Thursday, 5 September 2013

TV Thursdays! - The Horror of the Drama

It's not Tuesday.

But it's an emergency.

Because this is a drama that will scar you for life if you are not forewarned!

It starts off fun and sweet and enthralling: sucking you in until you stay up until five in the morning for just one more episode and then driving a great massive stake into your heart and killing all the warm fuzzies and rib-cracking laughs in one cruel blow.

Yes it's that bad, and no it's not an exaggeration!

This post is nothing but spoilers. If you don't want to read all the important parts of this drama, I suggest you avert thine eyes!

The drama in question is the Korean 16-episode drama named 'Big.' It stars the ever-endearing Gong Yoo (Coffee Prince), who seems to be brilliant in whatever he does. And no, I'm not talking abs or smoldering looks here, I'm talking killer acting skills. The way he meshes his, essentially two, characters into one and still makes them unique in 'Big' is wonderful and completely believable and is one of the reasons I kept watching long after my interest high tailed it out of this drama.

It also stars a relatively new actor Shin Won Ho who has been in one previous drama (Bachelor's Vegetable Store). He seems to be great talent too - though why I can't say definitely will come in a second.

Lady of the drama stuck between the two men is played by Lee Min Jung, who I thought suited the drama well. Many reviewers (such as here) thought her flat or weakwilled, and while it may be so, I didn't think it took away from the drama, and instead added an interesting 'growing up' on her side at the same time as Kyung Joon's. The drama also calls in Suzy from Miss A to be the character who's out to steal the handsome boy's heart before the main lady gets him, and does a wonderfully annoying job at it (that's a compliment I swear!). Now! Let's get down to it!

Gil Da-Ran

Gil Da Ran (Lee Min Jung) is an utterly lovestruck woman attempting to pass her teacher's exams and become a fully fledged teacher. She lives with her 18 y/o younger brother, her mother who wants her to stop studying, lose weight, and get herself all prettied up for her wedding, and her father who is a stickler for studying so she'll still accomplish being a teacher regardless of who she's married to.
Seo Young-Jae

Extremely successful doctor, Seo Young Jae (Gong Yoo) is far above Da-Ran's league and has a rather secretive and mysterious family life. He seems to be always busy, and curiously in love yet still detached from Da-Ran. Most of what you find out about him comes much, much later in the drama.
Kang Kyung Joon

18-year-old Kyung Joon has just arrived from the States. He has never known his father, and his mother is dead. He takes great pleasure in failing to address Da Ran with the correct formality in speech, passing it off as that he doesn't know better since he grew up in the US and not Korea. And everyone knows he's lying.
The story begins with Da-Ran in her job bringing bouquets to brides - since this is a very usual job taken on by university students. And she's late. Today's bouquet goes to a woman who turns out to be an old classmate of hers who had invited everyone she knew from school except Da Ran. After an awkward pause and hurried lies explanations for why she wasn't invited, Da Ran leaves bride with flowers and decides to get a quick meal at the wedding hall. In many Korean weddings, you gift an envelope of money (the amount of which goes up or down depending on the closeness of your relationship to the couple) rather than other presents that we might give in the States. In wedding halls, you get served meals, and some of them have TVs installed so that you can see all the weddings that are taking place at one time while you eat! It's considered rude for the person receiving the envelopes (not one of the couple, but someone who works there) to open them and count the money inside, so you can get away with murder. Some people stuff some fake money into an envelope and get a free meal out of it all, I've heard. ;)
So Da Ran puts $30 worth of Korean Won into an envelope last minute and hands it over to get food (which she later complains is too expensive for such bad soup). Midway through eating she gets a call to let her know that hey, there was a bit of a mixup, and her classmate just got married with a $1000 bouquet even though she paid for a $300 one. And it's Da-Ran's job to get that bouquet back and deliver it to the right person!

In typical wacky drama fashion, Da Ran marches out and shoulders into the group of women waiting to catch the bunch of flowers, determined to get them and leave. Instead, as this flower throwing so sensibly occurs at the top of a set of stairs and she runs backward to grab the bouquet, a man bumps into her and sends her flying down the stairs. Boom, job gone, exams missed, exchanged for broken bones and a hospital stay!

Thankfully, this scene is the only really overdone, exaggerated comedy sequence that I saw, though when I watched it the first time, I just knew that the rest of the drama was going to be cringeworthy overacting of just about everything from swatting flies to going up stairs. But it wasn't!

Well, guess who ran into her, in that wonderfully checked suit? Seo Young-Jae of course. Who just happens to be the doctor at the hospital she goes to for treatment.

Fast forward through a speedy romance, and the pair are set to be married. There's a house to buy, couple pajamas to purchase, and totally new sets of furniture and dishes as well. Young-Jae is ridiculously busy all the time, however, and none of her dates get seen through. She always excuses him and lets it go, still 'shooting hearts from her eyes' as Kyung Joon later puts it.

Da-Ran is preparing for the exams again, and in the meantime is taking on a job as a substitute teacher at the same high school her brother is going to. Kyung Joon shows up as a transfer student, and its her job to take him around the school and show him where everything is, which he ditches halfway through.
If you want detailed descriptions of every episode I advise you to check out this awesome blog that does just that - my job here is not to review every episode, rather to review the drama as a whole and tell you just how bad this one turned out to be. XD
There's some funky body swap spell on Young Jae and Kyung Joon. For some reason they have a rather unique destiny that one will save the other, the second will save the first, and then the first will save the second again. But it's possible that one will die in the final saving, and memories will be lost, and it's all actually so that Kyung Joon can start over in his life, and - WHAT? Someone was up waayyy too late to be writing plot when this one came to life. Talk about confusing.
Young Jae and Kyung Joon are driving towards each other on a road that winds above a body of water. Young Jae in a car, Kyung Joon on a motorbike. Between the pair of them, a crash suddenly occurs, two cars colliding and blocking the road. Both guys swerve to avoid the crash and instead go through the guard rail and straight to the waters below. Young Jae breaks out of his vehicle under the water and sees the teen further below him who has lost his helmet in the water somehow and isn't moving. Young Jae reaches out to save him - and some magic jumps into play.
Cut to the pair being wheeled into the hospital. Both in bad condition, hearts are restarted and oxygen applied - but it's too late for Young Jae. Doctors wheel him into the morgue. Kyung Joon won't wake, firmly stuck in a coma.

Then Young Jae wakes up in the morgue. But he's not actually Young Jae - Kyung Joon is inside the other man's body and has no idea who this person is that he's woken up in, but he's terrified. Da Ran who has been called in to confirm the body discovers him, and he insists that he is not her fiancĂ©, but the 18 year old she had last seen driving off on his motorbike.
I am a huge fan of body-swapping/gender swapping dramas. The only one (apart from this one) that I haven't loved was Secret Garden. Whether it's dressing up like the other gender in an effort to deceive those around them or like this case, it's always fantastic, and I love the possibilities to be (and which usually are) explored during a drama containing body swaps. To the Beautiful You (Sulli of F(x) and Choi Minho of SHINee) had a girl dressing as a boy to go to an all-boys school and convince a star athlete who had fallen magnificently in his sports career to try again and I loved it. Nail Shop Paris (Gyuri of Kara and Song Jae Rim [Flower Boy Ramen Shop, Moon that Embraces the Sun]) was short but refreshing in that it did none of the things I expected it to and took a totally different path than other dramas that made it the very top of the list in my favourites; it also contains a girl cross dressing, this time so she can work at a shop where only men are employed.
Since I'm a huge fan, I was totally absorbed in this one, trying to figure out the mystery of how the two men were connected and what made them swap - and what would make them swap back again. Hilarity ensues as allergies are discovered and consequences befall hapless Kyung Joon in a 30 year old man's body when he disregards Da Ran's careful advice. Suzy from Miss A makes an appearance very quickly, as a crazy stalker friend of Kyung Joon's named Ma Ri, determined to find him. She flies in from America to discover his whereabouts and is scary good at using media to find out just where he is. It's a good thing she's not a fangirl of a band, she'd be scaling apartment buildings in no time and using her mad paparazzi skills to get photos of everyone. She's just as determined to get married to Kyung Joon one day, while he's as firmly set in her never finding him again.
We discover another mystery that somehow she is connected to his mother's death, and another layer unfolds. But all too soon, Young Jae's mother comes into the picture, just as worried that her son hasn't been calling regularly as he used to as Ma Ri was that Kyung Joon hadn't been responding to her ridiculous number of messages. Telling Mother dearest that her son has damaged his memory and can't remember anything well, and that the marriage has been pushed off to a later date, Mother's disapproval of Da Ran is of course front and centre. Seriously, are there any decent mothers/mother in laws about in Korean drama? Apparently all these good heroines end up snarky old women with too much money and ridiculous standards for their sons' future brides.
A series of weird events occur, in which Kyung Joon's neglectful Aunt and Uncle try to sell the house his mother left him (only to have Kyung Joon in Young Jae's body come up and buy it on the spot), some evidence is found to suggest that before-swap Young Jae was cheating on Da Ran with a coworker, a wedding photo shoot takes place, and said house is set up for the newlweds to move into once they actually. . . . wed. Da Ran says she will be content with the photo shoot as her memories of Young Jae since she won't get to marry him, and manages to break off their engagement in the messiest way possible. And then Kyung Joon in Young Jae's body is leaving for America. With 'Mother.' And now we fast forward one entire year.
Needless to say I was taken aback at that. Dramas don't usually start skipping time until right at the end. And right away I wasn't liking it. Kyung Joon comes back having perfected his Young Jae act (yes, they still aren't swapped back; Kyung Joon's real body lays in the hospital still in a coma) and having crammed medical studies into his head faster than you can blink. Thing is, he's got a very serious phobia of blood - and that has to do with his mother's death.
I lost interest at episode 7. I was done with this convoluted plotline and wanted the real Kyung Joon back. The actor had showed so much promise in the first episode, and I really enjoyed how his character was portrayed. Gong Yoo's excellent but I really want to see the other actor come and take back his, ahem, main character role. Unfortunately, that wasn't to happen - Shin Won Ho doesn't get to act any farther than the first episode aside from laying motionless in the hospital bed when they need to remind us that hey, yeah, he's still there. I think he gets two more speaking lines in the rest of the drama - while he stands and sits up in Ma Ri's fantasies and the omen-like dreams Da-Ran gets, he never says any lines. He just blinks. Smiles occasionally. I was so disappointed.
Ma Ri imagines him waking. This is the extent of his role. -_-
Health issues arise, and Kyung Joon makes somewhat frequent 'trips' back to his own body, each time staying longer, sometimes opening his eyes and seeing from his own body. I wondered if this was a wanting to return to himself (subconsciously, since it was never a concerted effort to do so), or that the real Young Jae wanted back in his own body. Turns out that the pain he feels every time he makes those 'trips' isn't actually pain from the swapping, it's pain in his host body. Young Jae is one sick cookie. Given that whole saving-each-other spiel, I think now that the trips back to his own body occurred when the host Young Jae was sickest and it was the 'magic's' way of saving him? Like I said, this stuff doesn't get explained very well.
I have no problem freezing a baby for later use. Be very afraid.
Then it all spills out - Young Jae and Kyung Joon are actually brothers. And not only that, they're twins, separated by twelve years! Somehow or another, one egg was frozen 'for later' (food comparison is suddenly appropriate) and the other had immediately. Seriously. Was evil mother psychic and knew her first son would be ill and decided that she needed a back up, or was it just something that ran in the family? Have a kid, but keep one on the back burner just in case? Young Jae is born from evil mother, while Kyung Joon is birthed by use of in vitro 12 years later when they discover they need a close genetic match for. . . . . . harvesting. Yeah, Kyung Joon is born to serve his elder brother as a sort of live-in donor. This crap is scary. The mystery of his mother's death is also revealed - Ma Ri's father (widowed? divorced? An alien who didn't need another to give birth to a child? Grab one peoples, they aren't going to explain for us mundane watchers!) and Kyung Joon's mother wanted to get married. But both of them being whiny teenagers - their words not mine - throw hissy fits so their parents won't wed. I believe this probably originated with Ma Ri. Can't marry the guy you like so much you have his face printed on all your pillows and plastered on every electronic device you own if he becomes your brother, can you? Ma Ri decided on a crucial night of their parents' meeting to fake illness and hold her father up. Kyung Joon pitches in and complains that he doesn't want mommy to go, so she says she won't.

Walking home from the restaurant they own in LA that night, gangsters (Russian or Italian mafia? Aliens of the home planet? Evil bastards with a spare bullet? This drama isn't telling) appear at the mouth of the alley. Pause. Who the heck is walking down an alley in LA at night, anyway? I thought you lived there all your son's life. You'd know this right? Ahem. "Hey you!" is your only warning, and Mother's shot through the chest from behind. No rhyme, no reason, but a darn good way to give your supposed main character a serious blood phobia and an actual reason for him to push young attractive Ma Ri away and go for his nearing-30 teacher instead. Not that that's inherently wrong or anything, but why make sense when you can throw random background in and eke out another episode?

Aish, I was so done with this show. And it just drags on. There are more breakups and suspected cheating, Young Jae pre-swap gets cleared of suspicion since he didn't actually cheat on Da Ran, coworker lady and Da Ran meet up every three seconds to discuss another part of their relationships and glare over varying drinks, and it all generally goes downhill some more. Eventually they get to episode 14 where they are finally going to swap back to their correct bodies. A blood transfusion is needed from Kyung Joon's body (still comatose) into Young Jae's, and apparently that'll cure him in a snap. And they are certain that this will count as one saving the other, so this will mean a swap back to their original bodies at last.

Here my interest perked up again - perhaps, with a body swap, it could still be salvaged? Ready to forget the previous episodes and get on with the swap, see what Young Jae's actually been thinking, finally have some good answers, and see Kyung Joon back in his natural self, I watched on tinterhooks for the deciding moment.

Well as you can guess, it didn't. Kyung Joon doesn't act in his own body again like I said previously. Kyung-Joon-in-Young-Jae's-body goes into an interesting underwater world where his body in his child car bed is being read the story his mother wrote about them having to save each other by the actual Young Jae. The real Young Jae knew all along, and was waiting patiently for Kyung Joon to return, and is the reason why he didn't wake up in the teenager's body. Recall at this point that it's been well over a year since the original swap occurred. But right as they are about to shake hands and fully swap back, Kyung Joon hears Da Ran calling his name, and says he needs more time. Because otherwise she'll be upset.

Weirdly, both Young Jae and Kyung Joon are still acted by Gong Yoo in this scene

NEEDS MORE TIME?!?!! I was about ready to throttle Da Ran. She couldn't have waited one more minute to say anything? Waited for him to wake on his own? No?

Instead he wakes up in Young Jae's body AGAIN and decides that this'll be a great time to 'practice' not having any memories of Da Ran. So we get another useless episode of him pretending not to recall anything and everyone crying and - and - there's only one episode left!!

Young-Jae-who-isn't decides to go to Germany for treatment, and there are more serious scenes and sad faces and finally Kyung Joon in Young Jae's body confesses that he loves Da Ran.

And then we skip another year. A full year in time. Again. Two years. All for naught in this drama apparently.

Unlike this blog post, the drama decides to skip all the important parts. It doesn't show the wedding ceremony between Da Ran and Young Jae who isn't, but let you know later as they are on the way to the airport for Da Ran to go on a honeymoon alone. 0.o And more annoyingly they don't show you the swap back between the two guys! There's an email delivered to Da Ran, who is a full teacher, exams passed, and working in a different school now, to let her know that the swap happened and both are doing well, though neither have any memories. Great.

There's a scene on the bus to re enact a sequence from the beginning, Da Ran getting off with her umbrella. And running up is - is - Gong Yoo. They never show his face, but it's clearly him. His voice, his body, running up to Da Ran. MASSIVE disappointment. I thought they'd swapped back?! Later the director says that Kyung Joon was growing up (and would have been about 20 in the timeline of the show) and began to look more like his older brother. AHEM. Yeah, whatever.

And they end the show that way. No reveal, no tying off. You never find out what Young Jae really thought of Da Ran for certain - did he really love her, or not? Was he really going to leave her or not? You never get to see Kyung Joon in his own body again. You never find out what happens with the rest of the family when her 'new' relationship comes out of the blue now that she's successfully ruined them twice. At least. You don't know if Da Ran and Kyung Joon are seriously going to continue their relationship. It's just so - so - wrong.

I got so caught up in this drama, it was SO good at the start. I wish now that they'd had a 'Secret Garden' esque pull away on some scenes, so they could show the original actor in his role. For instance, it could have Shin Won Ho as Kyung Joon talking to Da Ran or in the middle of a serious/romantic/funny sequence, while letting us know that he hadn't swapped back, it was just showing him underneath.

So. . . . .yay. I think. Drama warning duly given. And I think a new post line has just been created - a 'ridiculously critical review' section: The Horror of the Drama. Because Substitute Princess (Taiwan) was just as bad, and could use its own warning.

Anyway, there you are. All the frustrations of a KDrama lover being ridiculously disappointed. XD

Until next time, whether by drama or by stitching, find better things to watch than I and may your stitching be tangle free! ~x~