Korean Drama Review: Secret Garden

Secret Garden (TV series)

Secret Garden (TV series) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Secret Garden is available of Netflix, HULU, and VIKI.

SYNOPSIS: Secret Garden tells the tale of a 30 year old stunt woman, Gil Ra Im (Ha Ji Won), and a 34 year old CEO of a shopping mall and chaebol heir, Kim Joo Won (Hyun Bin). Joo Won meets Ra Im  while working. In fact he is on a mission to cool down a former lover of his company’s spokesperson, Oska (Yoon Sang Hyun, played male lead in My Fair Lady), from releasing lurid pictures of Oska. Oska, is a famous older (35) idol singer  working on his 7th comeback album and just happens to be Joo Won’s cousin. Oska informs Joo Won that his former lover is the lead actress in a movie and is on set. When Joo Won goes to the set,  a sleepy member of the crew mistakingly identifies the famous actress as her stunt double, Ra Im. Due to several misunderstandings, Ra Im reluctantly goes off with Joo Won to meet Oska, because she is one of his biggest fans, but Joo Won does not realize he grabbed the wrong girl.

After a series of meetings, Joo Won is stuck by Ra Im’s straight forward and blunt manner, and starts to consider it her charm. Slowly Joo Won falls in love with Ra Im, because she is unlike any woman he has ever met. Ra Im is unwilling to accept his gifts and other acts that are attempts to make her life easier. Ra Im lost her father in high school and no longer has any family.. Ra Im’s father was a firefighter who was killed in an accident on duty. Thus, Ra-Im is very independent, takes nothing for granted, and has come to realize that she can only rely on herself. Ra-Im’s life consists of going to the action school, because she is a stunt woman and hanging out with her roommate, Im Ah Young (Yoo In Na, second female lead in The Greatest Love). Her best friend, Ah Young, works at Joo Won’s shopping mall. Ra-Im knows nothing else, so she is perturbed to say the least when she confront Joo Won’s outlook on life.

Joo Won is selfish, conceited, and best of all thinks intermingling with the lower classes is charity. Joo Won has worked hard to get where he is as CEO of the shopping mall and is constantly battling to keep his spot from challengers within his family and the company. Nonetheless, Joo Won takes his privileges very seriously. Due to his attitude and lack of empathy, he has few friends other than his cousin, Oska. Ra Im is one of the few that his been able to break down his walls. Joo Won is awestruck that Ra Im is able to get through to him, she challenges him in ways that others won’t dare. Joo Won’s family and friends have been tip-toeing around him ever since an accident that left him in the hospital for days. After Joo Won’s accident he developed claustrophobia (causing him to avoid elevators and drive with top down no matter what season it is) along with other psychological impediments that impact his relationships with people. However, even prior to the accident he had problems with relationships, note his ex-girlfriend is his current psychologist.

Joo Won knows that his feelings for Ra Im may be fleeting, but in spite of this he decides to just go with it. Joo Won never imagines that he will want to spend the rest of his life with Ra-Im, he believes it is just a happy fling, because considers marriage the biggest transaction/deal in life. Joo Won knows he has to marry someone that will add to his family’s wealth. Ra Im, knowing that Joo Won’s love/ obssession is only temporary, doesn’t accept his love. Ra Im does not want to be heartbroken when it suddenly disappears. She makes no attempt to encourage him by dressing up when they meet or trying to impress his colleagues. Ra Im does not want to proffer that she is more than a stunt woman with scars and little education. However, surprisingly, Joo Won persistence starts to win her over.  Joo Won is so good that he may also be succesful in convincing himself that he is in love.

Just when Joo Won and Ra Im are trying to determine if their feelings are something more, things fall apart. Ra Im goes to one of Joo Won’s hotel, because some of the members of her action school are filming and Joo Won follows her there. During some down time, Joo Won and Ra Im get lost in the woods and a magical shop appears. They stop at the shop with no other options, since they are starving and it is getting late. A manly lady serves them food and offers them a set of potions under the guise that it will improve their health.  Ra Im decides to get one for her and her new friend Oska (Oska and Ra Im have become friends after the misunderstanding was worked out). When they are finished with dinner, the way back home becomes suddenly clear. When Ra Im and Joo Won part, Ra Im gives the potion to Joo Won to pass on to Oska. However, Joo Won decides to take the potion instead. That night, both Ra Im and Joo Won take the potion. When Ra Im and Joo Won wake up, their bodies are switched. Joo Won and Ra Im become even more connected, because they are forced to step in the other’s shoes. While living each other’s lives they learn they appreciate and respect the each other more and fall deeper in love.

Then more trouble comes when Joo Won’s mother finds out about the amount of time that Joo Won and Ra Im are spending together. Joo Won’s Mom is determined to break them up the best way she knows how, with another woman. Unfortunately, the other woman that Joo Won’s mom chooses is Yoon Seul, Oska’s ex-girlfriend. When Seul was with Oska, Seul was forced to stay in the shadows, because Oska was at the height of his popularity. Seul is the one that got away. Oska asked Seul to marry him, but she refused and then left the country. Oska was unable to forget her or forgive her for leaving him. Now, Seul has returned to Korea and works as a director. Seul just happens to be in charge of Oska’s new music video which is being shot at Joo Won’s hotel (Korean Drama Coincidences). Oska is astonished when he sees Seul, because she seems like a completely different person. Seul is no longer happy and bubbly, but cold and shrewd. Oska becomes distraught when he learns of the plans of Seul and Joo Won’s mom. Oska feels betrayed knowing that his heart still yearns for Seul and she wants his cousin. Oska will do anything to stop a Seul- Joo Won Union.

Oska also knows that a marriage between Seul and Joo Won would mean heartbreak for everyone including Ra Im and Joo Won. Thus, Oska tries to rekindle Seul’s feelings by faking a relationship with Ra Im. However, this only complicates matters more. Seul becomes even more determined to marry Joo Won, whereas Joo Won becomes extremely jealous.

Then, there is also Han Tae Sun, a promising up and coming male singer/songwriter. Tae Sun is the key to Oska’s comeback, but Tae Sun also has feelings for Oska. Seul knows of Tae Sun’s unrequited feelings and attempts to use Tae Sun for revenge against Oska too.

But there is more, Ra Im still has another suitor, the only father figure left in her life, Im Jong Soo. Jong Soo is the director of the action school and has been taken on the role of protector, since her father died. Jong Soo gave Ra Im a job at the action school and helped her to get on her feet after her father’s death. Jong Soo knows that Ra Im deserves more, but he is unable to give it to her. Jong Soo constantly worries about Ra Im, because he has helped her enter a career that is detrimental to her health. Jong Soo hopes that Ra Im can transition into becoming an actress. When Jong Soo sees Ra Im with Joo Won, he is torn because even though he loves her, Joo Won can provide Ra Im with a better life.

Joo Won also recognizes that Ra Im provides him with a better life. After Ra Im appears in Joo Won’s life, he stops using his claustrophobic/anti-depressant medication. Joo Won appears to be a calmer and treats his employees a lot differently, including his right hand man Secretary Kim. Secretary Kim now has more time to pursue his other interest, including impressing Ra Im’s roommate Ah Young. Can we say double date? Sadly, this doesn’t exactly work out.

In sum, Ra Im and Joo Won go through several trials and tribulations, which are only aggravated by that fact that they switch bodies whenever a meteorological event occurs. Will their love stand the test of time, or will Ra Im, go like the Little Mermaid and isappear from Joo Won’s life like a bubble because she will never fit into his world?

REVIEW:

1/2

Joo Won and Ra Im Love Team: This is a couple you can ship (Refer to my future blogpost shipping, but as a short side note on shipping this leads to a major problem. I love Kim Sun Ah and Hyun Bin in Sam Soon, but I also love Kim Sun Ah and Lee Dong Wook in Scent of a Woman. So really I guess it’s fine, since they now both have alternates). There are several kisses to like, I never had a giggle fit moment, but I liked the kiss at the party the best (sorry foam kiss was not my style, but I do recognize its uniqueness). The reason why this drama worked was because both characters were fully fleshed out and were able to command to the audience what they wanted out of life and what they were missing. It was clear to viewers why Ra Im and Joo Won found what they were looking for in each other. I think some of the most though provoking scenes were when they were arguing about their differences like when Joo Won attacked the way Ra Im presented herself and when Ra Im and Joo Won discussed her scars and her choice of career. The writers dealt with deeply rooted ideological differences in a well communicated therapeutic manner (aka: rich man poor woman relationship 101).

Ha Ji Won as Ra Im: Seriously, I love Ha Ji Won. She is one of my three favorite established actresses in Korean Dramas and I like them each for different reasons (the others are Kim Sun Ah and Yoon Eun Hye). I might say that it is starting to seem like Ha Ji Won may be getting typecast between this and King2Hearts, but she plays the role oh so well. Ji Won’s ability to execute the role of a girl who works hard, but does not know how to play hard is fantastique. I also credit the writers for both her role here and in King2Hearts (which I will review later) for their sound character development prowess. Ji Won has the ability not to make viewers misconstrue her characters as uptight or lost, but determined. I really believed that everything that Ra Im did was necessary, so that her life would not fall apart. Not until Joo Won came along did I realize that there were areas that needed improvement in order for her to achieve more. I tip my hat.

Hyun Bin as Joo Won: The only real problem I had with this role for Hyun Bin was that it seemed like the same character he played in My Name Is Kim Sam Soon or My Lovely Sam Soon, but with deep psychological issues instead of a past girlfriend. However, you can always count on Hyun Bin to be a funny, delightful, and alluring jerk, think Cha Seung Won in the Greatest Love. His ability to play megalomaniacs is sublime. Joo Won strives in his ability to acutely identify, use, and highlight the flaws of others, while remain unaware of his own. Hyun Bin has an uncanny ability to make this crazy character believable without a hint of suspicion, which is where the similarity between Joo Won and the lead male character in the Greatest Love ends. Note: the reason why I love Cha Seung Won’s performance in the Greatest Love is because it is so unbelievable.

Second Leads, Yoo In Na and Yoon Sang Hyun: After watching Yoo In Na here and in the Greatest Love, I knew that she was well on her way to become a leading lady, because if you can make an annoying or a should be hated person lovable than you have punched your ticket to acting success. I haven’t watched Queen In Hyun’s Man, the 2012 drama she recently starred in, but I really can’t wait to see it. Seriously, Ah Young and Secretary Kim are too cute. I really enjoyed the way the she would chastise Secretary Kim, when she thought that he was taking her for granted. Then, Yoon Sang Hyun really blew me away as Oska. He made a character that could have been a dud and one dimensional have great depth. It was almost heart wrenching seeing his journey with Seul, because he could not figure out how things went wrong. This shut me up,  because I really did like Yoon Sang Hyun as a former gigolo in My Fair Lady.

Romance with a Side of Action: There was just enough action here to make me feel like I was not just watching another romantic drama. The writers also achieved a feat, by not just randomly inserting action scenes to spice it up. All of the scenes seemed to be in line with the script and purposeful. When I saw Ha Ji Won in the beginning, did anyone else think Lara Croft: Tomb Raider?  This drama gave viewers a lot of background information about the hardship of stunt doubles. I am not sure if all of it was true, but the camaraderie amongst the action school members was cute and added a cherry on top of the storyline. (While writing this, I just remembered the hilariousness of the director of the action school in My Girl Friend is Guminho, when he constantly yelled “Action!” Then, he would  pose and gaze off into the distance.)

Highlights:

  • Oska’s nighties for visitors to wear
  • Nice Club, can I go there?
  • Too Many Story lines, but it works!: Ra Im’s father, Joo Won’s claustrophobia, romance between Oska and Seul, Oska’s prodigy Tae Sun, Oska’s comback, Department store in fighting, war between Oska’s Mom and Joo Won’s Mom. Amazingly, I know that this was good script, because it still never felt like too much (I am in the midst of Shining Inheritance and there is really too much going on and its slowing me down, however I am starting to become a fan of Han Hyo Joo).
  • Moreover, Even though there were lots of storyline, I appreciate the fact that there was no great tragedy caused by a betrayal, I am kind of tired of that because it pisses me off.
  • She is Poor, He is Rich, are they meant to be? Now this happens time and time again, but I think that this is one of the best dramas that show the real problems that occur when  liking someone of a different socioeconomic status, including the misunderstanding and miscommunication that occurs as a result. Even though I felt sadness especially the broken purse scenes ;( (that’s me with tears).
  • If that’s is how sit-ups are done, I would probably do more.
  • Best houses I have scene to date
  • I want to shop at Joo Won’s department store

Ughhhhhhh!

  • I really like Joo Won’s “tacky” sparkly blue track suite, but I will take a pass on the leopard print one. It must have been a men’s fashion show, because every time I turned around Joo Won and Oska had on interesting new outfits, but they weren’t all hits. While HB won the apparel contest, Oska definitely won the hair contest. I have never seen so many hair cuts on a male in any film or t.v. show period.
  • I think that Hyun Bin’s character in My Lovely Sam Soon was more versatile, but I like him here too.
  • I would not say Hyun Bin and Ha Ji Won couple were sizziling on screen, because the romantic scenes felt like they were holding back or just subdued (Then, I watched the Behind The Scenes and the holding back appeared to be true). Although, their individual acting performances and other interactions with each other created a powerful showing of romance.
  • The second time I watched it was less enjoyable then the first, but it was still great.

That’s 4 1/2 stars for this drama and it really comes down to rewatchability. I feel the same way about Lie to Me and Boys Over Flowers, initially loving but as time passes my reminiscing is better than than reality. In sum, they make you Feel Really Good, but to me they are Never As Good As the First Time (Sade anyone?).

Speaking of Music, Can’t really review Secret Garden without “That Man”

Up Next: The Woman Who Still Wants to Marry, King2Hearts, City Hunter, or I Do I Do.

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