign of things going downhill, ala Big.

P.S.: How about we erase our memories and pretend that the YouTube video below posted by psychobrit2008 is how the drama actually ended? I would have been able to forgive an awful lot if the last  scene had been even remotely satisfying...


  1. This was the most disappointing ending of any show ever, I love the analogy of the gun, it's so perfect because that's exactly what happened. The beef I was talking about before that I didn't want to say before you had watched it was the fact that they never showed the switch back. And Gong Yoo playing Kyung Joon at the end was totally and completely awkward. The way I understood it, and the way a lot of people whose comments I've read interpreted was that they did switch back, but they didn't show it because they didn't want to show him in his original body for whatever reason, and Yoon Jae was just in Germany with his family I guess. And supposively Kyung Joon had just matured and grown up over the time they were apart. But I don't care how many steroids Shin takes, he looks nothing like Gong Yoo and there are a lot of kdrama fallacies that I can accept, but there is no way that I can accept that he would suddenly look like that.

    But on a happier note. I am on episode 11 of Que Sera, Sera and am still totally absorbed in it. It is actually a very dark and angsty drama, but it doesn't bother me that it's so angsty for once because the angst is not cheesy and superficial, it feels raw and real and really passionate (Not unlike CP). How about that rain kiss huh? (I'm just going to ignore the almost rape lol). And a random side note, I noticed that Tae Joo's chubby friend was singing karaoke with a girl at the beginning of episode 9 and it happened to be the same song that Eun Chan and Han Gyul sing together when they are drunk and goofing off around town in CP. Must have been a really popular song around that time. I had to share because I'm such a nerd lol.

    1. I've got nothing to add - y'all have said it all. Bleh..

      In the middle of a CP marathon with my family and friends.. and it is... awesome! Nothing better than COFFEE when dealing with a BIG hangover. (Could I make that metaphor anymore obvious? Anyone? Anyone?) :D We even had kimchi fried rice to start off the evening.. MMmmmmm

    2. I hate to say it, but Big is just a bad piece of writing; there's no defending it on any grounds known to man or beast.

      I'm still a little staggered by how poorly executed the script was, but the writers thinking it was okay to have an off-screen wedding should have been an early red flag that someone was off their meds. Talk about a golden moment of character development completely glossed over because the Hongs didn't know what to do with it... They say it's a coming of age story, and then they don't film or even allude to the greatest rite of passage that happens in the entire show?

      I guess we can trust Ma Ri when she reports that the body switch was reversed, but it's insane that we should have to. I can't even believe anyone would expect us to believe that in the space of a year scrawny little Kyung Joon grew to look exactly like Hulk-esque Yoon Jae. If the real Kyung Joon had at least showed up in the final scene, there would at least be some sense of closure and of the couple having a fresh start, even if it still would have left all many, many key issues unresolved.

      (The more I think about it, the more I think Big's ending should have been patterned after the wonderful 2004 movie A Very Long Engagement. Maybe even it's whole second half should have been. That at least would have allowed for a show that was something other than all lead-up and no payoff.) Blurgh. I hate you, Hongs.

      And yay for Que Sera Sera being a hit—I'm definitely going to go back and rewatch it soon. 2007 was an amazing year for dramas: CP, Que Sera Sera, Time between Dog and Wolf, and Dal Ja's Spring all aired within a few months of each other. Too bad 2012 isn't so good =X

    3. I think obvious metaphors are appropriate in this case, Sara. You're talking about Big, after all ;) I wish I could attend your Coffee Prince marathon to wash the nasty taste out of my mouth.

      I bought some kimchi the other day, but the instructions for opening the jar are so dire I've been too chicken to try it. (They involve a towel, a sink, and some protective eye gear.)

    4. Omo! You better open it! Those jars have a tendancy to explode if you don't remove the top layer of kimchi! (Trust me - I've had that happen on pantry floors, the fridge, AND the trunk of my in-laws' car)!!

      Ahhh Big. Even if they hadn't had this perfect script - I probably would have thought this was one of those once-in-a-lifetime gems, if ONLY they could have answered all those questions. All those little hints they were dropping for the first half (or at least we thought they were hints). I love finding stuff like that along the way.. It would have been so much fun.

      Maybe the instructions for watching Big should have been: a towel to wring your neck, a sink to drown yourself in, and/or definitely some protective eye gear - your eyes will be burned forever.

    5. Haha!! Sara you crack me up, love the Big/kimchi jar comparison :P!! I would be scared to open the kimchi too. I've only ordered it out, I've never bought it to eat at home.

      Well at least The King 2 Hearts was good, and a Gentleman's Dignity is awesome (at least to me, lots of relationship development between the characters). I will say though, that there is a depth to Que Sera Sera and Coffee Prince that you don't really see in newer dramas, even the two I just mentioned. I feel like the newer dramas are entertaining, but not super meaningful.

      So I may have all day and all night marathoned Que Sera, Sera yesterday and finished it.... lol. And all I can say is WOW!!! It was definitley not created to be a crowd pleasing drama, because at times it was really hard to watch, but it was so well written (amazing dialogue!!) and well shot (some really great little details with the camera) that even when it was tough I couldn't tear my eyes away. The leads were really impressive in their roles as well, great acting!!! I loved how the director did this thing throughout the show where he would be focused on one character and then the other character would just walk by casually like on the street or in the hallways and he would pan the camera slowly over to them. It made the shots flow so smoothly and it just really emphasized how they were all so interconnected. And I loved how the real villain in this drama was simply human nature. The desire for money, success, security, and pride were what ultimately drove them apart, not some evil villainous second lead or crazy mom. I also love how the male lead was actually not all that good of person. In most dramas they might start out kind of prickly with bad social skills, but they turn out to be this big hero in the end. The male lead was so realistic in this drama, he wasn't really a good person, but he wasn't all bad either, he was just simply human. And the ending was so great how it came full circle and started where they originally began, only this time you know they don't have all that baggage hanging over them and they actually have a chance this time. It didn't follow any of the usual kdrama cliches. Oh man I'll shut up now, I am just obviously really in love with this drama lol. Man it's time to redo my top 10 soon definitely CP is still number 1 but QSS is a very close 2 for sure, followed my AGD (provided the ending isn't terrible). I'm going to have to watch those other 2 2007 dramas you mentioned while I'm waiting on AGD to come back.

    6. Well, I opened the jar with no casualties. (Thank you for the warning, Sara!) I've only had kimchi out and about in the past, too, and there's something to be said for it fresh out of the jar: It has a funny carbonated tingle that I haven't noticed in restaurant kimchi. I look forward to making some kimchi fried rice in the immediate future!

      Que Sera, Sera really is difficult but wonderful watching. (The rain kiss was so smoking hot I was able to overlook the almost-rape, too.) Post-Big is a good time to watch it, I think: in contrast with Big's hot mess of a denouement, Que Sera, Sera's finale is satisfyingly open-ended. For most of the drama I couldn't even figure out how I wanted it to end—everyone was so miserable to everyone else it seemed liked like an even remotely happy ending was out of the question. And then I watched the final episode, and they gave me everything I wanted but didn't know to hope for. (Although it does bug me that they started a storyline for the female lead's little sister and then totally abandoned her.)

      I think back in the day dramas really did have more soul (cough) than they do now. Before the money really started pouring in with BoF, the stakes were smaller and allowed for better, more idiosyncratic results. You should watch Time between Dog and Wolf before Aarang and the Magistrate starts's more of a boy show than I usually like (and pretty over-the-top on the melodrama front), but it will leave you drooling for Lee Jun-Ki, who'll be starring in Aarang later this summer.

    7. I'm already drooling for Jun-Ki.. and Park Shi Hoo for that matter (he had soo many shirtless scenes in Iljimae, it was positively indecent, and swoontastic). Ok how about I do this: Summer Scent (at least the 4 recommended episodes), then Time Between Dog and Wolf. After that, I make no more promises.

    8. I do have to agee that this year has not been good for rom-coms, but there have been several good shows. History of a Salaryman, Shut Up Flower Boy Band, and Bridal Mask (still airing) being my favorites so far. Man of Equator had some editing problems but was still a good watch. I'm on episode 5 of Ghost right now and am really enjoying it. And on the rom-com front, I Need Romance 2012 is pretty entertaining. I haven't seen the first one yet so I don't know how it compares. I didn't like King 2 Hearts.

      I'm glad others are discovering Que Sera, Sera. It's definitely a diamond in the rough. I really need to watch Time between Dog and Wolf. This isn't the only place I've heard really good things about it.

    9. Well, Iljimae just found it way into my to-watch list (and daydreams) with the combination of the words "Park Shi Hoo" and "shirtless scenes."

      At the moment, Shut Up is the drama of 2012 for me. I haven't seen Salaryman yet, but only because it's a bit out of my rom-com/coming of age comfort zone.

      If only the day was like, 32 percent longer I'd be able to fit in all the drama watching I want to do...

  2. CP marathon went well - only 4 in one night though. Ok for me that's like a mini-marathon, but hey! It's still super fun. They'll be back Sunday night to do a REAL marathon (including a midnight Whataburger run - sorry for all you non-Texans who don't know what Whataburger is).

    You know, you two (Amanda and Julie!) really do have a habit of messing up my "to-watch-now" list. I've been quite interested in Que Sera, Sera for a while, but I'm just not feeling it right now. I just finished Iljimae this morning, so with the exception of Tazza (which is too deep/serious to marathon), I've got nothing to watch. Though I am in the mood for melodrama.. maybe I'll work a little on Summer Scent? I really want to get to Spring Waltz soon.. Or should I just do Que Sera, Sera?? I did promise myself that my next drama would be either Sandglass or Flames of Desire. Oh the agony of having to choose yet another drama! My life is so hard.

    P.S. Thanks to you two for providing blogs for me to spam*ahem* casually discuss my addition*ahem* mild Kdrama-watching pasttime) Y'all are the best. :)

    1. Mmmm...midnight burger runs. Do you have Sonic where you are? Sometimes I long for their tater tots and it saddens me to know the closest franchise is like 500 miles away.

      And Kdrama obsessions are best when shared, clearly, so thank heavens for Internet cronies to squee and bellyache with ;)

  3. I dropped Big after I think ep 4(?) and never looked back. Did you see the comments on the last dramabeans recap though? There were like 700+ rant-y comments! Quite an achievement.

    There has been some pretty good k-dramas this year - History of the Salaryman, QIHM, SUFBB, but I feel like nothing has really grabbed me yet the way some the older dramas have done. I'm enjoying Bridal Mask because of it's complex characters and themes, but flaws in directing and plot holes are keeping me from loving it. It is much darker and has more depth than City Hunter though.

    1. The Dramabeans post about episode 16 and its responses were far, far more amusing than the actual show. Exhibit 19,871 in support of my theory that it's more fun to mock something terrible than to celebrate something good =X

      I'm looking forward to watching that Bridal Mask, but I'm a little skittish after hearing that its plot moves slowly. After Big and the neverending yawn that is I Do, I Do, I need to find something speedy and exciting to recover my verve.

    2. Yeah, Bridal Mask's plot doesn't exactly drag, but it doesn't really speed along either. Though to be fair, the main reason the plot is so predictable is because the trailers and previews spoil all the good parts. What's keeping me invested are the morally ambiguous characters (esp. the hero who starts off as the villain) and the setting. It also has quite possibly the most messed up main pairing I have ever seen in a kdrama.

    3. I'm definitely looking forward to Bridal Mask—as soon as it's done airing, I'm going to start watching. I like that its setting isn't something I know anything about, and that it has some social commentary built right in. Much to my surprise, it also turns out that I love morally ambiguous characters in Kdrama.

    4. Oh. And it seems as if slower-moving plots are easier to have patience with with in non-romantic comedies. I'm fine with wheel-spinning when it has actual meaning, rather than existing solely to keep the leads apart for 16 episodes :b

  4. Everything about this post is so spot on. I've given up wondering how this train wreck occurred, but it really is mysterious how the hell any half decent writer can imagine they can set up so many conflicts and never pull the trigger on any of them, or resolve the questions they themselves asked the audience to pay attention to. It's downright bizarre.

    Also, I'm still confused at why we didn't get anything with real Yoon-Jae at the end- like, why in the world did they spend so much time in the beginning making the audience wonder about what his intentions and motivations were, and then not give us closure? Was he simply supposed to be nothing more than another obstacle for KJ & DR to overcome, but they accidentally devoted too much time to his character? I don't know why I'm confused or surprised really, they didn't even give real-Kyung Joon a decent conclusion, clearly my expectations as a viewer are too much for the Hong Sisters..

    1. It's such a pity that Big didn't pull through—when the first few episodes were airing, I was all ready to give it a spot on my ten-best list. But now it's living in the lower reaches of the ten-worst :b

      It just doesn't seem possible that the Hong sisters are dumb enough to believe that what they gave us was a satisfactory ending. Sure, some people like it, but from the perspective of narrative for narrative's sake, it did not fulfill any of the requirements of good writing, or hold together as a cohesive piece of storytelling. Did corporate sponsors and working by committee get in the way? Did one of the Hong sisters fall asleep with her head on the keyboard and accidentally submit the results instead of the scripts for the last 8 episodes? The more I think about it, the more frustrating it gets :b

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