With Big finally ending and my anger still raging against that horrid ending, I want to revive a series that I dropped for reasons most likely attributed to busy schedule and reduced amount of drama viewing. But starting today and all throughout next week, I want to bring “Thespian Review,” where I analyze a specific performance from a drama, back with a bang–This week, there’ll be four performances that blew my mind away. I’ve been dying to write about these actors since I finished watching their shows: Gong Yoo in Big, Kim Soo Hyun in The Moon That Embraces the Sun, Lee Seung Gi in The King 2 Hearts, and Jung Ryu Won in History of the Salaryman. Today, let’s start with Gong Yoo’s performance.
When we last saw Gong Yoo on the small screen, he was so lovable and swoon-worthy in Coffee Prince. In Big he gets to play a literal manchild: Kang Kyung Joon. Although I’m still bitter about that show, if there is one thing that I thought was perfect in the show that will be Gong Yoo’s performance.
In the beginning of the show, Gong Yoo played two characters–Seo Yoon Jae, the grown-up doctor who is about to marry Gil Da Ran and Kang Kyung Joon, Da Ran’s student who ends up stuck in Yoon Jae’s body. When the drama was still trying to make Yoon Jae interesting, I was particularly pleased by Gong’s characterization of Yoon Jae. Back when Yoon Jae seemed a mystery, Gong played him with shades of ambiguity. The big question was whether Yoon Jae really loved Da Ran or not. I love how the drama built up the tension surrounding this idea by allowing the audience to see Yoon Jae through different people’s memories. We’re never sure which Yoon Jae is the real one since he’s different to each person who talks about him.
But the true stretch and praiseworthiness of Gong’s performance has to do with his characterization of Kang Kyung Joon. Kyung Joon isn’t exactly complicated but his character is so sketched out perfectly by the writers that we see so much dimensions to him. If anything, I feel like Big is centered around Kyung Joon’s maturation more than any other character’s development or any plot. He receives the bulk of our sympathy from the beginning to the end. When we finally understand what Da Ran is thinking in the middle of the series, we’ve already been supportive of Kyung Joon and understanding of why he behaves a certain way. Part of the success of his character belongs to the writers who chose to focus on him. But most of his success can and should be attributed to Gong Yoo.
Gong Yoo gets the childish characteristics pretty easily. After all, Han Kyul is like a man child anyway so he knows how to play immaturity. The whole body switch is basically a way for him to provide the show with some of the best physical comedy–that first taxi scene where he rushes to Da Ran because of his allergies was a highlight for me. He has frantic energy to match the humor of the scene.
In another scene, he greets one of Da Ran’s sunbaes in the market while carrying a makeshift gun out of a vegetable. He isn’t the forefront of this particular scene but he’s always on point even when the focus of the scene isn’t on him.
He also comes up with some of the best facial expressions–whether flashing a devilish grin, an annoyed look, or a “puing-puing” face.
Even his straightforward attitude with Da Ran is characteristically childish naivete. Kids are far less filtered than adults and I love how he doesn’t beat around the bush–he says things that are on his mind without any regret. That’s why his performance is so likable: he puts all the adults to shame especially because he’s not willing to sugarcoat anything and for the most part of the series, he was the voice of reason that the audience can understand.
On top of that immaturity is a smugness that masks for the insecurities Kang Kyung Joon has. Gong Yoo understands his loneliness really well. There is one scene in particular that sticks to mind where Kyung Joon desperately salvages his things from the pouring rain after his relatives throw them out of his house. As he busily and despondently pulls his things in, Gong’s face clocks in so many emotions ranging from fear to anger to desperation. It’s all in the eyes with him.
What I love the most about his performance is how soulful his take is on Kyung Joon. He shows how much he cares for Da Ran with just a simple facial tic or a slight smile. He’s very subtle about his facial changes when a particularly dramatic scene comes up. It makes for a very nice contrast to his exuberant childish energy. My favorite scene from him is that scene in episode 12 where he asks Da Ran to just remember him when he goes back to Kyung Joon. I love this scene because he seems to have a firm grasp of what his life would be–once he’s back he’ll be lonely with no family–and there is no moment where he showboats at all. His voice is gentle but packs a wallop because we understand him so well already.
The subtlety of acting builds up nicely as his whole family history begins to unravel that culminates with the most heartbreaking scene of the show and perhaps his best acting moment. When he confronts his parents about how he came to be and his mother, he goes from childish defiance to righteously angry to feeling betrayed. He commanded that scene with ease and his eyes welling up with tears was so devastating it was hard to look without your heart hurting.
Kang Kyung Joon is a blessing of a part because it’s equal amounts of fun and sad and a whole lot of character can be developed. Gong Yoo showed that despite the many many shortcomings of the show, he can delve into the character’s soul and bring out a realistic and heartbreaking human being. I have to admit that if you take out Gong Yoo into the equation, I doubt I would have been as invested in this show as much as I was. He gave the show its heart and soul (ha!). This is truly one of my favorite performances so far and I thank him for making Big as bearable as it was.