“There is no one righteous, not even one. All have turned away. Their throats are open graves. The poison of vipers is on their lips. Their feet are swift to shed blood. Ruin and misery mark their ways.”
– Romans 3:9-18 (paraphrased), referenced in The Big Dipper.
Synopsis: A man is on his way home to his sick daughter when a series of unfortunate events occur. A pile of dead bodies is found on the ship and the criminals onboard escaping to China blame the protagonist. Through various flashbacks, the mystery is unraveled.
- Title: The Big Dipper – A Day of Luck (칠성호 – 운수 좋은날)
- Running Time: 65 min
- Genre: Mystery, Thriller
- Director: Kim Jin Woo (김진우)
- Writer: Ma Chang Joon (마창준)
- Cast: Jung Woo, Park Hyo Joo, Kim Roi Ha, Jeong Man Sik
- Air Date: 9-9-2012
- Ratings: 3.3% (Nielsen)
- Station: KBS2
- Source: Naver
KDRAMA RECAP: THE BIG DIPPER
A man slightly opens the door of a church and scans the faces of the congregation. His gaze lingers on a father and his mute son. He then closes the door, and walks back out, facing the ocean. A breeze rustles his clothes as he looks at a photo of his wife and daughter. “Daddy, are you coming home? What about Mom?“1
The father of the mute boy is the owner of the ship The Big Dipper (Kim Roe Hwa) and Park Yong Dae (Jung Woo), the man who peered at the churchgoers from behind the door, has bought a ticket to China. He receives a receipt from the captain’s wife, and he’s stunned when he sees her face. The woman (Kim Ji Sung) stutters as Yong Dae stares at her pregnant belly.
In the next scene, Yong Dae is on the ship deck, sitting by himself, his eyes hollow. It’s night, and fluorescent rays of light reveals circles of men gambling and brawling, and a pair of friends playing with a gun. A shot is fired, a person dies, and a mob morphs around the shooter. Panicked, the shooter cries it was an accident and shoots another person in self defense. Chaos ensues as fights break out, and a man flies overboard. The gun gets knocked out of the killer’s hand and skids to Yong Dae’s feet. He grabs the gun.
In the next scene, Yong Dae trudges along a grimy passageway in the ship’s bowels. He pulls back a curtain to see a crouched boy with tear stained cheeks. The boy frantically gestures for help. It’s the shipowner’s mute son. The sound of a gun shot rings.
His vision hazy, Yong Dae stumbles upon a hooded man rifling through the pockets of a dead man. When their eyes meet, Yong Dae is struck from behind. When Yong Dae groggily opens his eyes, all he can see is pair of leather shoes. “Have you found it?” “I’ll find it soon.”
The next morning, Yong Dae wakes up dazed and confused. He hears loud cries and pounding from behind a locked door, which he opens. Twelve men pour out, retching, starving and incensed. They’re a motley collection of criminals who have paid the shipowner to be smuggled out of Korea. The criminals demand to know why they’ve been locked up so long and clamor for the shipowner to be brought to them. The criminals go up to the deck in search of the shipowner and discover a pile of dead bodies.
A pale woman (Park Hyo Joo) timidly notifies Yong Dae that he has a wound on his neck. She asks if he’s a joseonjok, a Korean who has immigrated to China. He goes to wash the blood off his neck, when he suddenly hears phantom scuffling noises and screaming. In his reflection, blood drips down his face.
He runs up to the deck to join the others and is shocked by the pile of bodies. The criminals clamor for answers, but Yong Dae has no recollection of what happened. He stammers that he didn’t murder these people, but one of them spots the blood on his neck and immediately becomes suspicious. A man with a hooked nose riles up the criminals who begin beating and kicking Yong Dae. Clutching the legs of the nearest man, he pleads his innocence.
A man with a hardened, bearded face halts the mob; the phone is ringing. But the man with the hooked nose stops them from answering the phone; they’re running away to China and nothing good can come of reporting these deaths. He orders the men to move the bodies into the freezer. Meanwhile, the man with the beard notices a ripped lottery ticket hanging out of the pockets of one of the bodies.
The criminals investigate the contents of Yong Dae’s pockets. The man with the beard picks up a piece of paper with some numbers scrawled on it. He folds the paper and furtively slips it in his pocket while the pale woman watches. Yong Dae listlessly stares at the photo of his wife and child on the ground and flashes back to scouring the port city, desperately asking people if they’ve seen the woman in the photo. His cell phone rings and he staunchly assures his daughter that it’s not true that her mother isn’t coming back. He heatedly warns his mother to stop saying his wife abandoned him in front of So Hui.
Yong Dae wakes up, wrists bound, in the cargo hold. He sees the pale woman from before, crouched by his side. She tentatively asks again if he’s a joseonjok. He frantically tells her he has to get back to China. He has a sick daughter waiting for him. She asks if he came to Korea to make money for his daughter’s surgery. Tears spill from his eyes as he whispers that his daughter will die without surgery. The pale woman reveals that she’s also from China. She cautiously asks if Yong Dae can remember anything. Water drips as he racks his memories. He has a sudden flashback of opening a curtain and seeing a crying child.
The man with the beard taps his pen as he mulls over the facts of the deaths. He wonders if Yong Dae really killed everyone. And if he did, why? The others don’t care. He’s the lone survivor, which by default makes him the prime suspect. But Sang Chul muses out loud that there were twelve men stowed in the locked room. The others belatedly realize that there are now thirteen men. A note of unease pierces the room.
WATCH THE BIG DIPPER IF YOU WANT TO KNOW WHAT HAPPENS NEXT /MWAHAHAHAHA
WHERE TO WATCH
You can download hard subbed KBS drama specials on d-addicts. I just stream everything because I have a sucky internet connection.
/end evil laughter because guess what, I summarize the ending! I was really conflicted as to whether or not I should include a summary of the ending, but it was too sublime for me to resist. I highly recommend that you watch The Big Dipper before reading the rest of this. A lot happens that isn’t covered in my summary of the ending, but the major plot twist does get revealed, which will lessen the impact and pathos of the protagonist’s anagnorisis.
Yong Dae aims the gun with shaking hands at the shipowner and threatens to shoot him. The shipowner’s eyes harden and he steps closer until the gun rests on his forehead. “Kill me, then, and take it.” With an anguished cry, Yong Dae’s arm drops. He can’t shoot. He sinks to his knees and sobs in desperation. He begs for the money to save his daughter, but the shipowner sneers and walks away.
There’s a moment of eerie quiet as a flashback crystallizes into clarity. Yong Dae starts maniacally laughing, gasping for breath, tears dripping down his nose. With a cunning glint in his wild eyes, he calls out after the shipowner, “Dong Gu is on this boat. Should I tell you where he is?“
The shipowner freezes, and stalks over to Yong Dae. Grabbing Yong Dae’s collar, he murderously asks where his son is. In between fits of hysterical laughter, Yong Dae blubbers that he can’t leave without the money; he has to save his daughter. He takes this chance to grab the slip of paper from the shipowner’s pocket. The shipowner begins pummeling Yong Dae, furiously asking again where his son is. With a cruel smile, Yong Dae gleefully croaks that he’ll never tell him. He looks at the paper2 clenched in his hand and laughs in jubilee and then cries in profound relief. But his eyes glaze over as he has another flashback. He squints in the sudden onslaught of rain as his head shatters in pain.
He’s back in the shipowner’s office receiving a receipt from the shipowner’s wife. The woman’s eyes contain fear and guilt. He drags her thrashing and screaming onto the streets. She collapses on the ground, begging him to let her go. “Tell So Hui I’m dead. I’m happy now.” His cell phone rings, and he goes still when he hears the message. There’s a long silence. The woman slips her wrists from his grasp and trudges away from him. She hesitantly looks back and sees the ghastly look on Yong Dae’s face. She softly falls to the ground as it dawns on her that her daughter has died.
Back to the present, Yong Dae lies limp and lifeless. The blare of the maritime police’s speakers interrupts his reverie. He spots the gun on the ground and his eyes darken as he grasps the gun. He emptily gazes at the blinding lights of the approaching ship and raises the gun to his temple. The scene fades to black.
Yong Dae is back in front of the church by the sea. The breeze rustles his clothes as he looks at the photo of his wife of his child.
“Daddy, are you coming home? What about Mom? Then can we go see elephants… and pictures, too? And I’ll get surgery?”
“I promise. Daddy promises. Daddy’s on his way to So Hui.”
The sound of the gun shot rings.
A few days has passed and the shipping office is empty. The television is on and a news reporter reports that a man murdered six people before killing himself. A pregnant woman listlessly sits on the sidewalk facing the sea. The scene fades to black.
1 His daughter’s query is a voice over. The letter shown in the screen cap was written by his wife before she left him. The last line reads, “You’re a good person. Thank you.”
2 I’ve purposefully remained ambiguous about what this mysterious slip of paper is because it’s a key piece of the drama’s puzzle. There are plenty of clues early on in the drama, though.
KDRAMA REVIEW: THE BIG DIPPER
This is your last chance to avoid more spoilers. Again, I highly recommend that you watch The Big Dipper before reading the rest of this review. I wouldn’t harp on like this if this weren’t a drama that hinges on mystery. As a mystery lover, and someone who lives off the thrills of suspense novels, I think curiosity, uncertainty, confusion, and surprise are significant parts of the viewing and reading experience. Your mind should be piecing the puzzle, wiping off the fog in the mirror, etc.
THEME: COSMIC IRONY AND HUMAN NATURE
“The weather’s nice. It’s a good day to set sail.” – Captain of The Big Dipper
The title of the drama, The Big Dipper – A Lucky Day, is ironic. From one perspective, it is indeed a lucky day for Yong Dae; he wins the lottery. But it all means nothing because it’s also the day his daughter dies. The literal translation of the title is actually Seven (칠, 七) Stars (성, 星). It’s a reference to a Korean proverb: “The Seven Stars have swung back in place” (북두칠성이 앵돌아졌다). It’s a figurative saying that means just as the stars suddenly return to their original positions, plans unexpectedly go awry. (I had no ideas that constellations moved, so I did some googling. In the Northern Hemisphere, all of the stars appear to rotate about the North Star. The Big Dipper’s movement is the most apparent. It swings around the North Star in a circle, like the hands of a clock. This is because the Earth spins on its axis and the North Star is on the axis. Stars return to their original position every 24 hours.)
The Big Dipper is about cosmic irony. All of the characters’ desperate struggles are for naught. Yong Dae’s life revolves around his daughter; he scours the streets to bring his daughter’s mother back to her and he fires a gun to get money for his daughter’s surgery. But the ironic fact is that his daughter has already died. His wife abandons her family in search of a better life, but misery and suffering follow her across the sea. Korean criminals flee to China but get caught when the maritime police notice the suspicious movements of the ship. The captain kills a man to get his hands on the lottery ticket, but like Yong Dae, doesn’t know that his son is already dead. The passengers fight each other to get their hands on the lottery ticket, but end up killing each other.
As in a Greek tragedy in which the Fates amuse themselves by toying with humans and watching them fall to their ruin, in The Big Dipper, the universe, or the stars, is indifferent to the suffering of its characters. A major theme in The Big Dipper is the discrepancy between expectation and fulfillment, the painful contrast of the characters’ purposeful activity and its ultimate meaninglessness. In this drama, lottery winnings are the bright stars people strive to reach, the ray of light that they pursue. But it turns out to be a false star.
In the beginning of the drama, a pastor quotes Romans: “There is no one righteous, not even one… Their feet are swift to shed blood; in their paths are ruin and misery.” There’s no such thing as happy endings for humanity, mainly because of its wickedness, particularly its greed. What makes the parallel situation of Yong Dae and the captain poignant is that it casts a sympathetic light on the captain. He’s the villain, but like Yong Dae, he loves his son above all else. Millions mean nothing in the face of the death of his child. The fact that a despicable character in this drama has the capacity for selfless love makes the greed and cruelty of humanity even more tragic. It paints a picture of what could have been and what could be if people let go of their greed.
- I love the achronological plot and the use of flashbacks. All the puzzle pieces fall beautifully into place.
- I love the big reveal. Yong Dae’s agnorisis hit me like a blow. The plot twist holds a deeper, pathos-laden meaning because it ties back to the drama’s theme about the irony of life.
- I love the ending. Like When Roses Last Bloomed, The Big Dipper revisits where it started and comes to a full circle.
- The bgm here is amazing. It’s a mix of electronica, Gregorian melodies, ethereal wave, and contemporary classical music. I also love the drama’s use of sound, such as the sound of water dripping or gun shots, as a trigger for flashbacks.
- Jung Woo is amazing. I found him really likable in You’re the Best Lee Soon Shin, but was blown away by his performance in The Big Dipper. I found myself using the word “eyes” frequently in my recap and it’s because Jung Woo’s eyes are huge pools of emotions: bewilderment, rage, desperation, insanity, despair. I’m not familiar with the accent of Chinese ethnic Koreans, but it doesn’t matter because Jung Woo convinced me that he nailed it. Just as it’s obvious whether or not an actor is a Busan native based on the naturalness and subtlety of his cadence (unless he’s Ha Jung Woo or something), it’s obvious Jung Woo nailed the joseonjok accent based on the naturalness of his pitch and flow. The whole cast was amazing and perfectly cast, right down to Dong Gu.
My thoughts while watching this drama special: FRACK. KBS Drama specials are quality. What have I been missing out on all my life? With its later air time, 19+ rating, and shorter format, the KBS drama special is a different beast than its prime time counterpart. If you liked End of the World, you’ll like The Big Dipper. In fact, there are quite a few similarities between the two dramas: the ship setting and the isolated events that occurred on the ship such as the tossing of dead bodies into freezers, the plight and character traits of Park Yong Dae and Eo Ki Young, the examination of the mob mentality, the study of human nature, etc.
We’re given plenty of clues that the mysterious piece of paper is a lottery ticket, but there’s something unsatisfying about the reveal. It seems random and trivial, though that may be the point since it symbolizes mammon, hopes and dreams, and greed, all of which turn out to be worthless and futile. The main problem is that the drama’s plot is underdeveloped and could use some more meat. The way the plot is executed and the way its pieces are layered and revealed is masterful, but the bare bones of it are really simple. The drama has a strong beginning and end, but a brief, uneventful middle. You could summarize it in a few sentences. I know the drama is limited by its run time and that seems to be the format’s Achilles heel.
For additional streaming links or information, try searching the Chinese title: KBS 靛扼付 胶其既 – 磨己龋