A case of mistaken identity is a classic in the K-drama trope handbook, whether it be a switcheroo between siblings (twins or otherwise), friends who have each other’s backs, or a (yet another classic) case of amnesia. Their approaches may differ, but when one takes apart the trope in the context of a drama or thriller, it often boils down to this: a fight for survival.
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That’s definitely top of the priority list for Park Chang-ho (Lee Jong-suk, returning to TV since 2019’s Romance is a Bonus Book), the protagonist of MBC’s latest noir crime/thriller series Big Mouth. A private practice attorney with a mere 10 per cent win rate, Chang-ho is nicknamed ‘Big Mouth’ as he’s known for “run[ning] his mouth without the skills to back it up”. He reaches rock bottom when he loses a case centering on a scam – that he too is a victim of – much to the ire of those he represents in court. To make matters worse, he ends up borrowing money from loan sharks to stay afloat – which he hides from his wife and high school sweetheart Go Mi-ho (YoonA from Girls’ Generation).
When Chang-ho is approached by mayor Choi Do-ha (Kim Joo-hun) to handle a murder case involving high-flying individuals, the down-and-out attorney believes that he’s finally getting his big break. The tables are turned, though, when he takes a risk and crosses ruthless media mogul Gong Ji-hoon (Yang Kyung-won), attempting to leverage a key piece of evidence for monetary gain.
After getting into a car accident on the night of his wedding anniversary, Chang-ho gets arrested at the hospital for suspected drug use. He’s then falsely accused of being Big Mouse, a genius con artist who swiped slush funds from NR Forum, a secret organisation backed by the upper echelons of the Korean business world – including Ji-hoon. (There’s a pun in the moniker, as the words ‘mouth’ and ‘mouse’ are written the same way in Korean: 마우스, or ma-u-seu. This subtle wordplay, however, is likely to be lost on non-Korean speakers.)
Chang-ho gets thrown in prison – ironically, “the only place in Korea where lawlessness is allowed” – and begins his fight for survival within the most corrupt of environments. Though Big Mouse is shunned by fellow inmates, he finds early allies in cellmates Jerry (Kwak Dong-yeon) and No Bak (Yang Hyung-wook).
Meanwhile, Mi-ho, known to be the “family’s troubleshooter”, refuses to sit and mope about her husband’s situation. Ever the doer, she takes a brave step into the lion’s den by applying to work at the hospital central to the murder case. Despite the misgivings she has about Chang-ho’s choices, her loyalty to and trust in her husband is what motivates her to uncover the truth and attempt to clear his name.
For a noir-themed drama, Big Mouth is not entirely dark and dreary, at least as seen in its first two episodes. It has its fair share of lighter moments, mostly centering on Chang-ho’s dynamics with Mi-ho and his father-in-law (Lee Ki-young), a former police officer-turned-office manager. In particular, the close relationship between the two men is anchored by an easy, comfortable chemistry between both actors, who had acted together in 2017’s While You Were Sleeping. (Big Mouth director Oh Choong-hwan was also at the helm of that drama.) As jarring as they may seem when set against the show’s darker themes of corruption and abuse of power, the newly incarcerated Chang-ho appears to rely on these light-hearted memories as a source of strength.
Lee Jong-suk admirably covers a lot of dimensional ground as Chang-ho in just two episodes, going from a smooth-talking lawyer, a chummy son-in-law and sweet-tongued husband to a shrewd ‘double agent’ and then a beaten-down inmate who has to decide between fight or flight. He offers a contrast to YoonA’s down-to-earth yet shrewd portrayal of Mi-ho, who also has survival on her mind – albeit in the societal rat race. Their chemistry as a couple is convincing enough; however, as both actors let on in a recent interview, it appears that they won’t be on screen together as much in subsequent episodes.
Another actor worthy of mention is Yang Kyung-won, who brought comic relief to viewers in Vincenzo and Crash Landing on You. He then made a 180-degree turn as antagonistic inmate Du-sik in One Ordinary Day, getting all up in people’s faces and letting his fists do the talking. In Big Mouth, Yang’s portrayal of Ji-hoon is purposefully restrained; this also makes him appear more volatile, proving that less is certainly more.
Though the drama’s David and Goliath premise is not new, it piques enough interest for what else is to come: the hospital conspiracy reveal, the impending battle for justice, the power politics within NR Forum – and ultimately, uncovering the true identity of Big Mouse. As the drama progresses, one can only hope that Big Mouth will be able to continue putting its money where its mouth is, and not bite off more than it can chew.
Big Mouth airs every Friday and Saturday on MBC and will also be available to stream on Disney+ in selected regions