By Jae-Ha Kim
March 23, 2017

Seo Yoon-Jae/Kang Kyung-Joon (played by Gong Yoo)
Gil Da-Ran (played by Lee Min-Jung)

I had such high hopes for “Big.” Even though the producers stressed that it had nothing to do with the Tom Hanks film of the same name, I had hoped that it would share some of that film’s whimsical charm.

Nope. Not even Gong Yoo (“Coffee Prince,” “Goblin“) could save this convoluted stinker. If this had been edited down to a 4-hour mini series, it could have been good. Maybe even really good. But at 16 hours of going over the same plot, I found myself looking for laundry to fold or some work to finish.

Let’s cut to the chase: the plot revolves around a high school student and a doctor who switch bodies after an accident. Yoon-Jae, the 30something doctor is in a vegetative state in the body of 17-year-old Kyung-Joon. Meanwhile, the teenager is alive and well, but he is trapped in the buff body belonging to Gong Yoo, er, I mean Yoon-Jae.

Caught between these two is Gil Da-Ran, a wet dishrag of a woman, who (despite her beauty) has absolutely no confidence in herself. When she realizes that Yoon-Jae really isn’t Yoon-Jae and that it may take a while for the two to switch bodies again, she plays along with the charade.

As you probably guessed, things get complicated when Da-Ran begins to fall in love with Kyung-Joon. Which was a little creepy, because even though the boy turned of legal age during their chaste romance, he was still her student.

There were also some ridiculously outdated conceits that enraged me. When Da-Ran — as a grown woman — did something to disgrace her family, her mother beat her. When her father thought that she was having an affair, he had the police arrest her, while her mother threatened to shave her head. And this was all played for laughs.

And not for nothing, but after dragging us through this mess for 16 hours, the writers could’ve delivered a happily ever after ending. But the finale was unsatisfactory, which I’ll write more about in the spoilers below.

The 16-part series ran from June 4 to July 24, 2012 on KBS2.

Spoilers / Adoption element:

Yoon-Jae’s parents used IVF to get pregnant. They had two embryos — fraternal twins — but used just one. When Yoon-Jae was about 11, he developed a serious illness that required the umbilical cord of a blood relation. His parents used a surrogate to carry the other embryo. Kang Hee-Soo agreed to carry their baby, because she was in love with Yoon-Jae’s father and wanted to help him. His wife didn’t want to raise Kyung-Joon — even though he shared the same DNA as Yoon-Jae — so Hee-Soo raised him. Knowing that the stigma of being an unwed mother could destroy their lives in Korea, she moved to the United States, where she became a successful restrauteur. After a pair of hooligans inexplicably shot and killed her, Kyung-Joon returned to Korea under the guardianship of his maternal uncle.

Yoon-Jae’s mother was presented as a cold, calculating woman who would stop at nothing to protect her son. I’m not even sure that her husband ever had an affair with Hee-Soo. The writers were vague, and I got the feeling that he wasn’t allowed to marry Hee-Soo, because her family was beneath his social class. But his wife knew that he always loved Hee-Soo and was disturbingly jealous of her. So she rejected her own child.

But, near the end of the series, Yoon-Jae’s mother is all about making one big happy family with both her sons. And I did not buy it for a second. I really, really dislike it when writers try to manipulate viewers into liking unlikable characters. Yes, maybe she had a change of heart. But any woman who views a baby as merely a means to harvest his organs doesn’t deserve the right to be called a mother.

In the finale, a year has passed since Yoon-Jae and Kyung-Joon returned to their respective bodies. During that time, Da-Ran has stayed away from both of them. One day, Kyung-Joon finds her and they live happily ever after, I guess.

The unsatisfying part? The voice belongs to Yoon-Jae. The body appears to belong to Yoon-Jae. But they never show the man’s face. So was it really Yoon-Jae and she was delusional? Was it Kyung-Joon, who had grown up to look like his brother?

And if it really was Kyung-Joon, what became of Yoon-Jae?

We’ll never know.

@2017 Jae-Ha Kim | All Rights Reserved

Comments (1)

  1. Yoon Jae Kim says:

    I saw this when it came out years ago and was really disappointed. I think it was Gong Yoo’s first series after he was dismisssed from the army. Some of the abuse that you mention, like her mother hitting her and the hair thing enraged me. It’s like they were stuck in a timewarp where abusing your children was considered fine and dandy.

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