THE SHORT VERDICT:
Classy, funny and sexy, That Far Gone is a smartly-written, tenderly-conceived labor of love.
A writer who clearly knows her subject and her audience, mywebfoot paints a convincing, believable fantasy world in which drama fans can indulge their imaginations and even their shipper hearts as they see the unfolding of a ‘real-life’ romance between So Ji Sub and Gong Hyo Jin come to life in the pages of this fanfic.
A tantalizingly addictive ride not only for So Ji Sub and Gong Hyo Jin shippers, but for anyone who took notice of their chemistry in Master’s Sun.
THE LONG VERDICT:
So. Good, you guys. So. Good.
Honestly, I wish that I could just flail about and keep repeating that, and perhaps hypnotise you while I was at it, so that you’d go right out and read this ebook, based on your faith in my word alone, heh.
But that wouldn’t be doing justice to this book. Not at all. Which is why I’m going to attempt to break it down and explain what makes this fanfic such a worthy read. That’s right. I’m gonna try to decode the magic, without taking away any of the fairy dust.
* Let me state upfront that while mywebfoot graciously provided me with a copy of the book for review, that that doesn’t affect my opinion in the least. I enjoyed the excerpt and available chapters so much (details to come!) that I would’ve purchased this book myself.
Before getting into the book itself, I thought it’d be worthwhile to give you a bit of background. After all, I wasn’t all that blown away by Master’s Sun as a drama (review here), so why would I bother to read a fanfic, right? And a whole ebook at that, spanning 12 whole chapters?
1. Fanfic and Me
Honestly, I’ve never been big on fanfics. Maybe it’s coz I feel like I can’t even keep up with all the dramas I want to watch, let alone read fanfics. Priorities, y’know.
Or maybe it’s coz when an OTP does capture my imagination, I’m content to let them stay there – in my very fertile, active, self-sufficient imagination. I can dream up lotsa fun scenarios when the occasion calls for it, and I generally haven’t felt the need to seek out fanfics.
Or maybe it’s coz not all fanfics are created equal, despite the writers’ best intentions. Not everyone’s a gifted storyteller, after all.
The bottom line is, I’m raving about this ebook without a pre-existing fondness for fanfic in general. Which means you don’t have to be a fan of fanfic either, to appreciate this book. And neither do you need to be a So Ji Sub-Gong Hyo Jin shipper either. I definitely wasn’t a shipper when I started reading the book, and that didn’t impede my enjoyment of the book in the least.
2. Existing Impressions of our OTP as Individuals
One of the draws for me, to That Far Gone, is my existing affection for its protagonists, Gong Hyo Jin and So Ji Sub.
Gong Hyo Jin
I’ve loved Gong Hyo Jin as an actress for a long time. When I first saw her in Pasta, my first impression of her was that she seemed sorta plain and ordinary to be headlining a drama, but she grew on me, SO MUCH. By the time I was done with Pasta, I considered Gong Hyo Jin one of my favorite actresses in dramaland, and have enjoyed her in pretty much every role she’s chosen since.
I love her natural, earthy charm that she brings into each of her roles, and I love how she seems to have no hangups about not conforming to the usual Korean standards of beauty. She manages to have a healthy sense of self-confidence in her own brand of beauty, and she’s got such a gung-ho vibe about her too.
I love that she did Project 577, where she basically hiked for miles and miles and suffered exhaustion, cramps and terrible blisters, all while appearing without makeup on camera in all her unglam glory – the works.
Yet, she remained likable, charming and accessible throughout.
I love how real she comes across and I always think of her as one cool chick. Who could plausibly be a BFF who comes over for tea and girly chit-chat – including chit-chat about boys, of course.
So Ji Sub
I first encountered So Ji Sub in I’m Sorry, I Love You. I didn’t love the show, but So Ji Sub’s strong shoulders and defined biceps didn’t hurt, and neither did the rebellious bad-boy smirk he wore much of the time. I didn’t come away with a fangirl crush myself, but I could understand the angsty So Ji Sub appeal.
Funnily enough, So Ji Sub endeared himself most to me not in Master’s Sun, but in his foray into rapping and making music. In his various music ventures, everyone basically made fun of him and dissed him as not-a-rapper as well as ridiculed his wacky fashion sense.
When I watched the MVs and a couple of BTSes, though, I really liked how earnest and sincere he seemed, in spite of the widespread mockery.
I saw a man who had a sincere love and passion for music, and who just wanted to do something he loved.
And I saw too, that a pretty sweet dork lived beneath the celebrity veneer.
Here he is, visiting Younha on the set of his music video ‘Picnic.’ Look at that good-natured, adorkable look on his face, like a little boy in a candy store trying hard not to explode with excitement:
And here he is, visiting the adorable Yoo Seung Ho on the set of his MV ‘Ground.’ Yoo Seung Ho plays So Ji Sub’s younger self in the MV, living up to his nickname of “Little So Ji Sub.”
I saw these two being all chummy together and couldn’t help melting a little:
Once I discovered the sweet dorkiness of So Ji Sub, I couldn’t help but have a bit of a soft spot for him.
Plus, he likely knew all about the general sense of derision towards his music ventures, but he smiled for the cameras and pressed on anyway. Gotta give him props for tenacity and an admirable sense of self. It takes a strong person to know that people are laughing at him and yet not let that affect his choices. Respect.
While Master’s Sun didn’t hit it out of the ballpark for me, I did appreciate the great onscreen chemistry between Gong Hyo Jin and So Ji Sub. And reading that little excerpt, I could totally see the man-dork fall for the bright, confident cool chick.
I thought it’d be adorable to see them get a happy-ever-after, even if it was within the fantasy world of a fanfic.
3. Existing OTP Chemistry – Master’s Sun BTS
I didn’t seek out reports or articles about the BTS chemistry between So Ji Sub and Gong Hyo Jin, and even then, I knew that fandoms were exploding with squee over the sparkling chemistry that these two shared off-screen.
Gong Hyo Jin’s always had a reputation for being warm and easy-going, so it was no surprise to see her smiling and having fun during interviews. It was So Ji Sub that was the big surprise.
Famously serious and reserved, he was often captured in photos and videos, smiling, laughing and basically having a whale of a time with his co-star. Gone were the super serious expressions. Instead, we got lots of cuteness where he looked like he was laughing coz he just couldn’t hold it back.
To give you guys a better idea of what we’re dealing with, here’s a photo of So Ji Sub at a press conference with Han Hyo Joo in 2012, for their movie Always.
All serious answers and respectful distance, right?
Now take a look at So Ji Sub with Gong Hyo Jin, all smiles and banter in an interview:
And then look at them here, where So Ji Sub’s wearing such an intent look on his face, with just a touch of amusement in his eyes, as he watches Gong Hyo Jin answer an interviewer’s question.
You just can’t blame the fans – or me! – for wanting to entertain some fantasy romance between the two.
I wasn’t a shipper by any means, but knowing about their off-screen chemistry certainly poised me to be ready for more.
Much as my existing context set me up to be open to exploring a fanfic about So Ji Sub and Gong Hyo Jin, it was the writing itself that was the real clincher.
I read that short excerpt (yes, more on that in a bit!), and I was immediately intrigued. Here’s why.
1. Storytelling Style
To me, storytelling is an art. An art that not a lot of people know how to perform effectively. It’s not easy to use words to paint a picture, to bring a character to life, to immerse readers and take them on a journey.
And mywebfoot is an effective, skilled, classy storyteller. Plus, she clearly tells her story with care, and with heart. It’s clear to me that she crafted this story, and fleshed out these characters with fondness and affection. Vicariously, through her words, I found it easy to love these characters too.
mywebfoot has a great flair for picking out just enough bits from a scene to flesh out in words, in order to make it come alive in one’s mind’s eye. Not too little, and not too much; Juuust right (said the happy baby bear reading the book, heh).
I love that while the language mywebfoot uses is simple and accessible (read: you don’t need to be a language genius in order to read it), she scatters interesting word combinations in her narrative that make for delicious phrasing and just-so nuance, which I really dig.
Here are just a couple of examples:
“I hear the crackle of her opening up her bento box.”
“…cackling like a witch, hugging herself and crumpling slowly down to the ground”
“Her hand slips and a slosh of batter goes over the side of the bowl.”
Crackle. Crumple. Slosh. Such interesting yet perfect word choices. Likey.
So Ji Sub is mywebfoot’s chosen narrator, and we get to hear the entire story told from his point of view, in his voice. And mywebfoot inhabits that voice so well.
In a sense, That Far Gone reads almost like entries in a diary, coz we’re given blow-by-blow accounts of incidents. What makes it different from entries in a diary, though, is the use of the present tense. That, combined with the on-going mental commentary and reactions by So Ji Sub, makes it feel like we are actually in the moment with him, seeing as he sees, hearing as he hears, and basically experiencing each and every incident with him in real time.
“I stare at her. She’s gorgeous when she’s happy.”
“She scrunches her lips together, making her cheeks puff up. She looks like a hamster when she does that.”
This style of writing, combined with the simple language, effectively makes us feel like we are inhabiting the straightforward, uncomplicated male psyche of our narrator.
Bewilderment, bemusement, intrigue, attraction, confusion, frustration. Our sweet man-dork feels it all, as he encounters the bright, confident cool chick. And we get to feel it all with him.
The past tense is reserved for flashbacks, and this works wonderfully well to inform us as readers where we are at any given time, in So Ji Sub’s consciousness. Whether we’re in the present moment with him, or delving into memories recent and not-so-recent, the simple difference in tenses ensures that we are accurately informed. I love how effective yet simple that storytelling device is.
It’s immersive and absorbing, and I dig it.
2. Character Interpretation
One of the most impressive things about That Far Gone, is how well mywebfoot interprets the characters. It’s absolutely uncanny how on-point all the descriptions are, from speech patterns to personality quirks to facial expressions.
From everything that I know about So Ji Sub and Gong Hyo Jin, I can so imagine them behaving the way she depicts, and talking the way she describes. It’s clear that mywebfoot has either observed these people for a long time, or put a lot of careful preparation and research into fleshing out these characters. From Gong Hyo Jin’s winning smile, to the way her lanky limbs work, to her habit of lifting her hair off her neck, mywebfoot’s got it all down pat.
As I read each paragraph and chapter, I could totally see the man-dork reacting to and responding to the bright, confident cool chick. They came to life in the pages of this book, and they felt just like the people I thought they would be.
3. Brilliant Use of Context
To me, this is the most brilliant aspect of That Far Gone.
You know how the writers of The Princess’ Man and Tree With Deep Roots used real people from history, and combined them with fictional characters, and found nooks and crannies in history that were left vague? They filled in those unrecorded, unwritten, blurred shadows of history to make plausible the events and characters in their narrative, and effectively made stories that could have conceivably passed for fact. That’s one of my favorite kinds of sageuk. I find it brilliant and thought-provoking, and persuasively compelling.
And mywebfoot does exactly that, except the history and characters we’re dealing with are a lot more recent.
For a good chunk of its story, That Far Gone works off of actual scenes from Master’s Sun. As she describes them, we know exactly which scenes mywebfoot is talking about; we’ve already watched them unfold on our screens while watching the drama.
What mywebfoot does, is take those scenes and inject context and meaning where before we only had massive blanks. She fills in these blanks for us, with feelings, motivations and subtext, and basically lifts the scene to a whole new level of meaning and fascination.
For example, in the excerpt below, So Ji Sub feels conflicted about filming the kiss scene. He narrates his urge to touch the bare skin exposed by Gong Hyo Jin’s dress.
It’s so easy to imagine coz we’ve seen that scene; seen that dress. We know exactly what the writer is talking about. And yet, it’s delicious coz now we’re seeing the scene in a whole different light. So Ji Sub’s feelings and emotions and personal responses are now painted in for us, and it enriches and lifts the context of the scene to tantalizing heights.
[END MINOR SPOILER]
Throughout the book, mywebfoot consistently does a great job picking out scenes in the drama and giving them meaning. Especially scenes that didn’t make complete sense. Like the extra-cold way that Gong Sil responds to Joong Won when he confesses. She paints the whys, the context, and suddenly it all takes on meaning. It’s thrilling to imagine the reality she paints, and completely persuasive, to believe, just for a while, that this could all be real.
Just like TPM and Tree paint history in a way that could have actually happened, mywebfoot paints a reality that could have believably, actually happened.
It takes an eagle eye for detail, a strong imagination, and a loving touch to create a narrative that feels immediately familiar and believable because it’s rooted in reality, yet tastes exotic and tantalizing because of the possibilities she creates.
mywebfoot also inserts other characters in the story that we all know, and that is pretty great. We get appearances by Song Seung Hun, Park Yong Ha, and Shin Min Ah, for example. These people are real-life friends of So Ji Sub and Gong Hyo Jin, and having them participate in the story ups the realism further and paints even more on the empty parts of the canvas of our mental image of our lead couple.
On top of all this, mywebfoot takes everything that we as drama fans know – the incidental Korean phrases (jjinjja? Oppa!), and how drama shoots work, with the PD, cameramen, Coordi Noonas – and weaves it into her narrative. As a result, we feel like we’re entering a world that’s at once familiar yet fascinating. She takes what we find familiar and levels it up, bringing life to the scene through little details, and injecting plot into places we don’t usually see into, as an audience. It’s tantalizing, gripping stuff.
All in all, a world that is perfectly written for its audience.
Finally, the excerpt that I keep promising everyone. Here’s a peek at mywebfoot’s take on the kiss scene that happens in episode 9 of the drama.
The first kiss scene, the pivotal scene of any romantic tale, is today.
Yeah, my timing is wonderful. I set myself up for a day of unrelenting sexual frustration.
“Now hug her.”
“Hold it. Right there.” One centimeter away from her lips. Holding her face, breathing her sweet breath.
“Now kiss, and then let her collapse against you.”
God, her front is pressed up against me. The temperature climbs. Think about something else, you randy idiot! Stay professional, like her.
“Now kiss… yes…hold it there.” I kiss but keep my lips firmly in check. No shifting, molding or tasting allowed.
PD Hyuk walks around us, checking the final camera angles. I hate him for being so damn thorough.
“All right, Ji Sub-ssi, hands hesitate… pause, camera hoist up, hands down, down Ji Sub-ssi, … all right …. then we cut.”
Her back is warm. Her skin, as soft as it looks. I imagine running my fingers up and down the gap in her dress. Temptation gathers in the tips of my fingers. Just once, my hormones beg me, sitting up with their tongues lolling for a treat.
After reading the excerpt, I felt right away that the narrative was simple, yet nuanced; immediate and accessible. I knew I’d enjoy reading the entire book, and I wasn’t disappointed.
While I genuinely loved That Far Gone, there is one point of the story that didn’t flow for me. It’s not a huge deal, and is easy enough to overlook in order to enjoy the rest of the story. But it did niggle at me somewhat, that I couldn’t connect the dots with this particular beat of the story.
In chapter 4, after an evening of too-close-for-comfort pancake making, we find Hyo Jin looking worried and troubled the next day, about the kiss scene at hand.
After some bad takes, Ji Sub approaches Hyo Jin to try to tease a smile out of her. Hyo Jin then broaches the subject, “What happened last night, Oppa? Do we need to talk?” And Ji Sub’s next thought is, “Relief floods me. She just acknowledged this crazy attraction we have.”
I.. had trouble connecting the dots there.
In the pancake making scene of the night before, we could clearly hear Ji Sub’s thoughts as he put the moves on Hyo Jin and we know for a fact that he’s intoxicated by her. But we don’t get a clear sense that she actually enjoyed the close proximity, only that she was clearly uncomfortable. To then have her worried and troubled countenance about the kiss scene the next day equate reciprocal attraction was just too ambiguous for me.
Yes, we need our story to get to a place where our lead couple’s attraction to each other is clear. But that didn’t do it for me, coz in my mind, she could’ve easily been uncomfortable because she didn’t want him that close to her, rather than because she was attracted to him and therefore acutely hyper-aware of his physical closeness.
Once I decided to just shrug off this bump in my reading journey, however, the rest of the book was pure pleasure to read. All in all, a minor quibble in a sea otherwise full of goodies.
What’s so great about this story is that it’s so well fleshed-out. Characters, personalities, emotions, backstories; everything is just so well woven together. It’s fast-paced without feeling rushed, and at 12 full chapters, we get a nicely developed story that feels satisfyingly fleshed out and resolved.
In this story, we get so much more than infatuation and romance. We get to share in the characters’ joys, as well as their fears and tears, and in the end, we are rewarded with a love story that feels substantial and real. And that is gratifying, satisfying stuff.
The best part? This story lingered with me – much like how a great drama lingers with me – many hours after I was done. That’s the true mark of a great story.
Oh, and just so you know, I finished the entire book in one sitting. Yep. I was That Far Gone. 😉
THE FINAL VERDICT:
An immersive, delightful read that will tickle and satisfy the imagination. Unreservedly recommend.
FINAL GRADE: A+
WHERE CAN I GET MY HANDS ON THIS CRACK?!??
1. To sample the Prologue and Chapters 1 through 3 (yes, three whole chapters!), &/or to find purchase links, visit mywebfoot here.
* If you purchase off Lulu, there’s a site-wide 14% discount until Valentine’s Day (14 February 2014).
2. To learn more about mywebfoot, and get the backstory on how she started writing and publishing fanfic, check out DDee’s interview with her here.
* DDee’s holding a giveaway where you stand a chance to win a copy of That Far Gone for yourself. Giveaway closes 14 February 2014.
Here’s a small collection of BTS moments with So Ji Sub and Gong Hyo Jin. There’s no audible dialogue in this clip, but really, you don’t need dialogue to be able to see how much fun these two have together on-set. It’s adorable.