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Review of Episodes 1-8 of SBS's Giant (Major Spoiler Warnings!)
Note: Since Giant is such a long (but epic) drama, I’ll be reviewing it in parts. First review covers the story of when the three siblings are kids. Also, I did not cover every character nor all the details – there are just too many to do so. For this portion, I mostly focused on the three siblings and the villains. Feel free to correct me on a missed/wrong plot as well…I did not have the time to watch Giant twice as I usually like to do so when reviewing so I might have missed some things.
Revenge. Family. Money. Politics. Love. Betrayal. Power.
SBS’s Giant has got everything one could want in a drama. Set in the backdrop of the 1970’s and Korea’s rise to industrialization, Giant covers the story of three siblings whose family was torn apart by the hands of two men: Jo Pil Yeon andHwang Tae Sub. At its core, Giant is simply a classic revenge story, but it is also an insightful look into Korea’s history. It is a sweeping, epic, and thoroughly dramatic story that must be watched despite spanning 60 episodes.
The story begins by covering the three Lee siblings in their youth. Lee Sung Mois the oldest while Lee Mi Joo is the youngest. In the middle is the main character, Lee Kang Mo. Both the younger and older actors portray each sibling brilliantly. (As an aside to Kim Soo Hyun fans, If you thought he was good inDream High, he’s even more amazing here). One can really feel each of their pain as they undergo hardship after hardship even with the younger actors. The Lee family troubles begin when both their father and Lee Sung Mo witness something they should not. Their father witnesses something suspicious occurring with the gold bars he is helping to smuggle. Then in turn, Sung Mo witnesses his father’s death by the hands of Jo Pil Yeon because his father witnessed the gold bars. Being pursued by Pil Yeon’s men, Sung Mo manages to escape long enough to tell the rest of his family. All of them then flee their home, with Sung Mo managing to buy his mother and siblings time by drawing the attention of his pursuers and telling them that he’ll meet up with them at the end of the month on top of Seoul’s largest building. Once again, Sung Mo manages to escape by falling out of the moving train, but he is separated from the rest of his family. Taking up a paramilitary position at a base in Seoul, Sung Mo begins to plot his revenge on Jo Pil Yeon. Discovering that it is not so easy to kill Pil Yeon, he instead joins him as an agent in the Korean Central Intelligence Agency (KCIA) upon being recruited by Pil Yeon himself as the first step to try to bring down Pil Yeon from the inside out. In the span of 8 episodes, one watches as Sung Mo goes from being a scared teenager to a cold and calculating adult. This is evident from the way he fires that gun near the end of episode 8. After that, Sung Mo is clearly no longer a kid made all the more clear as the drama itself changes from their lives as kids to adults. Kim Soo Hyun handles this transition and the complexities of his character remarkably well for his young age. It’s a pretty spectacular performance by him.
Meanwhile, Kang Mo (Yeo Jin-Ku) now has to be the provider for his family since neither his older brother nor his father is around. He gets them a place to stay at an inn and manages to hide them from Pil Yeon’s men. Unfortunately, their situation turns even bleaker when his mother dies. Now orphaned, he and his younger siblings must struggle to survive. They get by for a while, however, eventually his younger sisters are taken away and put into orphanages. Alone, Kang Mo begins to shine shoes for a living. Kang Mo is incredibly resourceful and somewhat lucky as the father of Hwang Jung Yeon (Nam Ji Hyun), his love interest, takes him in. Though one could also say that this is incredibly unlucky as Hwang Tae Sub had a hand in his father’s death. However, at this point, Kang Mo is unaware of that fact so for the kid Kang Mo, it is lucky. For a little while at least, he gets to be like a normal boy and go to school and hang out with Jung Yeon. Unfortunately, he is bullied at school by a boy (Jo Min Woo) who just happens to be the child of Jo Pil Yeon in another ironic twist so going to school doesn’t last long for Kang Mo. He, like his brother, eventually becomes the right hand man for Tae Sub. Again, the acting by the younger counterpart is wonderful. Jin Ku really gets his character, right down to Kang Mo’s short fuse and hot temper.
The third Lee sibling, Lee Mi Jo (Park Ha-Young) is also resourceful in her own way. To earn money, she uses her singing talents to survive and thrive. She never loses hope of finding her brothers – not even when she is raised in an orphanage for several years. However, it is her two brothers that this story truly focuses on. Both Kang Mo and Sung Mo are no ordinary men despite their upbringing. Both are extremely talented and resourceful individuals. It helps them get as far as they do. They each struggled to survive and never gave up. Their grit and determination allows them to become the adults shown at the end of episode 8.
No story is complete without villains however, and Giant has some of the best.Jeong Bo-Seok does an incredible job as Pil Yeon as does Lee Deok Hwa as Hwang Tae Sub. In fact, Jeong Bo-Seok is as compelling as Christoph Waltz’s villain in Inglorious Bastards. Considering that Waltz won an Oscar for the role, this is not a light comparison. Pil Yeon is, despite being out for only his own greed, surprisingly complex. This is immediately apparent by Pil Yeon’s kindness towards Sung Mo seemingly in direct contrast of Pil Yeon’s character, at least in the eyes of Sung Mo who lives in constant fear of Pil Yeon even as Pil Yeon treats him like a son. In a way, Sung Mo is the most trapped of all the characters. He is living in the house of his enemy, but he cannot kill Pil Yeon because of the circumstances. It is made even all the more cruel by the fact that Pil Yeon still has his “happy life” with a wife and kids while his family was taken away from him. In fact, the dynamics between Hwang Tae Sub and Kang Mo and Pil Yeon and Sung Mo makes the drama all the more gripping. Both brothers are ironically living with the men deemed responsible for their father’s murder, but only one knows about it thus far. Both want to be close to the two men, but for two very different reasons. Kang Mo, as he is unaware of Tae Sub’s involvement in his father’s death wants to get rich. Sung Mo just wants revenge. Furthermore, neither of the villains is overtly nor completely evil. They each have reasonable and believable motives for their actions. With the villains falling into more of the gray area, it makes Giant all the more multifaceted as each villain is realistic and not just evil for evil’s sake.
Even though the first 8 episodes are essentially setting up the major story lines that are still to come, they are captivating in their own right. The end of the first 8 episodes hooks one by leaving a bunch of questions hanging. Can the three siblings ever meet up with each other? Will they ever be able to get revenge on Hwang Tae Sub and Jo Pil Yeon? Will Kang Mo’s love for Tae Sub’s daughter get in the way of revenge once he discovers Tae Sub’s hand in his father’s death? Great acting and a great story really make this drama one to watch. If there is one flaw in the drama, it is that there are a couple of improbable plotlines in the drama such as the fact that it almost seems impossible for Kang Mo and Sung Mo not to meet up sooner when they are essentially in the same vicinity as one another, and the fact that both just happen to be living with the “enemy.” Still because there isn’t much that is flawed with Giant, these kinds of improbabilities are easily accepted especially when the acting is so superb.
In short, Giant is truly befitting of its name. There can be no other word to describe just how epic this drama really is besides the word giant. It is colossal in its scale – not just in the time frame it covers, but in the intricacy of its storyline. Everything in Giant is complicated. Each character is 3-dimensional. No one is stagnant and flat. If these first 8 episodes are any indication to what Giant will become, then we should all be willing to take this ride.